Archive for December, 2011

Some of My Highlight Blogs of 2011

(Aka, blogging about my blogs makes me more meta than thou)

This year was a lighter blogging year than usual.  In the irony department, in the two years of my unemployment, I have blogged ever less (which I address in, ironically, one of my most trafficked blogs of the year).  Each year I like to reflect on my year of blogs and draw attention to some of the favorites that you may have missed.  It is a complex formula that I use to calculate this list.  It’s slightly based on stats to the site, feedback I’ve received across my various platforms, ones I go “hey, I really liked that one”, and if I was ever accosting in real life over a blog’s content.

Reviews don’t count* as they probably speak more to their fanbase.  Either that or I have serious misunderstanding of who makes up my core audience.  So no need to check out:

Invader Zim:  Operation Doom

iCarly

Big Time Rush

Batman R.I.P.

Also, my special projects don’t count, though the reading period for Dark Faith 2 is about to start, our Miseducation of the Writer project takes shape, and folks need to get in on the early bird registration for Mo*Con.  Here are my thoroughly unscientifically, unranked highlight blog posts:

Championship Heart aka Getting Published isn’t Easy – This was my response to a sentiment of entitlement I began noticing among some unpublished or underpublished writers.  Because, yes, writing/publishing is hard.  It’s supposed to be.  In that same vein, Being Mauricenary demands that we get paid (or at least avoid many scams by seeking professional rates and not settling for less).  Ironically, in explaining my less than daily blog output schedule, Nothing to Say, I don’t know what lesson to take home from the fact that a blog in which I say, I don’t have much to say, gets some of the highest traffic of the year.

Our Rally Focus America Audition – So writer, Wrath James White and I auditioned for a reality show.  No, seriously, we did.

The Knights of Breton Court:  The Big Themes – every now and then, I actually write about the books and/or stories of mine that have been released.  The best part of discussing your own work is just how difficult it is to avoid sounding pretentious.  But I’m a writer with DEEP.  THOUGHTS.

Hole in the Soul – A Work in Progress – One of my rare excursions into poetry.  It may make it into a novel I’ll be writing soon.  Or I’ll just e-mail it to my counselor and she what she makes of it.

Guest blogs don’t normally get me into trouble, however, add the topics of homosexuality and the church and suddenly no one’s opinion/story is safe.

Pastor Brad Grammer – writes on learning to listen to people’s stories.

Danny Evarts – tells the story of growing up gay in a fundamentalist Christian household.

And since I can’t resist a good argument, I waded in with Confessing our Homophobia in the Church

Uncle Tom’s Athletes – Jalen Rose launches into a tirade about how Duke’s coach, Mike Krzyzewski only recruited black players who were Uncle Toms.  I gots opinions.

Just Don’t Marry One – folks who are in interracial relationships didn’t need that phrase explained to them.  And luckily a church in Kentucky helped educate the rest of y’all.  Good times.

O Lawdy:  You can take the N***** out of the book, but you … wait, what? – besides having one of my favorite titles, I opine on the release of a “deniggerized” edition of Huck Finn.

So, young bloggers/writers, as you’ve learned, the key to a successful blog and/or writing platform is to never write on anything controversial, especially race, politics, sexuality, or religion.

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*For the record, the blogs with the highest traffic of all time (at least since I reconfigured my blog) are:

Wolverine and the X-Men – A Review

-Invader Zim:  Operation Doom – A Review

-Big Time Rush – A Review

Ninja Assassin – A Review

-iCarly – A Review

Ratatouille – A Review

Legend of the Guardian:  The Owls of Ga’Hoole – A Review
Only then do we get to my first non-review blog, Shame on Us.  So that brings us to our second lesson, being that my only formula to blogs is writing what I’m passionate about, having a platform like HollywoodJesus backing me up, and occasionally ranting about what a mess J. Michael Straczynski’s run on Spider-Man was (the next highest trafficked blog post of mine).

Happy Blogging!

Find the hand, Find the Heart

When I was fifteen years old, my Youth pastor was dying of cancer.  He was a man I loved dearly who not only encouraged me, but also had pushed me pretty hard.  As I was having back surgery at the time, we were in the same hospital during his final days.  Only a few floors down from me, but I couldn’t bring myself to visit him.  The thing I told myself, and anyone who asked, was that I didn’t want to remember him that way.

It was either that or admit that I was more concerned about my own pain.  How much it would hurt to see him that way.  How much it would hurt to say goodbye for the last time.  What I regret most about that are the memories that I don’t have:  not of him in his deteriorating state, but of the chance to hold his hand and tell him how much I love him.

I was 15 then, so I’ll give myself a pass on my selfishness then.

It was a mistake I never wanted to repeat, especially with someone I care about, like Sara J. Larson.

Sara was a co-founder of the Indiana Horror Writers and the heart of Mo*Con.  A few of weeks ago she was moved to hospice care after being hospitalized for a couple of months as she is in the last days of her battle with breast cancer.  I was right about one thing:  it is hard.  It’s hard to see a person you love frail and weak.  It’s hard to see a person you love hurting and there’s nothing you can do about it.   It’s hard to see a person you love cut down in their prime.  It’s hard to see a person you love disappear in inches:  hair loss, vibrancy, coherency (due to all of the pain meds).

But she’s still the Sara we love.

It’s easy to get caught up in the awkwardness of the moment.  What do I talk about?  Do I mention what’s been going on/will I make her feel bad about what she’s missing out on?  Do I talk about the future/wait that will just remind her of the stuff she won’t be able to be a part of?   Will she even know I’m there?  What good can I do there? It’s tempting to fill the silence, making the mistake of Job’s friends from that Biblical story.  In fact, you could get caught up in all kinds of fretting, but I’ll tell you what Sara told me (as she’s never been shy in telling folks what to do):

“Find the hand, find the heart.”*

I have exactly one job:  find her hand and hold it.  That simple.  I am to stand there, assure her that she’s not alone and that she’s loved.  It doesn’t take words, it just takes presence.  And willingness.  And compassion.  And love.  It’s not that hard.

When our time together is done, I’m not going to remember Sara this way.  We have lots of memories, plenty of laughter, arguing, and tears that make up a friendship and a life well lived.  Although, I take that back.  I will remember this time together because it was another chance to tell (and show) my friend how much I love and appreciate her.**

*She also reminded me, in case she was sleeping while I was there, that “For once you sitting around watching people sleep isn’t considered creepy.”

**Me:  You know I’m going to write about this, right?

Sara:  Yeah.  But I’m not going to let you right now.  You’ve got some hand holding to do.

For Your Consideration…

AKA Works that came out in 2011

Be it for awards consideration, Christmas gift ideas, or you just want to see what projects of mine came out this year (I know *I* did!), here’s a list of projects of mine which saw print in 2011  (for those doing the e-book thing, here’s a one stop shop of all of my projects available in a variety of e-formats):

Novels

King’s Justice (Angry Robot Books)

King’s War (Angry Robot Books)

Novella

Bleed With Me (Delirium Books)

Stories

I, Theodora (Beauty Has Her Way)

Lost Son (Griots)

In Receipt of Fern Seed (Voices from the Past)

Temple of Regrets (Apexology:  Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Problem of Trystan (Hot & Steamy:  Tales of Steampunk Romance)

Of the Seas, I Dream (Carnage & Consequences)

Article

“WisCon, Stories, and Ontological Blackness” (The WisCon Chronicles Vol. 5:  Writing and Racial Identity)

Actually, that’s not too bad of a list (I was feeling a little author envy when I saw the year some of my friends have had).  Due to the vagaries of publishing, only two of those projects were written in 2011 and came out in the same year.  Most of the stories were written five years or more ago, but only sold in 2010.  On the sale to publishing date, that’s still great.  In the “Sick of Me in 2012” Department, here are some projects in the pipeline for next year:

  • The anthology Dark Faith II (edited by Maurice Broaddus & Jerry Gordon) will be coming in fall 2012 (Apex Books)
  • The novella “I Can Transform You” (Apex Books)
  • The story “Rainfall” will be in the next issue of Cemetery Dance
  • The story “Under a Concrete Hill” will be in the next issue of Bull Spec
  • The story “The Cracker Trap” will be in an upcoming issue of Shroud Magazine
  • The story “Whispers at the End of Creation” will be in the Relics & Ruins anthology
  • The story “A Soldier’s Story” will be in the Vampires Don’t Sparkle! anthology
  • The story “Trails End” will be in the Dead West anthology
  • The story “Iron Hut” will be in the upcoming anthology, Ancient Shadows
  • The story “Awaiting Redemption” will be in an upcoming issue of Of Keene Interest
  • The story “Warrior of the Sunrise” will be in the upcoming Icons anthology

Waiting for the A-Ha* Moment

(AKA Embracing the Process)

I am stunned by the amount of fear I have when facing the blank page.  Not knowing where to begin.  Agonizing over the first sentence.  Wanting to get everything perfect.  Not knowing what the final story will look like.  Not knowing how I’m even going to get there.  It’s the same everything I sit down to write, you’d think I’d be used to it.

It’s not like I’ve not done this before.  Opening my closet of dirty little secrets, I wrote four books before my first book sale (in order:  Strange Fruit (which took seven years to finish), Pantheon of Dreams, Caught Up, Black Son Rising).  My books 5, 6, and 7 have been released (King Maker, King’s Justice, and King’s War).  Books 8, 9, and 10 are in the can/finished the first draft stage (Lyta’s Dance, Shepherds of Community, Prone to Wander).  So here I am starting book number 11 (Scout).

And it’s like I’ve once again forgotten how to write.  But this is what the process looks like for me:

-I lie around watching television, pursuing some social cause, or otherwise finding excuses not to plant my behind in a chair and just write.

-Once I’ve convinced myself that it’s time to write (i.e., a deadline looms), I begin my stare down with the blank page.

-Invariably, I lose the first round and retreat.

-I begin/continue reading to more to spur ideas and further fleshing out either my world or my characters.

-My notepads swell with jotted down snippets of dialogue, plot points, or description.

-I build a momentum of notes until something amazing happens:  I have my A-ha! moment.  Characters come into focus, I find that emotional place I want to tell the story from, or a cool idea has wrapped itself around my brain

-Thus armed, story finally fully gestated, I can’t help but put pen to page carried away on a wave of story.

It’s the waiting for the A-Ha that panics me most every time.  I suppose this violates the “never let them see you sweat” credo, but it took three months for that moment to arrive with King’s War.  I sat down in January of 2010 to write it, but it wasn’t until late March when it suddenly hit me on how to approach the story (when I found my emotional space to write from).  Until then I started and stopped writing.  Constantly re-wrote my opening line, paragraph, and scene (all of which got chucked anyway).  The whole time nursing that fear that the book would never get written or being convinced that this, or any, idea is completely unworkable as a story (particularly panicking if you are on the last book of your trilogy).

Plagued by doubts, mounting desperation, and fear; curling up under the covers gripped by sudden helplessness or the feeling of having finally hit the wall of writing block, I toil away.  Somehow I get to the end of the book and am equally amazed by the fact that I have somehow completed a novel.  I revel in the accompanying feelings of pride and satisfaction, that cigar moment of “wow, I just finished a book” … then I repeat the cycle all over again.

In the mean time, blogs are written.  When in doubt if I can’t perform the process, I can at least write about it.

-File under the emotional life of writing

*I could have gone with “Ta da!”, but the image of an 1980s pop group showing up whenever you had a breakthrough in your writing now haunts me.  A ha fans, both of them, are still despondent over the fact that the band split up last year.  Yeah, I was as shocked as anyone that they were still making music.

2012 Convention Appearances

Well, I’m already late to the game of having to think through which conventions I will be attending in 2012.  Typically my convention schedule is more a matter of figuring out how much I am going to have to save up in order to attend any.  I love conventions, though I felt I over did it this year (though maybe it was a matter of too many in too short a period of time).  Conventions are a time of creative renewal, an opportunity to network with other writers and editors, see old friends, meet new ones, and interact with fans.

So I try to maximize my opportunities to do all of those things (which is the only way to justify the trip to my family, as it’s more time away from them than just the act of writing itself).  As of right now, here are my appearances for 2012:

Texas Library Association – April 18 – 19 (Houston, TX)

African American Pioneers of Horror and Science Fiction (CPE#309: SBEC 1.0) – 10:15 – 11:50 AM

Creating good horror and science fiction is a true art. Join a panel of African Americans authors as they discuss the unique and appealing elements of these genres and share selections. A business meeting follows the program. Maurice Broaddus and Nalo Hopkinson. Black Caucus Round Table.

Mo*Con – May 4 – 6 (Indianapolis, IN)

Brought to you by the Indiana Horror Writers, Mo*Con is a convention focused on conversations revolving around horror literature and spirituality.  If you enjoy writing, horror, fantasy, and food, you’ll find plenty to enjoy at this convention.  Mary Robinette Kowal, Nate Southard, Mary Sangiovanni, John Edward Lawson, Mike Altman.

Readercon 23 – July 12-15, 2012 (Burlington, MS)

Gencon – August 16-19 (Indianapolis, IN)

Worldcon – August 30 – September 3 (Chicago, IL)

There were a few other conventions on my radar [C2E2 (April 13-15, Chicago, IL), Harlem Book Fair (July 23, Harlem, NY), Indianapolis Black Expo (July 7-17, Indianapolis, IN), Chicago Comic Con (August 9-12, Chicago, IL)], but with those other ones being my priority, they’ll have to wait til next year.

How do you decide which conventions are the best for you?  Any great ones I’m missing out on?

Just Don’t Marry One

(AKA So Jesus saith, “It’s twue, it’s twue.”)

A small Kentucky church has chosen to ban marriages and even some worship services for interracial couples. The Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, located in Pike County, made the vote in response to a longtime member who is engaged to a man whose birthplace is in Zimbabwe.

I sat with this story for a while (which some of my friends took for me not seeing it, so thanks all of you who sent me links).  I think the thing that struck me most about this news report was how everyone seems so shocked that this could go on this day and age (or, conversely, writing off the incident because it happened in a small church in Kentucky).  Yes, it’s news because it shocks our sensibilities and should be decried when spotted.  Still, it’s not as if interracial dating wasn’t just unbanned in 2000 at Bob Jones University or that Jim Crow wasn’t alive and well only a couple years ago.  Surely this must be a product of their provincialism and isolation, right?  This whole episode took me back…

I grew up in a conservative church in Indianapolis, Indiana.  I’ll grant you that my city isn’t exactly as cosmopolitan as a New York or an L.A., but, despite its detractors, it’s also not a backwater hayseed town either.  I was in an interesting place in my church and my life as the only black guy in our youth group/singles group (the basis for my upcoming story, “Whispers at the End of Creation” in the Relics & Remains anthology) and having my lack of identity/self-hate baptized by the church.  Already questioning a lot of things about what a faith community should look like (i.e., loving) and not being satisfied with the answers I was hearing, I had one foot out of the door and the other in the Nation of Islam (as I was tired of the monochrome nature of my world and was ready for a change).

The final push/bolt came with our conversations over interracial dating.  The topic typically came up as a sort of pre-emptive strike, as I was single and my very presence alone meant that I had an unspoken “where’re the white women at?” sign wherever I went (the double irony being that at the time, interracial dating was the furthest thing from my mind and now that I *am* married interracially).  What lit my fuse was their use of the Bible to defend their belief.

Ignoring the more ridiculous claims (the mark of Cain, the curse of Ham, etc.) or evidence to the contrary (Moses’ marriage, the women in Christ’s genealogy), the arguments came down to two ideas:  1.  “do not be unequally yoked” (2 Co. 6:14) and 2. the tenor of the Old Testament being that the races were to remain separate (one should always be wary when clinging to Leviticus to make one’s defense.  For the record, both of these arguments are easily torn to shreds as those interpretation fly in the face of, you know, the rest of the Bible and Christ’s mission of reconciliation not separation.  So when pressed, the bigotry was clearly encapsulated in the sentiments that “we” (black people, that is, as interracial dating conveniently was only defined as black and white people dating) were okay to be friends with, just don’t marry one.  But since no one wants to be seen as racist, sometimes the defense came down to the fact that we had to think of the children, who’d never have a place because they’d be rejected by both sides (which, again, says a lot if their default belief is that kids would automatically be ostracized rather than becoming bridges of reconciliation).

Mind you, this was just in the early 1990s.

Let’s face it, we want truths that fits into what we’re comfortable with and that mindset can deceptively set us on wrong paths. If, in your reading of the Bible, it only seems to confirm what you already think, then you’re probably mis-reading the Bible. If, in your reading of the Bible, you never come across anything that upsets or challenges you, you’re probably mis-reading the Bible. You can’t go to the Bible to prove what you want to say, using it simply as a vessel to prop up your own authority.  Racists use the Bible and bring their bigotry, their agenda, to its interpretation.*

So no, I’m not surprised to find out there are still bastions out there who make take an exegetical position that boils down to “Somewhere in the Old Testament it said ‘please don’t date our daughters’”.

We’re not quite a post-racial church and there is the need for continuing conversations when it comes to racial reconciliation.  But for those in that church who say that their stance doesn’t make them racist … yes, yes it does.

*I don’t hold the Bible or Christianity responsible for their ignorance.  If people do something stupid in the name of science (for example, the racist anthropologists who codified the idea of race in the first place), I don’t hold science responsible but those “scientists” and their individual bigotry and their misuse and/or missing the point of science.

Books I’m Reading

AKA The TBR stack never dies…

I’m a horribly slow reader.  These days I rarely get to read for pure amusement (not when there’s so much television to watch!)  I try to be choosy about what I read, the bulk of the stuff I read having already been vetted/vouched for by friends whose opinions I trust.  But every now and then, books either get sent to me or I have made an excuse to read them.

Ben  Aaronovitch – Midnight Riot

Here’s my issue with Ben Aaronovitch:  he needs to quit working my side of the street.   Crime driven urban fantasy is what *I’m* supposed to do.  I just meant to casually flick through Midnight Riot, but his stuff is wildly addictive.  It has all the stuff that I love:  a non-stop thrill ride fueled by great characters and pitch perfect dialogue.  Seriously.  I don’t need that kind of competition, especially from writers who make their literary crime sprees seem so effortless.  My take home lesson has been that if I’m on a writing deadline, I can’t pick up Aaronovitch.  He’s a thoroughly, thoroughly, entertaining distraction. (Angry Robot)

Chris F. Holm – Dead Harvest

Speaking of which, I need to stop Chris F Holm before his book comes out.  I have been perusing the ARC of his upcoming release, Dead Harvest.  Here’s the thing, crime novels are my favorite reads (I’m on record as being a huge George Pelecanoes fan).  So a mix of horror and crime is pretty much speaking my love language, and Holm enjoys writing love letters to my soul apparently:  “Sam Thornton collects souls.  The souls of the damned, to be precise.  Once taken himself, he’s now doomed to ferry souls to hell for all eternity, in service of a debt he can never repay. But when he’s dispatched to retrieve the soul of a girl he believes is innocent of the horrific crime for which she’s been damned, Sam does something no Collector has ever done before: he refuses.” (Angry Robot)

Benjamin X. Wretlind – Castles:  A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors

Benjamin X. Wretlind is one of those writers no one has heard of but whom I’ve kept my eye on.  I keep waiting on him to break through and take the small press by storm.  With his collection, Regarding Dead Things on the Side of the Road, he showed some promise.  Now I have his book, Castles:  A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors.  Maybe now he’ll find a wider audience.

Pandemonium:  Stories of the Apocalypse

For matters of complete disclosure, I was asked to be in this anthology.  Tried as I might, due to a bunch of deadlines slamming together at the same time, I couldn’t find the time to actually write the short story in my head (I had the story and characters pretty fully formed).  I had to turn down a few writing gigs which stunk because the final product looks great and I missed an opportunity to share a TOC with Lauren Beukes, my tentacle partner in crime.

Some things I am reading in order to get in the mood for whatever writing project I’m doing next.  I know many writers read outside of their genre as not to “cross-pollinate”, but I enjoy reading in whatever genre I’m writing.  I’d say it’s sort of like creative/mental foreplay, but that’s far too graphic an image for me to go for.  So good thing I didn’t say it.  Among those titillating my imagination are

Paul Jessup  – Open Your Eyes

Currently out of print, hopefully someone will be re-releasing it soon.  I’ve been a fan of Paul’s writing for a long time.  His works are complete mind trips.  He reminds me of a young Grant Morrison:  he just keeps throwing wild idea after wild image after wild plot at the reader.  You read the first few pages, wonder where he’s going, and just when you think you have a handle on the story, he veers in a totally different direction.  And his prose hurtles along with a mad fury, sort of like violent poetry.

Jason Sanford – Never Never Stories

Anyone who has ever run across Interzone magazine or has heard of the Million Writers Award is probably familiar with Jason Sanford.  I fell in love with him after reading his novella, Sublimation Angels.  Which means when he asked if I’d like an ARC of his Never Never Stories, a collection of his short stories, I didn’t hesitate to crawl through Teh Interwebz to get a copy.  It’s one stop shopping for SF goodness from a modern master on the fast track.

None of this includes books on theology (like Scot McKnight’s The Jesus Creed for Students) or issues I’m thinking through (like Dan Allender’s Leading With a Limp).  Nor does this include comic books…which I keep swearing that I’m done collecting but then special projects come up or, well, the library has so many trades now…

So much great stuff to read.  All in all, a good problem to have, but who knows how long it will take me to get through all of these, and the TBR doesn’t exactly shrink while I wait.