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Bibliomancy

I know I’ve been silent lately, and there’s a reason.

I’ve been reevaluating my writing career. I realized at some point that I stopped being the amateur writer that I was and have been moving towards building a professional career. This blog was started some time ago when I was at a different point in my life and I wanted different things out of a blog. It’s gone through so many changes that it’s kind of a mess. It no longer really represents me.

After a lot of thought, I’ve decided to start afresh.

New Blog

My new blog, Bibliomancy, can be found at alisonjmckenzie.wordpress.com. From the blog description:

Welcome to Bibliomancy, a blog featuring articles and news in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres specifically aimed at writers.

If this seems like something that would interest you, I encourage you to go take a look, but there’s no obligation. Thank you for all of your likes, comments, and support. Writing at Midnight will still be here as a resource, but it won’t be updated. Additionally, some of the topics that I addressed in this blog will be readdressed afresh in the new blog, but only those that were very important to me. For the most part, it will be new material.

Thank you and best wishes,

Alison

Norwescon

I’m writing this from my hotel room at Norwescon.

 

Norwescon is a Seattle convention, which means it takes place about forty minutes away from my apartment. But staying at the hotel a con takes place at is a very different experience than having to commute, and it’s an opportunity I jump at whenever it crops up. I’m sharing a room with friend, coworker, and fellow writer Angel Leigh McCoy, who has been invaluable to me as a mentor and supporter. She is also extremely talented, and I often look to her for guidance with my own work and my writing career. Sharing a room with her is also like having a slumber party with a good friend. We stayed up late last night playing card games and talking about writing and life and giggling about stupid stuff.

 

By the way, to get to our hotel room from the hotel lobby, we have to walk down a hallway, cross a skybridge, go up an elevator, cross another skybridge, walk down another hallway, over the mountain, through the woods, and so on and so forth. This hotel is labyrinthine. I keep expecting to round a corner and find myself covered in glitter and standing outside the goblin king’s castle.

 

Norwescon is a sci fi & fantasy con, but my particular interest in it is that it has a lot of wonderful resources for writers. I’ve been wanting to attend it for years, and this is the first time I’ve had the chance to go. There are panels on outlining, on adding historical details to your novel, on publishing, on pacing, on alien exobiology, and on anything you can think of that has to do with writing.
I wasn’t sure how helpful these panels would be, to be honest. But the weekend’s not over yet, and so far:

 

  1. I’ve been presented with great resources for building the languages in my fantasy novel
  2. I’ve realized the major problems with the first draft of my fantasy novel, problems that I have known existed but not known how to tackle, and finally been able to figure out how to fix them. I have drastically changed the feel and the pacing of the first draft, and come up with a complete outline for the second draft—something I’ve been stuck on for literally years.
  3. Gone over the above outline with a fellow writer who pointed out some mistakes I’d already made—that the first four planned chapters can be cut completely.
  4. Met a number of awesome people.
  5. Learned about what I would need to do an audio version of one of my works.
  6. Figured out what I need to do to fix my novella and uncovered a few places I could shop it to for potential publication.
  7. Figured out that it would be very useful for me to have a world-building almanac for my fantasy novel that is separate from the novel itself, something I can use as a reference without feeling like I need to actually put all of those details into my story.
  8. Got to (briefly) see Clinton J. Boomer, who is an incredible person. I’ve been following his writing career ever since I became aware of him through working at Paizo Publishing.
  9. Uncovered a potential publishing opportunity for my new collaborative project, which I have been working diligently on but have not been ready to completely announce yet. Watch this space.
  10. Made some big progress on that unnamed project from item #8.

 

In other news, the horror anthology that has accepted one of my short stories looks like it will be out in May. More information to come.

Just Quiet

This isn’t about writing. Not really. It’s not some bit of profound advice on how to be a writer, which can be as simple as writing, or how to write well, which can be as simple as practicing. It’s not really about anything except my life right now. But if I’m going to post about anything, it’s going to be this.

My life isn’t hard. I’d say it’s average, or above average even. It’s not easy, either. It’s just somewhere in the middle.

I want to make that clear. I don’t want anyone to have the mistaken assumption that when I talk about my life, it’s a story of pain and hardship. It’s not.

But I do get frustrated sometimes, and that’s where I’ve been for the last few weeks–Frustration Junction, three miles outside of Goddammit, Mississippi.

It’s little things. Money, car troubles, a leg injury that I can’t explain further than, “I woke up and it hurt, and then I couldn’t really walk for a week.” Nothing heartbreaking, nothing soul-crushing, but it’s meant that I haven’t wanted to talk. I haven’t written anything on my blog that has any real piece of me in it. I haven’t been tweeting or loitering in Facebook. I haven’t wanted to be social. I haven’t even called my mother in days, when usually we’re thick as thieves.

So bear with me. I’ll go back to babbling about writing. I even have a new project on my radar.

I’m not gone. I’m still here. Just…quiet.

Liebster Award

liebster_awardI’ve been nominated for a few blogging awards before. I appreciate the thought. Honestly—it’s very flattering to have something I’ve worked hard on be called out. However, I tend to not follow through because they honestly feel kind of like chain letters to me (“Answer these questions and tag ten people!”) On the other side, it gives me a chance to let people whose blogs I’m reading know that I appreciate their work.

Also, this one just looked like fun, mainly because I don’t tend to talk about myself much on here unless it has to do with writing. Thanks to Cheryl Fassett for nominating me and for providing such great questions. The nomination’s actually been sitting for a while and I’ve been debating whether or not to run with it. In the end, I decided to go with it.

Here are the fancy shmancy rules:

1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog and link back to the blogger who presented this award to you. (Check)
2. Answer the 11 questions from the nominator, list 11 random facts about yourself and create 11 questions for your nominees. (Oh, uh, okay)
3. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 11 blogs of 200 followers or less who you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen. (No tag backs)
4. Copy and Paste the blog award on your blog (Check)

The questions:

    1. Are you a blogger at heart or do you dream of writing novels, plays, poetry? What are your writing goals?
      I have dabbed in poetry and journalism in the past, but currently focus on mostly short stories and novels. I’m working on getting a few of my short stories published and polishing up my novels for editing and potential publication. Ultimately I would like to have a book published. The primary purpose of my blog is to keep writing always at the front of my mind, even when I’m not at work.
    2. Where have you travelled? Where do you dream of travelling?
      I’ve been to various states within the U.S., including Hawaii. I’ve also been to the island Antigua (when I was very young), Italy, and recently, Greece. (I also stuck a toe in Turkey.) I dream of visiting Spain, Jamaica, England, Wales, Alaska, and various locations in New England. I will be visiting New Orleans for the first time later this year, and I’m very excited.
    3. What are your greatest pet peeves?
      Oooh, I have so many. A number have to do with driving, but I won’t get into those. That would be a whole blog post. Maybe a whole blog. My writing pet peeves are pretty typical: poor spelling, grammar, and punctuation; people who will accept praise but not criticism; and these people:
  1. Do you have pets? If so, names please! If not, do you wish you did?
    I grew up with many pets, but my apartment complex does not allow pets. As soon as I move, I’m getting a cat.
  2. What super power do you wish you had?
    That’s a tough one. I wish I could fly so that I wouldn’t be afraid of heights (it’s not the height—it’s the falling from the height that worries me.) I wish I could teleport (my morning commute would be wonderful). And I wish I could make squirrels appear out of nowhere (I would automatically win every argument.)
  3. What are your favorite books?
    Beyond Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, I’d say The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub, Magician by Raymond E. Feist, and The Book of Atrus by Rand and Robyn Miller.
  4. What are you reading now?
    Right now I’m reading Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and listening to an audiobook of Phantoms by Dean Koontz.
  5. What is your best childhood memory?
    I mentioned before that I had a lot of animals as a kid. I wasn’t kidding. Cats, dogs, horses, goats, guinea fowl, and a spider that lived in our windowsill (I was convinced it was the same spider every year but, more likely, I was naming multiple spiders “Fred”—or was it “Frank”?). Any of my memories of running around my backyard looking at horses and chasing after the dogs would fit here. Also, my grandmother used to take me to the library on Saturdays. Those are wonderful memories as well.
  6. What were you afraid of when you were 10?
    Probably hammerhead sharks thanks to a Goosebumps book cover:

    I was convinced my floor was going to open up in the middle of the night and my bed was going to dump me into a tank of hammerhead sharks. I don't know why.

    I was convinced my floor was going to open up in the middle of the night and my bed was going to dump me into a tank of hammerhead sharks.

  7. What is your favorite way to spend a day off?
    On warm days I like to go for long walks, sometimes to the library. On wet or cold days I prefer to stay at home with a book, a TV show, a movie, or a video game. If I’m watching TV or a movie, I’m probably polishing up my draft of my novella, Mortality, at the same time. The first draft is already written, but it needs some love before my beta readers take a look at it.
  8. Do you have a day job? What do you do to pay the bills?
    I’m a video game writer.

The eleven random facts:

  1. My nerditude extends beyond books and video games. I also enjoy comic books and tabletop roleplaying games.
  2. I really like Star Trek. A lot.
  3. I was adopted.
  4. I have a little brother.
  5. I don’t like roast beef.
  6. I love The Little Mermaid.
  7. I have a fear of snakes.
  8. My favorite superheroes are Zorro and Deadpool. (If Batman gets to be a superhero, so does Zorro.)
  9. I often have nightmares and trouble sleeping.
  10. I once took a road trip across the U.S. from North Carolina to Washington state.
  11. I don’t eat crust on bread unless I have to.

Questions for the bloggers I’m tagging to answer:

  1. If you could meet any celebrity, who would it be? Why?
  2. If out of the blue you had to take a completely new career path, something you’ve never done before but always wondered about (like a police officer or astronaut) what would you pick? Why?
  3. What types of music do you listen to?
  4. What is your favorite dream you’ve ever had?
  5. If you could pick any book to be turned into a movie, what would you pick and why?
  6. If you had to pick a (new) pen name for yourself, what would you pick?
  7. What are your goals for this year?
  8. If you could spend a day with any book character, who would you pick and why?
  9. Do you have any interesting hobbies?
  10. If you had a chance to study another language, what would you pick?
  11. If you had three wishes, what would they be?

It was really hard to come up with those questions. Holy cow.

Blogs I’m tagging:

Girl in the Cat Frame Glasses
Words in the Woods
Rosie Oliver
Miss Kitty Roads
Corey M.P.
Sugar Beats
Ashley Catharine Howie
J. Sevick
A Writer’s Journey
Inkless
M. H. Lee

Most of them are focused on writing (except Sugar Beats, which is a fun cooking blog with recipes.) They are all blogs I hand picked because I enjoy them. I could only pick eleven, and if you don’t see your blog up here, don’t be disheartened—if I’m following you, you’re doing something right.

52 Books in 2013—Update 04

It’s been a stressful, painful month. When it rains, it pours, right? But despite all that, despite my frustration and exhaustion, life is still a beautiful thing. I really don’t have too much to complain about, and all of these frustrations will pass.

Reading is such a comfort, isn’t it?

10. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson walkinthewoods

Bill Bryson was recommended to me as the sort of writer who could make a 150,000-word book about a piece of thread the most interesting thing you’ve ever read (not that he’s written a 150,000 word book about a piece of thread, or anything, I think). The point is that he’s a very good writer. I ordered his book, The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, and while I was waiting for it to arrive, I read A Walk in the Woods on my Kindle. It’s a nonfiction about his experiences trying to hike the Appalachian Trail. I found it to be surprisingly refreshing. And it made me want to hike (though nothing as large as the Appalachian Trail, and since I’m not an outdoorsy person, this inspiration will have completely faded by the end of the month). One of the reviews notes that the book becomes decidedly less interesting during the second half. I found this to be somewhat true; the first half was more interesting, but the second half wasn’t nearly as boring as I’d been led to fear. Overall, a good book, and I’m looking forward to reading The Mother Tongue.

phantoms_koontz11. Phantoms by Dean Koontz

More Dean Koontz. When will I ever learn? Actually, despite the fact that Koontz once again has way too many characters and viewpoints, that I was heavily reminded by the movie The Thing and elements of Lovecraftian horror, and that Koontz has a habit of doing everything that my sources on “how to write well” say not to do, overall I enjoyed this book. Mostly the ending. It lagged a little in the middle, and if I hadn’t been listening to it as an audiobook and the narrator hadn’t done different voice for each character, I wouldn’t have been able to keep track of anybody at all. He would introduce a new viewpoint just for once scene, then kill off the character in that scene. Ugh. Great concept, mediocre execution (except for the ending, which I really did like.) It was a good mystery with a good payoff.

12. Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichtonpirate_latitudes

This book was no Jurassic Park—which is a brilliant book—but it was fun. It was a quick and interesting adventure. I wasn’t really sure where it was going (except that it was about pirates), and at times I felt like it had been written in something of a rush; parts of it seemed a bit rough and unpolished, but only a little. That’s not to say it isn’t a good book. I’d say it was worth reading. And who doesn’t love pirates?

Previous Updates:

https://writingatmidnight.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/52-books-in-2013-update-01/

https://writingatmidnight.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/52-books-in-2013-update-02/

https://writingatmidnight.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/52-books-in-2013-update-03/

Books to Be Excited About

So, a few weeks ago I found this post on io9:

All the Essential Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in 2013

I’m seriously a book nerd. I hoard books. Reading is as essential to me as eating and sleeping (sometimes more essential than sleeping.) So finding this article was kind of like getting a letter that said, “All of your favorite candies will be delivered to your apartment every day for a year for free!” I mean, it was exciting. It’s still exciting. This post came out in January and I’m still freaking out about it.

This year is going to be awesome.

All quotes and images are from the io9 article. I suggest going there for the full list. I’ve just highlighted my favorites below.

nos4a2joylandfall_of_arthurgods_and_monsetersocean_at_the_end_of_the_lane

New Joe Hill!
*happy dance* Heart-Shaped Box is one of my favorite horror novels. 20th Century Ghosts and Horns were both okay. But Heart-Shaped Box was good enough that I will read everything that has his name on it hoping for another one. And NOS4A2 sounds awesome. Doesn’t this sound awesome?

Victoria McQueen, a kid who has a talent for finding things, gets kidnapped by the sinister Charles Talent Manx, who sends children to a strange and horrifying place called Christmasland — and then Victoria escapes, and moves on with her life. Until years later, when Manx kidnaps Victoria’s young son.

New Stephen King!
First, Joyland:

This one is a crime novel set in an amusement park, with ghosts. Set in 1973.

And then the widely anticipated Doctor Sleep, sequel to The Shining, one of my favorite Stephen King books. Am I excited? You bet. Am I a little skeptical? That too.

New Tolkien!
“How is that possible?” you cry. Magic! Pure magic. Except it’s about King Arthur, so I’m less excited. I took a class on King Arthur as an undergraduate and it ruined the stories for me forever. Mostly. But The Fall of Arthur is still worth checking out just on principle.

New Chuck Wendig!
Though to be honest, the plot of Gods and Monsters: Unclean Spirits doesn’t really catch my interest just yet. But what do I know? It’s Chuck Wendig!

New Neil Gaiman, who I don’t tend to like as a writer, but this particular story might be kind of awesome, so I’ll be keeping an eye on it.
Something about fairy tales and bodies of water. I’ll reserve judgement on The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

gun_machinerevengedemonologist

Other books that look awesome:

The Gun Machine by Warren Ellis
… a detective finds a room full of guns, each connected to an unsolved murder. And this strange discovery leads to an even darker secret — an unholy bargain between the city’s most powerful people and the Old Gods of Manhattan.

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
…eleven creeptastic stories, complete with Murakami-esque weirdness. In one story, a woman’s heart beats outside her body, causing people to fall in love with her — or want to preserve her beating heart inside a delicate leather bag.

The Demonologist: A Novel by Andrew Pyper
A literature professor who specializes in the literature of demons gets summoned to Venice to witness a real-life demonic event — which he doesn’t believe in, until he’s confronted with overwhelming proof. Soon, he’s trying to save his daughter from an evil demon, and his only guide is John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

God, I like morbid stuff, don’t I? There’s a lot more variety on that main list than what I’ve picked out here. Thanks to io9 for compiling such a great list.

The Unashamed Female Writer

When I was a kid, I always planned on being published as “A. J. McKenzie.” That is no longer the case. I like my first name, so I might as well show it off. Everywhere that I’ve been published, I’ve used it. And when I finally get one of these novels off the ground, I’ll use it there, too.

Alison J. McKenzie. That’s me.

But whether or not I liked my name had nothing to do with why I was going to stick to my initials. My main motivation was that I didn’t want readers to judge my book at a glance based on whether the author was male or female.

And I just accepted that. Like it was okay that our gender preconceptions are still dictating whether or not something is worth checking out. Like by admitting I’m female, I would lose potential readers, so I should just slip into gender anonymity to be on the safe side.

And if you’re thinking, “That sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore!” You’re wrong. It does.

Female Romance Author of 22 Books Actually 80-Year-Old War Vet Called Bill

Quote from the article:

 “When he approached a publisher for his books, he was told they wouldn’t sell unless it looked like he was a woman, so Jessica Blair was born.”

That makes some sort of sense, right? I mean, if I knew an 80-year-old man wrote the romance novel I was reading, I might be creeped out (I don’t actually read romance, so I don’t know for sure). But it’s not his age that’s the trouble. If it was an 80-year-old woman, I would just think it was quaint. So why do I think that? Why can only women write romance novels?

I suppose it’s because they’re books targeted at a female audience. Perhaps we believe that only women understand women. But if the writing itself proves that assumption wrong, then what good is it? It’s sexist. Plain and simple.

“Well,” you say, “that’s one particular situation, and it is romance, after all. You don’t even write romance. You write fantasy and horror and science fiction. So I don’t see why you think it would affect you.” Well, look at J.K. Rowling. You probably already know that her full name is Joanna Rowling and she doesn’t actually have a middle initial. Her publisher thought her book, which would be marketed towards children, would not appeal to boys if they knew she was a woman.1

For another example, look at “James Chartrand.” The name’s in quotes because it’s a pen name. She found that by writing under a male name2, blogging opportunities suddenly opened up. A quote from her blog post on the issue:

Understand, I hadn’t advertised more effectively or used social media — I hadn’t figured that part out yet. I was applying in the same places. I was using the same methods. Even the work was the same.

In fact, everything was the same.

Except for the name.

When I was much younger, I read The Legend of Nightfall by Mickey Zucker Reichert, and it became one of my favorite book. There’s a thief/assassin who is a total asshole, and he’s one of my favorite characters ever because the book is mostly his running commentary on how stupid the other guy is. The other guy is an idiotic prince. The two main characters are dudes. There’s a ton of action and fighting and general manliness. Mickey Mouse is a boy mouse. I totally assumed Mickey Zucker Reichert was a guy.

When I found out she was, in fact, a “she,” I was flabbergasted! I felt like I’d been lied to! If I’d known she was female, it would have changed so much! Except it actually wouldn’t have changed anything. Because when I read the book, I really enjoyed it. The book was a good book. Looking back on it, I do see the “womanly touches” that I missed before, but why should that matter? Why does it? Because somehow, it still matters. Somehow, it still affects my judgment.

And if it affects my judgment, as a female reader who is all about gender equality, who else is affected? Who else is judging books by their author’s gender without even realizing it?

I challenge you to pay attention when you go into book stores. When you’re browsing books, looking at book covers and reading the backs, see if at any point you make a judgment based on the author’s gender.

If you have more than half a brain cell, you know that sexism isn’t dead. If you think it is, try being a female working in a comic book store. Or just try being a female going to a comic book store to buy something. Those cracks that “women don’t buy Magic cards” haven’t been funny for…okay, they were never funny.

It’s not funny because I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the fact that I’m female being called out. Shouldn’t we be over this by now? Why does it matter? Why does it still matter?

And why is there this voice in the back of my head that says I may be shooting myself in the foot if I proudly display my gender?

While I was researching this post, I stumbled across this gem of a blog post: http://fullspeedaheadskipper.blogspot.com/2012/05/sexism-stereotypes-and-female-writers.html

The first sentence is, and I quote, “I don’t like reading books by women.” The author’s argument is mostly about the fact he doesn’t read romance. So why isn’t the quote, “I don’t like reading books about romance”? Because there’s also a style difference. This has some credence to it, I’ll grant that. Just look at the Gender Guesser.3 Now, he talks about stereotypes and why they can be useful. I’m not going to get into that. But I think saying, “I don’t like reading books by women,” is a really bold statement. “I tend to not enjoy books by women” is a statement I’d buy. But he makes it sound like no female writer (except for J.K. Rowling, who he enjoys but puts on a “facade of indifference” so he doesn’t—get this—get stereotyped as a nerd) could ever hold his interest. Okay, he prefers nautical books. They’re mostly written by men. That’s cool. But “I don’t like reading books by women” is straight up sexist. He talks about how it’s okay to admit there’s differences between genders. I see no problem with that. But there’s a difference between “I tend to not like the female writing style” and “I don’t like reading books by women.”

Sure, this is just one guy, but how many are out there who feel exactly the same way who don’t have blogs and don’t feel they need to tell everyone that they don’t read books by women? How many people would pass by my novels in the book store just because of my name?

Part of me does want to go back to the initials, the safe “A.J. McKenzie.” Or start going by “Alan McKenzie.” For the sake of readership. For the sake of sales.

But I won’t. Because I shouldn’t have to.

won’t.

1Sources:
J.K. Rowling: A Biography
Initials: Why Are Authors So Keen On Them?
2Source:
Female Writers Don’t Get Bylines—And It’s Not Always Their Fault
3Note:
Apparently Gender Guesser thinks my fantasy novel was written by a male.