Monday, March 31, 2014

30-Week Blog Challenge Week 30: Hopes and Dreams

I'm back with the Monday blog challenge . . . for the last time, 'cause it's WEEK 30! The lady in charge is Marie at Mom Gets Real. The questions are right here:


And Week 30's prompt is . . .


Everyone here knows I want to be a successful writer. I mean, that's been the idea since childhood. I never answered the "What do you want to be when you grow up?" question with anything else.

Child Julie didn't foresee the personal computer.
Child Julie was not actually orange.
My hopes, dreams, and plans for the future are a little more concrete than "be an author," though.

Writing-related short-term goals:
  • Get a publishing deal for at least one fiction book. (Hopefully a multiple-book deal, but hey.)
  • Publish some short fiction.
  • Prepare for a great release for my nonfiction book in September.
  • Write the Bad Fairy sequel and maybe one other book this year.
  • Do some more media interviews and publish more pieces to promote awareness on asexuality in association with my nonfiction book.
Writing-related long-term goals:
  • Become established with a publisher, resulting in a steady publishing career.
  • Continue doing events and promotion in association with my nonfiction book (though hopefully minimizing the actual traveling).
  • Regularly attend writing conferences and events (participating in panels, readings/signings, and workshops where appropriate, attending when not).
  • Become a better short story writer and get more pieces out there.
  • Write full time.
  • Be able to take writing vacations.
Other short-term goals:
  • Find more time to read.
  • Keep up with my blogs, video creation, comics, singing, and other hobbies.
  • Finish some of the website projects I've had sitting around for years.
  • Finish posting my book reviews on Goodreads and begin participating in the forums.
Other long-term goals:
  • Read all the books I own.
  • Collect all the work of my favorite authors and musicians.
  • Live in a house and have a real garden.
  • Be able to assist my parents when they need support in their older years.
  • See a bunch of musicals on Broadway.
  • Be able to see my distant family and friends more often.

To tell you the truth, my current life is very similar to what I hope and dream about--just on a smaller scale. I don't have to spend much time at my day job, and yet it pays well enough and offers an environment secure and stress-free enough that I can spend the rest of my time devoted to my creative pursuits. I've already got a book deal for my nonfiction and am on submission to publishers for my fiction (which could end up resulting in a book deal any time now), and I continue to write more novels and short stories and engage in all my favorite pursuits. One day if my dreams come true I'll have more security, more time with people I love, and more opportunity to create my stories, and more people will be listening when the stories I write are shared with the world.

But as things are, even though I have goals and aspirations, I like where I am.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Personal Digest Saturday: March 22 – 28

Here's the second week of my new little personal post digest on Saturdays. So here we go!

Life news this week:
  • I had Victor over on Saturday night and we made pizza and watched movies, and he gave me my birthday presents finally! He had gotten me candy and DVDs and had hand-painted me a football helmet so it would look like a Devilbats helmet from Eyeshield 21!
  • Wrote my presentation that I'll be doing at University of Virginia. Haven't made the slides yet but did the outline!
  • I sent out a newsletter to my subscribers updating them on everything that's going on. Here's the newsletter signup.
  • I decided to make some of my So You Write comics available as prints in the DeviantART shop. People can buy 5 x 5 prints and a couple other sizes in the shop.
  • I met a fellow writer on Twitter whose name is Ron. He ended up asking me to fill in for an author who canceled on an author panel this weekend. So I will be appearing at a library in Bradenton, reading an excerpt from my novel.
  • Ate at Panera's with Jeaux but he was sick so he didn't come over after; he just went home to sleep. I think he's feeling better now.
Places featured:
  • My nonfiction agent, Andrea Somberg, put up my client page on her site.
  • The Asexual Agenda featured me on this week's linkspam to spread the message that I am going to be at Proud to Be Out Week in Virginia.
Reading progress:
  • Finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: ★★
  • Currently reading Mississippi Jack by L.A. Meyer.
New singing performances:

Recorded "Castle on a Cloud" from Les Misérables.

New drawings:

Webcomic Negative One Issue 0463: "Sweet Face."

Webcomic So You Write Issue 34: "Networking."

New videos:

None this week!

New photos:

Victor doesn't have the ability to NOT make faces for the camera.
Homemade pizza: Mine is mushroom with soy crumbles!
Devilbats helmet, made by Victor! YA-HA!

My social media counts:

YouTube subscribers: 3,142 for swankivy (35 new this week), 325 for JulieSondra (7 new). Twitter followers: 461 for swankivy (2 new), 354 for JulieSondra (8 new). Facebook: 248 friends (no change) and 120 followers (no change) for swankivy, 328 likes for JulieSondra (2 new), 44 likes for Negative One (2 new). Tumblr followers: 1,258 (17 new).

What's new with you?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fearing failure, fearing success

I have an OKCupid profile for making friends.

Before you laugh at the concept of a non-partner-seeking aromantic asexual person trying to use what is ostensibly a dating site for "friends," yes, they ask you to check off what you're there for. I fail to see why so many people mock me for this when I see this on the signup screen:

Well well well, look what's NOT checked.

It's been pretty fantastic over the years as I've used it for that purpose, too. I've made tons of friends and had even more great conversations that didn't exactly turn into lasting relationships, and a few of the people I met through OKCupid have become fixtures in my life.

However, one of the side effects of being on OKCupid is dealing with a TON of rude people who are responding to pictures, not profiles, and secondary in frequency only to the clueless hookup requests are the folks who DO read some or all of the profile and feel compelled to lecture me about something in it. You know, because it's really important that they, a stranger, barge into my life and tell me what I'm doing wrong.

And one of the items in my profile that I have gotten horrible mail about is my answer to the profile prompt "The most private thing I'm willing to admit."

I answered "I fear both success and failure."

For some reason something like eight different people have found that particular sentence to be pretentious and meaningless while trying to sound deep. I don't know why it seems to set off people's BS bells. Because it's absolutely true of me, and it isn't any attempt to lay down a philosophy bomb.

Here's the context in which it was meant:

Right now, I am chasing my dream. You know, the one where I get a book deal for my fiction project. Getting agency representation has theoretically brought me closer, but it's still not a book deal, and there have been some failures along the way. Rejections, you know. There were rejections getting to where I am, of course, and I imagine I will continue to see rejections in the future for various things I try to do. But as long as I don't actually fail, I guess the dream is alive and I'm still reaching for it. It's just true that my success or failure at this is not in my hands anymore.

I've done my part, and now I'm waiting for the right editor at a publishing house to believe in my book and make an offer. When a person is dependent upon someone else's acceptance to take the step she wants to take on the path she's chosen, some of her success is not up to her. I can only keep trying and keep hoping. It's not a matter of believing enough or being persistent enough or working harder. I do believe, and I have been persistent, and I have worked hard; that's how I got here. If someone else's acceptance is what I need next to succeed, I have no control over whether I fail. So I could fail forever.

That's pretty scary. Which is why I say I fear it.


Succeeding is scary too. I am already busy beyond what is comfortable. Many of the things that keep me busy are self-chosen activities, but I consider myself dedicated to them, and they are important to me. I already have trouble finding time and energy to see my friends and family, read as much as I want, work on my creative projects, answer the ridiculous amount of e-mail I get. And if I do achieve the success I want, well . . . there's certainly going to be less time for what I love. There will only be fewer hours in the day.

I'm seeing some of this--just as I suspected--with getting a book deal for my nonfiction. I've spent a ton of time on that book (and I haven't even received my edits yet!), not just working on the book itself after getting the deal, but on doing research and preparations for behind-the-scenes stuff (like preparing my list of media contacts and reviewers, for starters). I'm saying yes to virtually every appearance and interview request I get because I think it's kind of a dumb time for me to say no to things when I have a book coming out later this year. And I'm trying to stay in touch with the world so people know what's going on with me and my projects--updating the blogs I write, making videos, creating comic content, preparing newsletters, all that--and it's fun, but it's both time-consuming and somewhat exhausting.

I worry that the obligations and the UN-fun things might become overwhelming, or at least crowd out the fun things more often than I expected or wanted.

But I still want what I want.

I know I don't want to stay here and I'm afraid of getting stuck here, but I'm a little afraid of what's on the other side of the hill, too.

Welcome to life, I guess.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

#PitMad hints

This post was helpful to some earlier this year, so I'm revisiting my #PitMad advice!

Unagented and/or unpublished writers looking for agents and small publishers can jump on the #PitMad tag on Twitter and pitch your book today!

Full rules/explanations on Brenda Drake's blog.

So . . . would you like some advice on pitching?  Here we go!

First off, I have only participated in ONE Twitter contest as an author trying to get signed, and I did get a request (though the agent did not ultimately offer on my book). What I learned from the experience and from watching the others who got requests is that trying to sum up the whole story in one tweet does not work. Don't give them plot summary!

The purpose of the tweet is to get agents and publishers interested enough to ask for more. You can do this by shocking them, intriguing them, or--best of all--making them laugh.

I recommend against being vague or generic. Focus on what's really different or unusual about your book. 


He may be her dream guy, but he's NOT what he seems!


Dev can manipulate Kay's dreams, and now she believes he's someone he's not. Will their meeting be a dream come true or a nightmare?

I recommend against naming all the elements your book contains in a list format. It just makes us go "okay, so it has this stuff in it, but I don't connect." Give us one unusual element to focus on.


Lady cop faces car chases, shootouts, and love triangles in a high-speed crime drama.


Jess's cop ex-lover has decided she needs to die. Too bad her police training didn't cover how to survive a shootout while running in heels.

I recommend connecting us to something personal about your character rather than just reducing them to a name, age, or profession.


Cameraman Nick wants to date rising celebrity Summer, but doesn't know how to approach their relationship.


Summer's incredible superpowers have made her famous, but Nick craves a down-to-earth romance with the girl who can fly. 

I recommend against pitching devoid of voice. Give us some funny or sarcastic flavor that matches your book if at all possible, and don't worry if we don't have the context to understand; just make us curious enough to ask!


Cassie has two personalities. They both want different things. She goes on a quest to figure out who to date and who she is.


Can't a girl and her other self have a good old-fashioned reality-crossing romance anymore? 

Sometimes it's incredibly hard to figure out what agents and publishers will nibble on, of course, and they all like different things for different reasons. But focus on a clincher, a one-liner, a sentence that makes you blink and think "Wait, what?" You only need to make them ask for more. Then you get to show them your query. Remember that, and happy pitching!  

(For the record, the first two pitches in these examples are things I made up for hypothetical books, so if you want to read them . . . sorry, they're not real. The last two examples are for books I actually wrote. And the final one is a Twitter pitch that got me a request.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

30-Week Blog Challenge Week 29: A Person You Love

I'm back with the Monday blog challenge! The lady in charge is Marie at Mom Gets Real. The questions are right here:


And Week 29's prompt is . . .


Ah jeez. Why don't we go with this guy?

This super special fellow is Jeaux, and I haven't written about him on my blog at all yet, so he gets some love.

I met Jeaux on the Internet in 2000 shortly before I graduated from college. He was living in a nearby Florida city at the time--though still a bit of a drive from me--and after having randomly fallen upon my America Online profile because I liked the cartoon The Tick and turned out to also be a writer, he IMed me. Once we'd had several conversations, we decided meeting was necessary and he drove to my city to chill with me.

I knew I was going to get along great with Jeaux when we were walking home from the restaurant and he yelled, "I just wet myself. AND THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT."

Then we played a made-up dice game that we created rules for as we moved along. It was fun. We think alike.

Then the next week we decided to hang out again and ended up joking about how we might still be meeting on Wednesdays in ten years.

It's been fourteen years, incidentally. Still meeting on Wednesdays.

Jeaux's family is very confused about our relationship. I guess they have a right to be, because we often function as each other's "someone." When we have a plus-one situation we often invite each other. Weddings, funerals, office parties. He fixes my computers and my house appliances. I sew his pants and edit his documents. And for a long time, he had to drive for more than half an hour to see me, which made his parents believe we were dating. (For some reason, they can't imagine what a girl could possibly be "for" in Jeaux's life unless she is his date. Especially since he slept over most of the time. I mean, they just concluded what most people would. Except they wouldn't listen to us when we said it wasn't true. They even cornered him for an "intervention" once to demand the truth. He replied, "She doesn't even like guys." I guess they came to their own conclusions.)

Us at Thanksgiving
He has had a couple girlfriends while being friends with me. He once told me that if any girl he dated had a problem with me, he would dump her first.

We have jokingly gotten each other Valentines with horrible messages on them. For our "anniversary" of meeting each other we have sometimes gotten each other gifts. He buys me lunch and introduces me to great books and anime. I did a voice in his web series and composed the music for it. He thinks my books are cool. I ironed his shirt for him for his mother's funeral because he didn't know how to iron.

Jeaux is super easy-going and gets along well with all of my friends, too.

What a big nerd, hahaha.

Oh! So here's another funny coincidence. We had the same job for almost six years.

We met shortly before I graduated and got a job. My job after college was working at a bookstore in Gainesville, Florida. After I'd been the customer service person for a while they pushed me into being a department head for the kids' section. Very shortly after I got my job, Jeaux got a job at the same chain in his city, Ocala. And then they pushed HIM into the kids' position too. We spent a lot of time talking about our job after that, and we were like, "Didn't we used to talk about other things?"

Sometimes we play games.
Jeaux likes to write as well, though he's never finished a book so . . . he should get on that. He's really good at computers and we're both kind of obsessed with Alanis Morissette and both love musicals. He reads teen girl books about relationships and watches magical girl anime. (The longest thing he ever wrote was Sailor Moon fanfic.) We both used to go to an anime club actually. I would bake for the club.

We even dressed up like anime characters for a convention once. He made the weapons and I sewed the costumes. We didn't win anything in the contest, though. (Also kind of an ironic costume choice because we played characters who had crushes on each other and are embarrassed to confess, but we're basically living the opposite.)

Us as Takeo Takakura and Sae Sawanoguchi from Maho Tsukai TAI!

Jeaux is pretty uninterested in having a social life and we pretty much don't communicate (except to send each other silly links once in a while) except on Jeaux Day every week. We just talk about what's going on with us and talk about books or silly things that are happening or feminism and social issues or we watch a TV show or listen to Welcome to Night Vale or something. He's extremely easy-going and considerate. He's willing to help with anything and yet somehow knows how not to cross any boundaries. We don't hug or touch or anything (though I HAVE hugged him once in a while if he did something really nice or whatever). (He says he likes being huggy with girlfriends if he has them, but he's never like that with me.) And he told me many years after the fact that as soon as I told him I was asexual, I immediately went into a category of unavailability in his mind that I share with his sisters. I'm just not an available woman to him, and he doesn't treat me like one. I think he knows how much I appreciate that.

We've never spoken of any kind of commitment, but we don't need to. He's a lifelong friend and we both know it. Some people insist on suspecting us of a secret romance--or of being in denial of our feelings for each other--and they use as evidence our obvious closeness, our shared wavelength that enables us to say the same things at the same time, and the fact that he has twice moved to a different city that just happened to be my city. (Both times, he did so because of living situations and jobs making it more preferable to live where I was than where he was, but having a friend there was definitely a factor in his interest in moving.) But what kinda bothers me about people needling us to admit we're romantically involved is that we are friends and that is a very important, very serious thing. I don't appreciate the fact that I'm supposed to devalue our friendship and pretend it's less than it is in the name of throwing a "just" in front of that "friends." There's nothing "just" about Jeaux. He's an extremely important fixture in my life. My non-romantic relationships are my primary partnerships, though I don't consider him a substitute for a boyfriend. Relationships just are what they are. His importance in my life isn't lesser just because it isn't described by "romance."

We've never said "I love you" to each other, but I don't hesitate to call it love. My life would be less what it is without him. I don't depend on him for anything except for filling the Jeaux-shaped hole he'd leave if he left. He doesn't provide a function. I would never describe any of my feelings for him as passion or attraction. It's more . . . appreciation, and contentment, and shared joy in what we consider important.

That's love, and I'm not interested in the opinions of anyone who tries to tell me different.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Personal Digest Saturday: March 15 – 21

I've decided to do a little personal post on Saturdays (when possible) to just tell y'all about some things that have been happening during the week! I've been doing this elsewhere on the Web for a long time, sharing a little digest of any videos I created, art I made, songs I sang, books I read, pictures I took, and life news, and it'll be easy to share it here too. So here we go!

Life news this week:
  • I began working on editing for Ryan, my first alternate in Pitch Wars.
  • On Thursday I went to my sister Lindsay's wedding food tasting to help give opinions on the menu. She's getting married in May and I'm a bridesmaid.
  • My baby nephew Ash is now three months old.
  • I went to an antiquarian book fair with my friend James on Sunday.
  • I bought a new digital video camera.
  • An upcoming speaking opportunity for me at the University of Virginia has been finalized. I'll be talking about asexual relationships as part of their Proud to be Out Week. My talk will be April 10.
Places featured:
  • I just found out that in 2005 I was quoted a bunch in AASECT's Contemporary Sexuality newsletter. I didn't know until now! Here's a PDF of it.
  • On The Big Reveal, we talked about reading habits.
  • Part II of my Pitch Wars interview came out on Suzi's blog. Part I was last week.
  • I was on The Asexual Agenda's Linkspam because I wrote about the bad Best article on Tumblr.
Reading progress:
  • Finished Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. Rating: ★★★★★
  • Currently reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
New singing performances:

Recorded "Precious Illusions" by Alanis Morissette.

New drawings:

Webcomic Negative One Issue 0462: "A Good Man."

New videos:

Letters to an Asexual #19, featuring the nice comments I have received over the years.

Julie Sondra Reads Page One, featuring my read-aloud of the first page of Bad Fairy Book 2.


New photos:

Just some pics from my haircut gallery. I'm taking a new picture on the 15th of every month to see if I can see how fast it grows.

Back, before, 2/15/14
Front, before, 2/15/14
Back, after, 2/15/14
Front, after, 2/15/14
Back, 3/15/14
Front, 3/15/14

My social media counts:

YouTube subscribers: 3,107 for swankivy (50 new this week), 318 for JulieSondra (3 new). Twitter followers: 459 for swankivy (4 new), 346 for JulieSondra (11 new). Facebook: 248 friends (1 new) and 120 followers (1 new) for my personal account, 326 likes for JulieSondra (4 new), 42 likes for my webcomic Negative One (1 new). Tumblr followers: 1,241 (11 new).

What's new with you?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Big Reveal on Reading AND Pitch Wars interview

I have two items to share today, both from The Literary Engineer. First:

A group of authors (including me!) discuss the question of the week:

"Are you a big reader?"

Read answers from several writers here on the blog post!

And in addition, I have a two-part interview about Pitch Wars that we organized a while back but is only popping back up now. I give some perspectives about the contest, what worked, what didn't, and general advice about entering pitching contests.

An Inside Look: Part I
An Inside Look: Part II

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Julie Sondra Reads Page One

I've actually never done something like this before in my whole history of YouTube life, but here I go.

This is a recording of me reading the first page of the next book I'm going to write.

It's the pseudo-prologue--I call it Chapter Zero, haha--of Bad Fairy, Book 2. It does not contain spoilers. I'm trying to see if anyone would like to share reactions as to whether they think it sets up a sequel decently by balancing the feeling of an appropriate beginning with the feeling of a character who has history. I would like Book 2 to be able to stand on its own without depending on Book 1, but still resonate well as a continuation of the story begun in Book 1 for those who have read it.

Here it is.

If you would rather simply read the excerpt, please go ahead and check it out below.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Slow and Steady

To no one's surprise, I was a serious child who had an obsession with excellence.

I hated if I failed or made a mistake. I remember the first time I got a paper back with a less than perfect score (in kindergarten), and my first thought was that the teacher must have messed up the grading. When I looked at what she'd marked and found that I had indeed failed to be perfect, I cried in class. The teacher actually took time out to explain to me that everyone makes mistakes, even animals in nature--she told me some odd story about birds that build nests and then the nests fall apart so they have to build a new, better one. I didn't get it. I just wanted to be perfect, I guess.

I was just thinking about how when I was in elementary school, during field day I entered the egg race. (We had to enter at least two events, and I thought the egg race sounded safe.) I had to balance an egg on the bowl of a spoon and go as fast as I could down the field with the egg balanced. And I'd practiced at home. I knew I could do it. I just couldn't go very fast.

When the race began, the children took off all around me and many of them lost their eggs right away. I didn't care about speed; I cared about not dropping the egg. So I kept walking very slowly with the egg balanced, not taking my eyes off it, not noticing if anyone was ahead of me.

And then the race apparently ended and I was still going. They were literally declaring the winners before someone noticed the tiny blonde person walking very slowly still halfway down the field. You see, only one person had crossed the finish line with their egg intact, so they were about to hand out the second place and third place ribbons to the people who'd gotten the farthest before their eggs splatted on the ground. Since I hadn't lost mine yet, I might still make second place if I could get there without losing the egg.

When the audience realized there was still someone in the competition, I remember hearing them collectively start cheering, and it was very distracting. I'd never been cheered for in any kind of athletic event before (if this counted), and the idea that I was giving them a good show and doing something exciting was pretty awesome. So I kept plugging away walking down that field, and I made it to the finish line without losing the egg. I got a red second-place ribbon--WOW, I'd only ever gotten "participant" ribbons before!--and I could hardly believe in that case that "slow and steady" actually HAD won the race.

Except, well, I didn't exactly WIN the race. Someone else who'd done it way faster than me actually got the blue ribbon.

For some things, second place is pretty amazing. But for others, you have to get first place before you are anything but first loser. I've gotten many of the things I have today by being slow and steady, but the person who won that egg race was fast and steady. Can you learn to speed up if you've already got "steady" down? Can you cross that line from conscientious plodding into full-blown excellence?

In my writing career I'm already doing things many people want to do and haven't managed to achieve yet. People who are trying to do it and people who will never do it but admire from the sidelines nonetheless are all impressed with how far I've come. I've written books, after all. I got signed to literary agents not once but twice for different projects. And one of my books sold to an independent publisher and will come out later this year. But the thing I'm really invested in doing--the reason I signed up for this race--is getting a book deal for my fantasy series. That's the blue ribbon, and I'd go on from there to hopefully win more races.

There's a division between professionals and amateurs--people who win races and people who just do pretty well in them--and the arena is different when you're trying to really do it. For instance, many of my non-musician acquaintances and friends think I'm ridiculously talented at singing. They urge me to try out for American Idol (even though I'm way over the age limit), demand to know why I'm not signing record deals or playing venues, and praise me highly. But in reality? Not even the other students in the music college I went to thought I was anything special, and neither did the teachers. I can guarantee you that I wouldn't be celebrated as a rare talent in the professional music world. I'd be given a "participant" ribbon. That's it.

Right now I'm trying to play with the big boys. I'm trying to find out what kind of ribbon I can earn if I do cross that finish line, though forces beyond my control might flick my egg off the spoon at any moment. I don't know if I can win, though I've already seen I can place. I want that blue ribbon. And it's not about glory or pride. It's about the reasons behind my desire to tell stories. It's about being given the platform that will encourage people to listen. It's about my personal pact with myself to deliver the whole package--steadiness with speediness--and it's about being able to help others follow in my footsteps.

As long as my footsteps actually lead to the finish line.

I guess I won't know until I cross it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

30-Week Blog Challenge Week 28: A Place You Love

I'm back with the Monday blog challenge! The lady in charge is Marie at Mom Gets Real. The questions are right here:


And Week 28's prompt is . . .


To be honest I mostly just adore being home, comfortable in front of my computer working on a book or lying around reading. But I guess that's kind of a boring answer!

One place I really loved sort of recently was the vacation house my friends and I rented for a trip to Anna Maria Island.

As you can see from the photo, there are multiple decks where a person can chill (or, more accurately in the Florida heat, bake), and I loved hanging out on one of those balconies just sitting around reading and enjoying the view.

There was a really great pool, too. I'm not huge on swimming but I like hanging out by the pool and watching other people have fun. Well, or reading.

And it had a nice big dining area where my friends and I had wonderful meals every night, like homemade pizza and barbecue!

I had a great time going there with my friends, and I think I would love it even more now that I have a laptop and can do Internet Things without difficulty. Not being able to do my Internet Things causes me some anxiety you see.

And if I may be nostalgic and add another place I love, I have peculiarly fond memories of my maternal grandparents' house, where my mom grew up in New Jersey.

That was the best house ever. My mother was one of eight children, so the space was kind of used, uh, creatively, and there were even a couple bedrooms in the basement, along with a pool table! My grandmother always had a big box of toys for visiting kidlets to play with, and they had a piano.

My grandparents had a front yard with a hill where we could roll down in the mild months and frolic in the snow during winter vacations. And sometimes, since visits often coincided with holidays (of course), we would get to participate in their holiday celebrations there, which meant A CHRISTMAS TREE. (We didn't celebrate Christmas, so obviously this was a novelty.)

There was lots of cookie-making and wandering around to talk to relatives and noise and, as I got older, cousins to play with. My mom sometimes talks about how much she misses having family around all the time, and though I think that sounds like a nightmare for everyday living, I get a sense of what she misses when I remember what it was like at that house. There was just something about it. And we can't have it anymore because my grandparents are gone and the house was sold and we don't have family gatherings anymore.

It was definitely a magic place.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Big Reveal on Being Artistic

In the latest entry from The Literary Engineer, a group of authors (including me!) discuss the question of the week:

"Are you artistic or creative in other ways in addition to writing?"

Read answers from several writers here on the blog post!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A wild cover has appeared

I don't have much going on right now (that I can talk about) so here, have a cover.

This appeared on Goodreads so I guess it's public now, but as I understand it, it's actually not finalized. We'll see if it updates or changes at all in the next few months.

Some of the folks who have seen it so far have said a) it looks like the cover of an inspirational religious book, or b) it's kind of boring, but truthfully I'd rather either of those things than a cover with an inappropriate image on it. And inappropriate images attached to media about asexuality has been a problem in the past. (Link explains how frustrated people in bed, images of innocence, and comparison to lack of genitalia or non-human biology has contributed to misleading perceptions about asexuality.) Of course, I don't really want the "looks like a Bible" vibe either since association with celibacy and "purity" are damaging to asexuality too.

But I'm not a very visual person and it wouldn't bother me if this design was judged appropriate by my distributor. Maybe I'd just like slightly more contrasting and interesting colors or something, if it were up to me.

(In case you're wondering . . . it's not. A lot of people have a misconception that authors control what's on the cover of their books. Usually nope.)

Monday, March 10, 2014

30-Week Blog Challenge Week 27: Your Bag

I'm back with the Monday blog challenge! The lady in charge is Marie at Mom Gets Real. The questions are right here:


And Week 27's prompt is . . .


Let's see, then.

Behold, my bag.
It is festooned with buttons. The ones on the sides that you cannot see include an asexual/aromantic heart button and a button with cake on it. On the front I have a Mockingjay pin, a GIR pin, and two Adventure Time pins (featuring characters BMO and Marceline).

What's in it??

Glad you asked.

Exhibit A, officer
  • Keys (with Captain Underpants keychain, yes)
  • Various ID cards
  • Various credit cards and gift cards
  • Hello Kitty change purse
  • Hello Kitty wallet (contains more ID, business cards, and debit card)
  • Stamps
  • USB drives holding my writing projects
  • Sparkly Samsung Galaxy S4 phone
  • Various hair ties
  • Hairbrush with Yakko Warner from Animaniacs on it
  • Three lip gloss tubes (uh, how did that happen?)
  • Crystal Lite water flavorer
  • Reusable bags for when I shop
  • Tissues and moist towelette
  • Adventure Time sunglasses
  • Colorful and interestingly shaped paperclips and binders, with rubber bands
  • A pen
  • Several buttons I threw inside because a) they fell off or b) I was afraid they were going to offend someone at a meeting I was at, as one depicts a middle finger and one says "Yes, I am a famous writer, now buy my goddamn book"
  • Zipper pouch of medicine
  • Hello Kitty notepad
  • Hello Kitty card holder (containing homemade business cards)
And now you know too much.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Words in my mouth

Well apparently I'm in magazines saying things I didn't say again.

Late last year I gave an interview to a US-based British journalist who said she was going to sell a story about me to a major magazine in the UK. She expressed surprise and dismay at how The Daily Mail treated me with their sensationalistic headlines (triggery language in the title, y'all). She said things are different in the UK--subjects of articles even get read-backs before publication, which is nice--and proceeded to conduct a very sensitive interview with me.

The article was supposed to be published in Best in January, then February, but by mid-February I'd heard nothing from the journalist so I contacted her. She said she still hadn't heard when it would be published.

Today I got mail from someone trying to find me on Facebook. She'd read the article in February's issue of Best and wanted to talk about having a similar experience with asexuality. Nice connection, but the fact that the article was already published was news to me. I told her so and she sent me these scans. (You can click them to try to read them, but the scan isn't great.)

An abbreviated version was published in Best Daily and it is just as terrible. What's so terrible you ask? Well, most notably, what's terrible is that the entire thing was written in first person, as if I had written it, and I have never said and would never say the great majority of those things. It's even full of British writing conventions, like "Mum" and "I never fancied anyone." At least it says "By Laura Millar" on it, but I doubt anyone will realize I didn't write it. (Laura Millar is not the journalist I was talking to. I am still waiting to hear back from Georgie as to how the hell this happened, why I didn't get a read-back, and who's responsible for stuffing so many inappropriate words in my mouth.)

It's not a terribly disrespectful article, and it's not as sensationalistic as The Daily Mail, but I am pretty ticked about its being in first person and how it misrepresents both my life and asexual people in general.

Inaccuracies in the online version:

  • "At school whenever my friends discussed what boys they fancied or which pop singers they wanted to kiss, I'd recoil in horror." What? No I didn't. Never.

  • "I couldn't work out if they were faking those urges in order to seem more grown up. Because whatever they were feeling, I certainly wasn't." NO.  I was 100% aware that what they were feeling was real. The attempt to make me sound oblivious here is gross.

  • "Kissing was as far as I'd go so it was no real surprise when we broke up six months later." Nope. Peter broke up with me because I was moving, not because he couldn't get more than a kiss. He never even once pressured me.

  • "Being asexual, I don't have the feelings of jealousy that other people have so the idea of him sleeping with other people didn't affect me at all." This is horrible! I indeed didn't feel jealous in this situation, but implying that asexual people don't experience jealousy or can't have exclusive relationships is way off. I would never, ever say something simplistic and elitist like this.

  • "In fact I told my friend Meghan she could have sex with Philip to take the pressure of me, so she did. Philip thought the more he cheated the more it would make me jealous but it didn't." "The pressure of me"? They got the spelling of his name wrong too. And though my best friend did have sex with my boyfriend after I said "go ahead, maybe he'll stop bugging me!" there was never any repeated attempts to "cheat" to make me jealous. This is just so far from what happened.

  • "And after a year of 'dating' we mutually agreed to part." Haha really? Actually he guilt tripped me by saying "I think we should break up because YOU'RE not happy," and I surprised him by agreeing. It wasn't exactly "mutually agreeing to part."

  • "Friends often ask me if I'd like to be different but I love myself just the way I am. What you don't know you don't miss." I never say things like "what you don't know you don't miss." It is, again, simplistic and misses the center of this issue completely.

  • "People refuse to believe you can ever be happy without sex in your life, but I'm living proof you can" And now Best boycotts terminal punctuation. I would never say something like this either. I don't make pronouncements about what other people should "be happy without," and this makes it sound like I'm saying non-asexual people don't need sex for happiness. It's true I'm happy without it and people have trouble believing it, but the thrust of this is so hippy-dippy and way off the mark.

And in the print issue, there were a few more annoying issues:
  • The title? Yeah, that's just as bad as most of the copycat articles from The Daily Mail. Sensationalistic headlines about a thirty-five-year-old virgin are really annoying.

  • "Of course people ask me if I'm gay but I explain to them that I have no sexual desires towards anyone, male or female." I would have ended that sentence after "anyone." I prefer not to make statements that reinforce gender binary like that.

  • "In many ways I'm just like your average young woman. I love putting on heels and a dress to go on a night out with friends, and I can appreciate when someone is good looking - but that doesn't mean I want to sleep with them." This is beyond confusing. I'm pretty girly, but I don't think I have ever, not a day in my life, "put on heels and a dress to go on a night out with friends." Like, who would I even do that with? The last time I wore heels was in 2008 at a wedding. This whole "look at me, I'm a normal young lady!" nonsense is so far from anything I would ever express that I really want to know what possessed anyone to glean it from anything I said. This is what a damn night out with friends looks like for me. 

It's a drawing club. Notice the lack of heels or a dress.

  • "As much as people struggle to understand it, for me not having sex is the secret to a very happy life. I don't have to worry about being heartbroken or dumped and I don't feel lonely, because I love my own company." This prattling sounds like somebody who's making excuses, actually. Yes, not having sex is totally fine for me, and I'd probably be less happy if I was forced by circumstance to have sex, but calling it "the secret to a very happy life" is in another galaxy from something I'd say. It's irrelevant to my life, not related to any kind of "secret." And if anyone reading this thinks not having sex saves you from heartbreak, holy crap, I have a prescription for a reality pill you'll need to take.

The whole thing would have been MUCH better if they hadn't tried to make it sound like I'd written it! I'm used to journalists getting it wrong or having the nuances escape them, but it was extremely irresponsible of them to stuff these words in my mouth. Now it looks like I would say and believe these things, and it kind of looks like I write unnecessarily reductionist twaddle about happiness secrets that I wouldn't dream of trying to generalize.

I know the magazine isn't exactly aimed at those who want to read high literature, but I don't mind that at all; I want my existence and my message to be known to people who wouldn't necessarily go out of their way to watch a documentary about asexuality on Netflix or get a book about the topic from their library. I'm happy it was in Best, but I feel misrepresented. If they'd wanted me to write about my experience and give me some guidelines, holy crap, I would have, and this is NOT even close to what I would have said.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Big Reveal on Story Ideas

In the latest entry from The Literary Engineer, a group of authors (including me!) discuss the question of the week:

"Do you any story ideas that are just sitting in your mind or notebooks until you have the time to write them?"

Read answers from several writers here on the blog post!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

White people

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a white people. Yep, white people is moi. You knew that, probably.

I write fantasy. Fantasy comes under fire--as it should--for frequently being set by white authors in situations that feature few to no people of color. And they cite "historical accuracy" to excuse themselves for never writing about anyone but white people. As if no one who was non-white actually lived in medieval times in Europe, or as if their presence is only acceptable if they are slaves or servants. Oddly enough, said white authors seem to think "historical accuracy"--even when it isn't accurate!--is a compelling reason to leave people of color out of their fantasy Europe, but they have no problem suspending disbelief for, say, allowing the presence of non-native animals, imaginary animals and pseudo-humans, and magic.

First off, I've never written a novel from the perspective of a person of color. I feature quite a few non-majority perspectives in my work and I don't feel particularly qualified to authentically cover that one, but as a white author I still try to make sure my casts are diverse enough without making a big unnecessary "point" out of it. I do have a webcomic that has five point-of-view characters and NONE of them are white, but three of them are aliens so in their cases that doesn't really count. (One of them is mistaken for a human person of color sometimes, as she hides in a disguise but sometimes people see her hands, and her skin is brown.) The other two perspective characters in the webcomic are Asian--well, one is ABC (American-Born Chinese; she and her sister were born of Chinese parents and spoke Mandarin at home, English at school), and the other is her daughter whom she had with a white man, so the daughter is half Chinese. To be honest, the daughter passes for white most of the time because she has light hair, but some people guess she's mixed.

Meri Lin and her daughter Amanda

Other than the webcomic characters, I have exclusively white protagonists in my active novels. My science fiction romance has a male protagonist, but Nick and his love interest Summer are both white. (Nick's best buddy is black, but it isn't a plot-relevant thing.) And my NA Finding Mulligan has a pretty diverse cast, but I worry a bit about how it will be received. Cassie, my protagonist, is white, and she has sort of another version of herself named Dia who is also white--and not only is she white, but she's this weird fairy-tale curly-haired blue-eyed white girl blonde, and furthermore, she's idealized and put on a pedestal. Cassie and Dia sort of share three love interests in the book (eh, it's complicated), and none of the love interests are white. And Cassie's best friend since childhood is Puerto Rican. Sometimes I worry that the choices I made for casting my book will be read as Diversity For Diversity's Sake, but I kinda resent that, considering when white characters are all you see, nobody seems to think you're making any kind of point.

Dia and Mulligan are a pretty dang cute fantasy couple.
Because of the Idealized White Girl thing Dia has going on, I do sometimes worry whether the supporting characters will be seen as fetishizing Other. And as another diversity issue, Cassie has a complicated relationship with her chronically ill younger sister and I worry about whether that will be read as problematic. Cassie has gone through life being scolded or treated like a horrible person if she expresses anything negative about her poor sick little sister, and I think she makes it pretty clear that she sees her sister as HELLO, A PERSON and not as just a pity bucket, but because my point-of-view character is the able-bodied one and her life is sometimes hard too, I worry that some people will mistake her perspective for an attempt to hijack disability narratives. In any case, I'll digress too much if I keep going on that, so back to the White People issue as it manifests in another one of my books:

Um, Bad Fairy.

The teachers and graduating class of West Belkin Circle, Spiral 88,
if there had been such a thing as Class Picture Day in this reality.
Those fairies are the whitest characters to ever white, aren't they?

To be clear, fairies in the book are a race, and they're a pretty distinct and tiny minority with little genetic variation. And though they have a weirdly respectable position in society, they're widely regarded as a servant class, though they are paid very well. But hey, I made this up. Why are they all white, anyway? And why are they almost entirely blonde? (The dark-haired tiny one has an excuse. She's part human.) There are four different wing colors in this picture. There are I don't know how many eye colors. Why not skin? Why'd I make those choices, anyway?

There aren't really any excuses. This story was my attempt to be more traditional than I usually am, what with retelling fairy tales set in an alternate version of a time period and setting I never have before or since and usually never would. I featured a LOT of tropes because I wanted to both lean on their popularity and basically give them the finger. But it still means that while invoking the fairy princess trope and laughing at it, I'm still indeed telling a white people story in white people land. Again. I lampshade it sometimes, but it's still there.

Despite that, I guess I'm not as bad as some fantasy authors for this. The protagonist of this story spends very little time outside her magic school so there's not much chance for interaction outside of Whitey McWhiteland, but it is clear that people of color exist in this world. Some nomads come through their lands to trade sometimes and I specifically say they have brown skin, and at one point my protagonist makes a special journey to talk to them for an outside perspective and gets advice from one of their elders. It isn't until the second book, though, that a major character who is a person of color gets the stage. I won't say who that is, but I have a doodle of her:

Kind of weird who this ends up being.
Still, though, with the way this turns out (I won't spoil it), you could definitely say Bad Fairy does not have much racial diversity. It's better than some, but not great, and being that I know all about how few people of color there are in fantasy, I kinda feel like I am one of the ones who should know better. And while I think it's cheap to throw in PoC as a Mandatory Diversity Thing, I also wonder why it didn't seem more natural to me that more people in this story weren't white.

I don't really have much of a point to this, though. I'm not asking for advice, or reassurance, or scolding, or really anything. I'm just pointing out that I'm a white author who tends to do what a lot of white authors do (to some extent), and I'm hoping that a) my books are not so lacking in racial diversity that they alienate non-white readers and misrepresent reality and fantasy as necessarily whitewashed; and b) the diversity that does exist in my books already isn't interpreted as tokenism.

Now for goofy fun, in closing, I am going to share some chibi avatars of my PoC characters. :)

BartGabiJamieLissa LeeMulligan
Meri LinTerrellTheresaZarryBaby Ivy