What I’m Reading: Salsa Nocturna

I finally got around to reading a book I’ve had for a while: Salsa Nocturna by Daniel Jose Older.

This is Older’s debut collection of short stories (published in 2012), and the jump-off of his first full-length novel, Half-Resurrection Blues. While I perceived Salsa Nocturna to be the precursor to HRB, Older said that the events in SN took place after HRB instead of before. He’s the author, so he should know, though I beg to differ. 🙂

Anyway, having read some of his other short stories published here and there (and also here); his contributions to the anthologies Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond and Long Hidden; and his debut young adult novel Shadowshaper (more on that in a later post), I was not disappointed with Salsa Nocturna. At all. Set in Older’s preferred boroughs of New York City, Salsa Nocturna introduces the eclectic plethora of supernatural and supernatural-affiliated characters that populate HRB.  The social commentary alone was great (“Protected Entity” was everything) and the characters were so rich and varied that it was like reading a paint palette. The characters meet and bond throughout an array of otherworldly situations that are sometimes as amusing and engaging as the characters themselves (Riley and Gordo quickly emerged as two of my favorites). Older is also one of the relative few Latino authors who does not sugarcoat the mezcla of African and Latino bloodlines and cultures in his writing, and for that alone he gets props from me. I wasn’t really digging HRB based on the excerpt I read (and the character Carlos even less) but after reading Salsa Nocturna, I’m more inclined to plunk down some cash for Half-Resurrection Blues. His character Kia, in the linked stories above, has me anticipating her own upcoming novel, Midnight Taxi Tango.

Salsa Nocturna is, in my humble opinion, Older’s strongest full-length work to date. Short stories are where Older’s talent shines brightest and I would love to see him pen another collection, even with different characters. Do yourself a favor and pick up Salsa Nocturna. Thank me later.

And thanks for stopping by.

Biting the Hand You Hope To Feed You

The month of February is not just Black History Month (which goes above and beyond Martin Luther King, Jr.; George Washington Carver; and Rosa Parks; but I digress): it is also #Black Comics Month, which is a celebration and awareness of comic books created by those of African descent.

To kick things off, Vixen Varsity interviewed David F. Walker , the creator of the Shaft (Dynamite Entertainment); Doc Savage (Dynamite Entertainment); Number 13 (Dark Horse Comics); The Army of Dr. Moreau (IDW/Monkeybrain Comics); and The Supernals Experiment (Canon Comics) comics. Mr. Walker talked about the state of diversity in comics in general, and the particular issues assigned to Black creators. His frustration came through, especially with this statement:

No, the biggest challenge faced by black creators is the lack of support from black fans. Last year, I was at the New York Comic Con. I can’t tell you how many black people I saw, but I’m guessing that is was well into the five figures—and that’s just one show, in one major metropolitan area. That’s to say those were the black folks at NYCC, and not the fans in Atlanta, or Southern California, or Atlanta, or wherever. But I know that is just half the fans at the show in New York had bought Concrete Park, the book would not have been cancelled. If just ten percent of black folks I see at conventions all over the country supporting creators like myself, or Alex Simmons, or Brandon Easton, or whoever I could list here, we’d all be doing better. Likewise, if more black nerds were speaking out about the murder of Darrien Hunt—one of our own—we would be taking a stand for something that really mattered. But the problem is that more of us are concerned with what’s going to happen on the next episode of Arrow, or whether or not it is okay to cast a black actor as Human Torch or Jimmy Olsen, than they are with the murder of one of our community.

Wow. Just…wow.

I must say, I was a wee bit offended on several levels. I’m especially miffed at the nerd comments earlier in the article, but I’ll leave that alone for now.

As an independently published author, I understand the rage and frustration. We have to work five times as hard to get one-tenth of the recognition bestowed by the mainstream–make that ten times if you are a writer of color, and fifteen times if you are a writer of African descent. But I also write books with no pictures, which are more legitimized within the literary canon. I’m not a comic book creator, nor do I play one on TV. I can’t speak to the unique set of challenges faced by Black comics creators. But I can speak to some of the issues addressed above, which boil down to one thing: marketing.

One of the things that bothers Mr. Walker is the Black nerd community’s focus on things that he considers flightier than the recent death of a Black man while cosplaying. While I don’t recall hearing about it, it’s entirely possible that I did and it got lost in the emotional anesthesia rendered by the spate of killings of unarmed Black men over the past year, and especially during the past few months. Mr. Walker also expresses his displeasure with the lack of support of Black comics creators within/from the black community, even going so far as to state that Black supporters could have kept a comic from shutting down due to poor sales circulation.

To all of this, I say: I. Am. Unaware. Of. You.

I don’t play video games (unless you count Bejeweled Blitz), especially of the role-playing variety. I don’t read comic books. I barely watch movie adaptations of comics. I also don’t watch shows based on comics characters, such as the aforementioned Arrow and Agent Carter. I only stumbled across #BlackComicsChat on Twitter by accident, due to a post by a participant in another group chat. In fact, I only discovered the #Blerd (Black Nerd) tribe on Twitter a few months ago, in all of its lovely, multifaceted splendor. Ditto for activities such as cosplay. These things are foreign to me, and I take umbrage that I, as a potential consumer, should be blamed for my lack of awareness, which apparently affects the bottom line of purveyors of certain creative arts.

Black comics are a relatively small subset of literature in general and Black literature in particular. While comics, video games, and the like (including associated practices such as cosplay) are venerated to nerd nirvana, there is a significant population of Blerds such as myself, as well as those of more traditional tastes, who have never picked up a comic book and who rely on the big-screen comics adaptations (e.g., Blade, Black Panther, Green Lantern) to garner awareness.

If sales are low enough that cancellation is more probability than possibility, and support is deemed practically nonexistent, then what are creators doing to improve visibility? How are you trying to reach people like me, who have not a clue about the rich and diverse presence of comics creators? Who is publicizing the outrage regarding victims like Darrin Hunt and stoking that outrage and call for reform across platforms (social media, racial, community, etc), so that it can expand and evolve past the insulated bubble of the Black comics tribe and select associates? How can you best serve as an ambassador of your world, that would make me want to visit?

As an (indie) author, I have long ago accepted that my writing may not be everyone’s cup of oolong, and I have adjusted my expectations accordingly. Likewise, I also understand that without a mainstream PR behemoth, the task falls to me to let people know about my work. If they don’t know about it, or me, then they can’t try it or buy it. Any failures in those areas are on me, and me alone.

Which why events such as #BlackComicsMonth are so important. By providing a focused showcase of Black comics and those who create them, and within the milieu of social media, there is greater exposure of a tribe that has gone relatively overlooked by those not in the know–which can be a lot of people. Perhaps if events such as this proliferate, the frustrations and blame expressed by Mr. Walker will dissipate.

Thanks for stopping by.

Stuck (pt. 1)

I haven’t blogged in quite some time. An emergency hospitalization of my grandmother (for whom I’m a caretaker) which required me to spend both nights there; followed by week-long bout with the flu (which I probably picked up from the hospital, but I digress) doesn’t bode well for the creative process. Even as my full recovery drew nearer, and I did my usual “write it in your head” part of my process, I faced a crisis that strikes fear in the heart of every creative:

I got stuck.

Once I was able to stop sleeping for long periods of time, and managed to stop coughing up a lung, I tried to work on the rewrite of next book in my Bastille Family Chronicle series, which is Dominic’s story. I made major changes to his love interest, which required more research (shoutout to Cynthia and Ekaterina for the gamer info!)–which required a recalibration of the plot, especially after I added some different tension points to the love interest. But the flow still wouldn’t come.

Then I pulled up the first draft of the novel I started for National Novel Writing Month 2012. This was a more serious book (the BFC series are contemporary romances), which take longer for me to write. Tinkered with that some, made some progress. But I felt guilty because I wasn’t working on the BFC book, which my readers are looking for by spring.

Then I managed to write a science/speculative fiction/fantasy (SFF) short story for submission to a magazine. The story was based on an SFF book I started back in…2006, or somewhere around there. Anyway, that was kind of fun, and made me think about revisiting that book again. And the guilt over writing another BFC book took over.

I had to ask myself why I felt so guilty. Was the thrill gone from the series already (I’ve only published the first one, and have five more to go)? If so, why? I’ve gotten positive word-of-mouth feedback from readers so far, and the excerpt seemed to work toward introducing me to a broader audience of fans. My readers are looking forward to the next five books, as well as a stand-alone spinoff. The book is selling, again via word-of-mouth. So what’s the problem?

I thought long and hard about it, and my conclusion wasn’t pretty. And I have The Ninja to thank for it.

More on this in a later post. Thanks for stopping by.

Another One Bites the Dust

I finally got around to reading Festive in Death by JD Robb (the mystery-writing pseudonym of bestselling romance author Nora Roberts).

Festive in Death

This is the 39th book in the popular In Death futuristic mystery series, and perhaps that’s why this book is further proof that Robb/Roberts is losing her touch.

At first, I thought that I wasn’t that into the book because it was my first time reading an e-book on Google Play Books, instead of my usual Amazon Kindle app. Perhaps that was the reason I kept putting the tablet down while attempting to read this book: an unfamiliar e-book delivery system. But no; when I read another book via Google Play Books, I was able to stay engaged and had a hard time putting the e-book down. So the platform delivery was not the issue; the book content was.

I noticed that the quality of the In Death plots began to decline with Salvation in Death, book #27 in the series. At the time, I thought the book had a phoned-in quality, like Robb couldn’t be bothered to put forth her best efforts. Random reviews from different bookseller and fan sites showed that I wasn’t alone in my thinking; indeed, many were not pleased by the lack of her normal plot and character depth. She redeemed herself in subsequent books until she reached Indulgence in Death (book #31), which was a poor rehash of the plot of Seduction in Death (book #13). Again, all was decent until Calculated in Death (book #35, which was another poor rehash of the subplot of Born in Death, book # 23).

[yes, I’ve read the entire series from the very beginning, and have most of the books, so I can pinpoint a lot of these changes–so can a lot of other fans.]

There have long been rumors (since around the time of Indulgence in Death) that the In Death series/JD Robb books were being ghostwritten, rumors that Roberts/Robb vehemently denies. Yet continuity errors (character names, character backstories, noticeable difference in writing style from earlier books in the series, etc.) in latter books belie her denials. Given the state of the last three or so books, I’m leaning toward the ghostwriting school of thought for at least some of the books in the series.

Hey, I get it: Nora Roberts has  “written” forty of the JD Robb full-length novels (#40, Obsession in Death, comes out in 2015), plus short stories surrounding the main character, Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the New York Security and Police Department–all in addition to putting out her romance novels under her real name. Nora Roberts got her start, and made most of her money, writing in the romance genre (indeed, her full-length romances are almost instant bestsellers. She’s a very prolific writer who seems to churn out a new book once a month or so), and it can be argued that romances are her first writing love. That being said, it’s easy to see why she’d want to take a break as JD Robb and fall back on what made her famous. It happens.

I’ve seen other of my formerly favorite authors go down the same “phone it in” path: Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson are two of them. Patterson started the “ghostwriting via collaboration” trend that Higgins Clark is now picking up, as he turned his attention to Young Adult novels with his Maximum Ride series. Perhaps that’s what happens when you publish a certain number of books, or been in the writing and publishing game as long as they have:  you become numb, writing-wise. I’ve seen it in Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta novels; Terry Brooks‘s Dark Legacy of Shannara series (The Dark Legacy of Shannara: Witch Wraith: what was that?!); and both Brenda Jackson‘s Madaris and Westmoreland romance series, as well.  For all of these authors (who are pretty prolific), I stopped reading them on a regular basis years ago because the spark that fueled their first twenty, thirty, forty books had gone dim. I no longer enjoyed their newer offerings and found myself reading their older works (and enjoying them more). Robb/Roberts has now been added to the list.

This is one of my fears as an author: writing so much that I will grow weary of my craft, and start turning out subpar stories just to say I published another book; or worse, hire someone to do most of the heavy lifting and rubber-stamp my name in order to retain and maintain my fan base. I’m not at that level yet, but given the amount of mental energy that goes into writing and publishing a book, I can see where the aforementioned authors are coming from. As Whitney Houston once sang, it’s not right, but it’s okay.

Thanks for stopping by.

What I’m Reading: Dark Oracle (NaNoWriMo/NaBloPoMo day 22)

Total word count goal: 50,000

Total blog post goal: 30

Today’s word count: 2,400

Today’s blog count: 23

Total words written: 38,302

Total blog posts: 23

My eye was feeling a lot better today–I was able to remove the sunglasses before lunchtime. WINNING! I also felt well enough to write 2,400 words. Combined with the 2,027 I wrote yesterday, I’m wondering if corneal abrasions aren’t an impetus to win–I don’t know. All I know is that I wrote fast and as much as possible, so I could rest my eyes. *shrug*

ANYway…speaking of resting eyes, I’ve been reading actual paperbacks so as to limit the amount of time the LED screen rays affected my eyes. I pulled out a book that I read once and enjoyed: Dark Oracle by Alayna Williams.

dark-oracle A. Williams-250

 

The book is about a former FBI behavioral profiler  and trained forensic psychologist named Tara Sheridan, who left the Bureau when she was attacked, tortured, and almost buried alive by a serial killer she was assigned to profile. She is reluctantly brought back into the fold by a woman who was her late mother’s best friend–and who was also, along with Tara’s mother, a member of the Delphi’s Daughters, a group of women who have various paranormal gifts which they use to keep mankind on more or less an even keel. Tara has always downplayed her particular gifts, which include an uncanny knack for finding people, and reading the tarot cards that once belonged to her mother. Along the way, she is challenged by a member of the Daughters who thinks she should be the next in charge when the current leader dies, and finds an unlikely romantic interest in the straitlaced FBI agent with whom she has to work the case of a missing astrophysicist–a case that Delphi’s Daughters think is vital to the continuation of mankind as we know it.

What I like about this book is how the author explores our society’s bipolar approach to the paranormal: on one hand, it’s spooky, crazy, fake, evil, and full of charlatans; on the other hand, it’s a useful tool and it’s accurate. I also like how the persons in Delphi’s Daughters, as well as Tara herself, are not silly “woo woo” women dressed in turbans and caftans, with heavy Eastern European accents, who dole out obscure advice while pointing at tarot cards with beringed fingers. The author uses them to make a point that the paranormal is not limited to those who aren’t “normal” by society’s standards, and that these gifts can often work in harmony with other, more practical gifts (such as psychology, mathematics, physics). As a professional tarot reader for the past fifteen years, I was pleased to see that the author kept the tarot part of the book accurate.

Sadly, the author only wrote one other Tara Sheridan novel, Rogue Oracle. I’d hoped this would be a longer series, but it was not to be. Still, I recommend both books as interesting, myth-exploding reads.

Keep writing,y’all…nine more days till the finish line!

Thanks for stopping by.

Aside

What I’m Reading: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Happy Halloween! Ghosties and ghoulies and horror…oh my! I’m dressing as a psychopath for Halloween, because they look like anyone else. 😉 (h/t Wednesday Addams, The Addams Family movie).

This week’s reading selection is Who Fears Death , a speculative fiction/fantasy novel  which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Acclaimed author Nnedi Okorafor has been published in Clarkesworld magazine, among other places.

 

WHo Fears Death Nnedi Okorafor

I first discovered this book years ago, at the San Francisco Public Library. I took a chance on reading this author, and I was not disappointed. I talk about it here:

The story is about a girl named Onyesonwu, which literally means “who fears death”. Onyesonwu is an Ewu child, which is a child born of rape between the more violent and dominant members of the Nuru tribe (which have lighter skin and narrow features) and the more docile, enslaved members of the Okeke tribe (which have darker skin and more traditionally African features). An Ewu child can also be the product of a forbidden liaison between a Nuru and an Okeke. Like all Ewu children, Onyesonwu was born with skin and hair the color of sand. She grew up in the desert, which is where her mother escaped after being raped.

Onyesonwu is an untapped, untrained sorceress; her particular strain of magic lies in shapeshifting. She tries to get training by the powerful sorcerer in her village, but he turns her away because she is female. She keeps trying until he is finally accepts her as a student. During this time she meets and falls in love with an Ewu boy, Mwita, who suddenly arrives in her village one day. He is an integral part of her journey as she completes her training and goes to destroy her biological father, who is a powerful sorcerer determined to wipe out the Okeke with his extremely violent army.

If you are a fan of speculative and/or fantasy fiction, I highly recommend both this book, and Nnedi Okorafor (you should also check out Kabu Kabu, her most recent collection of short stories).

 

Clarion Write-A-Thon Day 13

Target goal: 25,000 words

Target daily goal: 775 words

Today’s word count: 871

Total words written: 8,218 words

 

I’m baaaaaaack! Is it really Day 13 of the Clarion Write-A-Thon? I guess more time passed than I’d thought. :/

I managed to do 871 words today, which is not that great, but it’s something. At least I made over my daily goal.

My story is starting to amaze me in the direction it’s going. Stories always do, when you let them tell you where they want to go. One of the things I’m also finding surprising is the character arc of my main character. Taking her from a somewhat naive, privileged person to someone who is realizing that the world isn’t as she always thought it was, is very interesting. This is going to be an eye-opening ride, since I haven’t been that naive and trusting in a very long time.

Now, onto Camp NaNoWriMo!

Thanks for stopping by.

Aside

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