This week I took a detour from the usual weird short fiction and went back to a classic. I think the last time I read “To Build a Fire” was in middle school English—I have distinct memories of some of the kids in class thinking the expression “like a chicken with its head cut off” was just hilarious. You can read the short story for free here…
I really enjoyed this short story! If you’ve never read it, the premise is that a man and his dog are traveling through the Yukon in temperatures of seventy-five below. The MC is quite arrogant, and his actions lead him to have problems starting a fire. It’s a classic man versus nature tale, where you’re just waiting for the foolhardy MC to get his comeuppance. I already knew what was going to happen, so basically just spent the first bit waiting for everything to go to pieces.
Really I read this because I’ve been working on my WIP, and the MC confronts a dangerous blizzard early on in the book. It’s nice to see how a master storyteller like London tackles a similar topic, in terms of the observations and details. It was also just a nostalgic read; this story may be more than a hundred years old, but it definitely holds up, despite one instance of racial language that would never fly in the here and now. Just as I’m not going to dismiss Lovecraft for the infamously named cat in “The Rats in the Walls,” so too am I not going to dismiss London. Hope that makes sense, though others might feel differently.
Anyway, I recommend this short story and had a fun time reading it, even though it’s very different from the other short fiction I’ve been reading lately. It’s the kind of short story that really sticks with you once you’ve read it, so for that I can only give it five stars. 🙂
Thank you to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. The Warehouse debuts August 20th.
Let’s cut to the chase: this is a book about Amazon. If you’ve ever entertained the question of what the world would look like if Amazon continues going great guns and secures a bit more political power, then this is a must-read. This is a near-future dystopia, where devastating global warming and Black Friday massacres have ensured that consumers are unwilling to leave their houses—basically ever. Enter Cloud, who will drone-ship every product imaginable to your doorstep in the blink of an eye. Their workers live in massive company towns, where you get paid in Cloud credits, eat Cloud burgers, and sleep in Cloud-issued apartments. And if you don’t want to buy into the system, too bad, because unemployment is sky high, so how else you gonna make a buck, bro?
Enter Paxton and Zinnia, two new recruits to Cloud. Paxton is an entrepreneur whose small business dreams were squashed under the weight of pressure by Cloud to lower his production costs. Zinnia is a corporate spy on the most dangerous mission of her life: to figure out how Cloud is really producing their energy. Paxton has a job on the security team, while Zinnia only manages to secure a lowly picker role. If you have any sort of plot intuition, you can kinda see where things are headed from there, and it’s a wild, compulsive read that was hard to put down.
Listen, I like Amazon well enough. To give a personal example, my book is on Amazon in the KDP program, and I truly admire the innovation they have brought to the publishing industry by introducing the Kindle and an ebook marketplace to the world. Believe it or not, at least in the publishing sphere, Amazon has been great for the little guy. Print-on-demand and easy ebook distribution are threatening to topple the long-established gatekeepers of publishing, i.e., agents and publishers, allowing authors to be their own boss and have total control over their final product.
But that’s not to say that everything Amazon does smells of roses; you don’t get to that level of success without trampling over others. So if you’re a fan of dystopian fiction, I would definitely pick this up—it’s a fast, thrilling read that will ironically probably be topping Amazon’s book rankings.
This last year has been one big bookish whirl—after I finished putting final edits on my second book, I came to a pretty earth-shattering realization that I was wholly disillusioned with the publishing industry and didn’t want to pursue a trad publishing route after all. When I opted for the indie route, I knew there would be a big learning curve to starting what is essentially a small business. What I didn’t anticipate was how integral some websites would become to my workflow. This post definitely is not just for indie authors, but for anyone who is trying to make things happen in the digital space. I’ll do another post soon specifically about Instagram apps, as well as about the publishing industry companies I chose to partner with (aggregate distributors, etc.).
I adore Canva; it’s an easy and intuitive way to make professional and enticing graphics. There’s not many graphics on this website that didn’t go through Canva first, from my blog header to my logo to the cover of the Specter free short story. I adore that I can use it on my phone so that I can easily download and upload Instagram posts. Also, Canva provides a great printing service; it’s how I printed my business cards and some posters for Specterpromo. The products shipped fast and the print quality is great.
Please don’t laugh at me—I use Befunky primarily for resizing graphics. I know, I know… there are way easier ways to do this, even within WordPress itself, but somehow I always have a hard time remembering how. Befunky just works with my wonky brain, for some reason, so it’s my dedicated resizer.
Linktree is what I use for that crucial one link you get for your Instagram bio. They make everything look professional, and it’s free. What else could a girl ask for?
This one kind of pains me, because at the core of it I hate Google. I think they’re creepy and power-hungry, so it pains me that I find Google Drive so damn useful. The easily accessible storage speaks for itself, and I love that Docs and Sheets are so intuitive and that I can invite other people to view documents and leave comments. Due to having to write on multiple devices, I can regrettably no longer easily draft with Scrivener, so Google Docs is what I’m currently using. I guess this is the one service on here that I’d like to replace, if simply because I don’t like to support Google as a company… maybe Reedsy or Office Online? I’ll have to look into it, but for the time being, there is no denying that Google Drive helps me get work done easily.
Pacemaker has been a recent discovery, again due to the fact that I’m drafting again and can’t use Scrivener and its word count features. For a word count tool, it is extremely customizable, and I love how it shows your progress on a chart.
Google Keep is another of those pesky Google apps that I use every single day with a tinge of regret. It’s meant for keeping lists, of course, but I’ve found myself using it in surprising ways—for example, to keep a list of my commonly used Instagram hashtags handy for pasting into each post. If you’re a person who likes lists, Keep is where it’s at.
3D Book Cover Creator
This tool totally saved me from having to manually cut out the white space from around a 3D cover rendering. It is so easy to use, and there are many different options to choose from in terms of paperback, hardback, phone, Kindle, etc. I have found that it is a little bit buggy at times (one time I went to download my cover, only to find that they’d sent me somebody else’s!), but I still always get the graphic I want with a little fiddling around.
What tools do you use for your blog or business? Leave your favorites down below!
So some of you may not know this, but I majored in Chinese language and literature in college and I’ve actually spent a lot of time in China. I no longer have a day job that requires me to use Mandarin, so I’m growing rustier by the day, but suffice it to say that I know a lot about the Chinese language and culture. Lo and behold, this story has a lot of Chinese songs and poems interspersed throughout, along with many details that draw upon Chinese culture, so this added a fun element to the piece for me. I will say, though, that some translations for the Chinese text could go a long way in bridging the cultural gap for an English-speaking audience. I can understand not including a translation for a language with many English cognates, such as Spanish or French, but Chinese is decidedly not that.
I ultimately had a difficult time connecting with this story. It’s another one of those short stories where there is a ton of worldbuilding, but in the “thrown in the deep end of the pool” style. In media res-style details are tough enough in longer works, let alone in short fiction. All the details, with very little seeded explanation, made the whole narrative feel ungrounded. I also think this would be a doubly challenging story for readers who do not have any sort of background in Chinese; there are no translations provided for the Chinese text, and many Chinese cultural and historical touchpoints are thrown in without explanation. For example:
Only the starmages have the ability to defeat the Starmage General. But their suits have a limiter that stops them from performing the Seventy Two Transformations, and that is under the Starmage General’s control.
In the above quote, this was the first time I was hearing anything about the “Seventy Two Transformations.” In fact, this is the only time the transformations are mentioned in the entire story. However, a quick Google search revealed that the transformations are performed by a character in Journey to the West, a Chinese literary classic. I happen to think it’s cool that these referential details are included, but a little seeded explanation or context would be appreciated.
I also don’t understand why the author chose to put the whole piece in second POV. It’s a bold move that didn’t seem to add much to the story, and I’m curious to know the rationale behind the decision.
Whew, Short Tuesday has gone on a bit longer than I anticipated! To sum up, this was an interesting read, especially for someone with an interest in Chinese language and culture, but there were many aspects that took away from the story as a whole.
The fifteenth chapter of The Gold in the Dark is out! This chapter marks the end of Part One, but no worries—the next chapter will release on time in two weeks. New chapters, complete with brilliant chapter illustrations courtesy of Ally Grosvenor, release every other Sunday at 11 AM EST.
Lots of exciting things are in the works here at KJG Productions! I know a lot of people find it hard or annoying to read a book on a website, so to make The Gold in the Dark easier to read I’m going to be releasing Part One in mobi, epub, and pdf file formats. It will take me a little bit to pull everything together, so we’re looking at an end of September or early October release date for that.
Some other fun news is that Specter was awarded five stars by Indies Today! That means I get to throw this cool badge up everywhere. 😀 We’re a month past Specter’s release at this point, so promo is winding to a close, but if this is the first time you’re hearing about the book, just keep scrolling; I’ve thrown the blurb and the cover down below. It’s at a cool 4.6 rating on Goodreads and four and a half stars on Amazon right now. 🙂
I’ve been spending the last couple weeks in drafting mode. The Beauty and the Beast and Aliens WIP is really fun to write. I’m not going to mask that it’s been slow-going… I’m already knees-deep in a Chapter Two rewrite right now. I know a lot of people will think it’s strange to be rewriting a chapter so early on in the process, but I’m an edit-as-I-go type of writer. Is that what most professional writers recommend? No. Does it work for me? Yes—and it has a lot to do with the fact that my very opinionated husband serves as my “alpha reader.” I’m thinking of putting up a post soon about why I like having an alpha reader—anyone interested in that, I wonder?
Last thing I want to mention is that in the process of drafting I’ve discovered a useful new tool! I’m having to use Google Docs to draft this book, not Scrivener, and I haven’t been able to find any decent word count tracker for Google Docs. So that led me to Pacemaker, which is a tool specifically for anyone who needs to track their words. It has a lot of functionality and options, so I’m finding it really useful.
All right, that’s all I’ve got for now in terms of writing updates. Have a good rest of your weekend and enjoy Chapter Fifteen. ❤
Horror aficionado Lanie Adams should be thrilled when two eighties-era ghosts materialize in her bedroom. Yet after a fainting incident unbecoming of a horror nerd, she would rather her haunting just go away—the ghosts’ distorted, waterlogged voices and ice-cold auras are more terrifying than any movie. Enlisting the help of Ryan, an entirely-too-cute stoner, she makes it her mission to put the spirits stalking her to rest.
Some sleuthing reveals that their sleepy Connecticut town is host to a shadowy, decades-old conspiracy. If Lanie wants to say a final goodbye to her ghosts, she’ll need to keep digging. But it’s important to tread carefully. The culprit is still in town—and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.
Specter is available for purchase at any book retailer or from Hidden Bower Press. Even independent bookstores should be able to preorder Specter—and you can even request your local library order a physical or ebook copy! I love libraries, so making the book available everywhere was important to me in my publishing decisions. So please consider picking up a copy or adding it to your Goodreads TBR!
Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for sending me a free advanced reader copy of Swipe Right for Murder for an honest review. Swipe Right for Murder debuted August 6th.
For full disclosure, I am friends with the author of When It All Falls Down, and she gifted me a copy of the book! ❤
The stars have aligned: of the last few books I’ve read, three in a row had a strong coming-of-age focus on homosexuality! So I thought I would throw together a post of mini-reviews for each book; all three were fun to read!
First up is Earth to Charlie. This was one of those books that I picked up in a random buy-a-thon in Barnes and Noble. The blurb called to me: aliens in Montana? I’m writing a book about aliens in Montana, so this was basically required reading!
Slight spoiler, but I think you really ought to know this heading into the book: in the end, Earth to Charlie turned out to be much more of a contemporary book than anything approaching sci-fi. That was a bit of a disappointment to me; it’s not the first time this year that I’ve been teased with YA aliens, only for the author to not follow through. But nevertheless, I finished this book within one sitting, which should speak for itself in terms of the easy readability of this book. It’s a comfy page turner, with a small cast and a cozy, small town setting. I’m still searching for YA aliens, but I’ll recommend Earth to Charlie to fans of contemporary coming-of-age fiction, especially if you’re looking for an LGBT thread.
Next is When It All Falls Down. Tanya Chris and I are writing buddies, even though she focuses on M/M romance and I’m strictly a YA/NA gal. (Goodness, so many abbreviations!) While still firmly in the romance genre, this is the most YA-ish of her books, so I was excited to give it a read. The premise is that Charlie is a high school senior who’s recently come out of the closet. His love interest, Drew, is reeling from a recent auto accident where he struck and killed a young girl. Both characters have a lot to deal with, their walls both self-imposed and terrifying real (a lawsuit with huge monetary implications, the possibility of having a college admissions decision revoked).
What I really liked about this book was the fleshed-out cast of characters. I was really feeling the chemistry between the two main characters (Drew is absolutely adorable!), and their family members and friends’ approach to Charlie and Drew’s developing relationship is handled in a realistic, grounded way that feels fresh. This mixed with the lawsuit details, which are incredibly real and well-researched, made this a fun, engrossing read.
Swipe Right for Murder consumed me for forty-eight hours, gobbling up every spare moment I had. I really enjoyed Milman’s first book, and I was a bit scared that this would be a sophomore slump effort, as it’s only been a year since his first novel. How wrong could I be—Swipe Right for Murder is a wild ride, set in 2019 but with a raucous, cyberpunk feel. I’ve been of the opinion for some time that, of all the fictional visions for the future, cyberpunk is the most accurate; give this book a read and see if you agree.
The premise is that Aidan, through the use of a Grindr-style hook-up app on his senior Spring Break, stumbles into an unfortunate series of events that lead him into close contact with a domestic terrorist organization bent on killing homophobes. This is a page-turner if there ever was one, and it’s fucking funny. Seriously, there are some legit laugh-out-loud moments in this book, which is hard to do with a written medium, in my opinion. The book is smart, hilarious, and turned up to eleven at all points. Count me in for all future releases from Milman; I’m a fan.
Have you read any great books with LGBT threads lately? Any favorites to recommend? Leave your suggestions down below!
This week I returned to Tor.com to take another look at their original short fiction. “A Forest, or a Tree” by Tegan Moore caught my eye—I mean, how could it not, with that frightful (in a good way) illustration. You can read the short story for free here…
This short story was a fun ride, following a group of girls hiking in the woods. Predictably, one of the girls falls sick and spooky things start happening: the GPS equipment is malfunctioning, a creature is spotted in the woods, one of the girls starts hearing strange noises, et cetera. It’s a story everyone’s seen a million times before, but there’s a reason for that: it’s a universally spooky tale that takes hold of your imagination.
I do think that the author tried to incorporate a bit too many threads into the story. There’s a barely-explored racial element, as well as a shallow conversation about memes and copypasta serving as modern myth. The story also ends pretty abruptly just as circumstances have changed and events are coming to a head—I wanted a more fulfilling conclusion. There were also some small niggling details that brought me out of the story—a character saying twice that her friend needs to stop reading so many “subreddits,” for example (instead of “Reddit posts,” which is how any actual Reddit user would phrase this). So these things bring the story down to three stars for me, but I still found it a fun read.
Anyone with me that cover design has gotten way, way better in the last ten years? Maybe it’s a controversial opinion, but I’m pretty sure that the books of yesteryear never looked so pretty. Walk into a library or a bookstore and it’s like being in a candy shop, every book on the shelves some varied, enticing flavor.
But I’m sure none of us can deny that, just as there are trends in titles (“bone” books, ahem), there are also definite trends in cover design. For example, once you’ve noticed the white-uppercase-sans-serif-with-stuff-over-it trend, you’ll never unsee it…
So I thought I’d put together a little gallery of books where the covers are pretty damn similar. Not saying these covers look exactly the same or that plagiarism is involved—just that they are similar enough that I’ve taken notice.
So these covers are definitely different, but the illustration style coupled with the color palette similarities have basically mushed these into the same book in my mind. I love, love, love this flat line-art style, but it is starting to be pretty overdone.
Pretty sure I legit thought these were the same book for a couple weeks. The crouching-on-the-rooftop-in-silhouette pose and the twilight background are too similar for my poor brain. XD
I guess every designer got the memo that black/gold snake books are legit a thing now.
I mean, do I really need to say anything about this one? Not like I would confuse the two, but come on, the similarities are so obvious.
What trends in cover design have you noticed? Any favorite or hated trends? Leave a comment below!
Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for sending me a free advanced reader copy of Here There Are Monsters for an honest review. Here There Are Monsters debuts August 6th. For full disclosure, I requested a review copy of The Devouring Gray and was denied, and then purchased The Devouring Gray with my own money. This in no way affects my opinions of the book.
The Devouring Gray was on my top ten TBR list for 2019, as I’m sure it was for many others. The marketing campaign for this book was pretty intense, and I was fully on the bandwagon. A small town setting with a Stranger Things comp? Sign me up, please.
Can you hear the “but” coming? I’m going to cut to the chase: The Devouring Gray was really disappointing to me. As has been the case with some other YA books I’ve read lately, this book could have done with a lot more page-turning plot and a lot less navel-gazing. Yes, I know that YA by its nature tends toward the introspective, but this book has… not much going on? I showed up for the malevolent presence lurking in the forest, but there’s actually not much forest action. The main character, Violet, is a Mary Sue to the core, and the characters flitting around her are boring. There is so much backstory that it feels like we are constantly playing catch up. Seeding of foreshadowed information and pacing were a further problem in this book, as well as awkward, confusing phrasing.
“Justin didn’t understand how it was possible to be simultaneously proud of May, relieved she’d known what to say, and jealous that he hadn’t. But he was.”
People don’t think it be it like it is, but it do.
So The Devouring Gray is an unfortunate pass for me, and I will not be picking up the second in the series when it releases.
Which leads me to Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé. Whereas The Devouring Gray dragged on and on, this was a total binge-read. As is the case with Gray, this book presents a main character who has lost her sister—here, “lost” is used literally, as the MC’s sister has disappeared somewhere into the sprawling, ominous swampland behind their house. The language is surprisingly lyrical, atmosphere suffuses every scene, and the characterization and dialogue are perfect. What Gray failed to accomplish with its forest setting, Monsters presents in spades.
I want to also touch on the sister dynamic in the book, which is extremely raw and real. The younger sister who’s gone missing, Deirdre, is a girl in her own world, constantly rubbing her older sister, Skye, the wrong way. A fair warning that Skye is very harsh to her younger sister—if you are looking for a likable MC, this is not the book for you. But not everyone is likable, and it is okay to tell their stories. I suspect that it is for the “unlikable MC” reason that this has a lower score on Goodreads (currently 3.43).
I would describe this as a book that pushes the envelope in terms of the sister relationship, one particular plot twist, and the ending. How I’ve longed for good YA horror; thank goodness this author has arrived on the scene.
So if you were at all disappointed by The Devouring Gray, I really recommend giving Here There Are Monsters a try. I will absolutely looking out for future releases from the author, and the story will be staying with me for a long while; I may even pick up a hard copy.
The premise of “Universal Horror” is a group of friends playing a drinking game on Halloween, where a little mummy trick-or-treater is coming around to the house a few too many times for comfort. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time connecting with this story—the whole thing felt a bit detached. I think that can partially be chalked up to the age and life situation of the characters. They’re grappling with some life changes and don’t seem to know how to handle them—break-ups, “getting old” (we’re talking thirty here), the question of whether or not to have a child. And while they’re trying to come to terms with all the important life stuff, the author is also heaping on a long-kept secret, not to mention the requisite dash of horror. It’s a lot of different threads all smushed together, and I didn’t find that any of the elements were strong on their own or in tandem.
Also, as a woman who’s twenty-nine, I’m not huge on stories about people in my age bracket coming to terms with the fact that they’re proper adults now. So many of these characters strike me as weak, nihilistic, and mopey—maybe that’s why I’m such a fan of YA. 😛 So this story is sadly not my favorite of Nightmare Magazine’s offerings.