Talking to college students about artists’ collaboration

Taking to students is such an amazing honor, and it’s especially awesome to do it in the classroom of a friend. I met Professor Kristin Gjerdset (bottom left in first photo) when she signed up for my speedskating class. When I learned she taught art at Wisconsin Lutheran College,  a gem of a school, I told her about my illustrator husband, Jeff. She soon asked him to speak her students. He had the best time.

This year, Kristin invited both of us to speak to her class, specifically about creative collaborations. Jeff and I have collaborated on so much, even more than I realized before preparing for this talk. We support each another in our respective fields in a ton of ways, like brainstorming projects, reference modeling, critiquing, story ideation, copyediting each others’ writing, publishing together, and, our biggest collaboration by far, creating Fantasy Art Workshop, our week-long illustration retreat.

The students seemed to enjoy seeing how much our creative endeavors have intertwined, and we loved their enthusiasm and their superb conversation. These are special kids with clear talent. We were lucky to get to meet them. 🙂

 

 

Image shows book cover -- a cat from the shoulders up, it wearing a business suit, against a black background, the book title in yellow typeface.

What I’m Reading – The Cat Who Saved Books and Starter Villain

Here are a couple of recent reads with cats on the cover. Just coincidentally.

Image shows book cover -- a drawing of a cat walking through a book.THE CAT WHO SAVED BOOKS by Sosuke Natsukawa, translated by Louise Heal Kawai. This was an interesting story about a young boy who inherits his grandfather’s bookstore and the magical cat who takes him on otherworldly adventures to save books in other realms. Each adventure speaks to how certain characters value or devalue books, how they judge their worth, and inward reflection on one’s self. This book was marketed to young adults in Japan, yet marketed to adults in the U.S. It’s a short, light read well tailored to lovers of cats and books.

 

Image shows book cover -- a cat from the shoulders up, it wearing a business suit, against a black background, the book title in yellow typeface.STARTER VILLAIN by John Scalzi. Inheriting his uncle’s supervillain business was more complicated than our protagonist expected, particularly after discovering who’s running the place. There are longtime, traitorous flunkies, sentient cats, foul-mouthed dolphins, a mountainous evil lair, and a cohort of rival supervillains out to snatch thrones, er, inheritances. Our poor every-man is in over his head. I woke my husband laughing so hard at one point. Very highly recommended.

 

(The above links are Amazon Affiliate links, meaning I make a few pennies off the sale of each book, at no cost to you.)

Image shows the cover of the book "KILLERS OF A CERTAIN AGE." Cream-colored background, the title words in red, a red hand holding a black knife.

What I’m Reading – Killers of a Certain Age, Grave Reservations, Flight Risk, and more

I’m reading of assassins and murders. Fiction, of course.

As a caveat, I generally don’t read true crime stories because, as a former journalist, I saw too much pain and horror from true crime. But fictional crime, especially cozy mysteries, I can find entertaining. That’s just me. (Cozy has a lot of different meanings to different people, but I categorize it as having amateur sleuths and off-the-page crime. So we hear of the crime, maybe even see some of it, but we’re not subjected to traumatizing horrors.) So what have I read and enjoyed?

Image shows the cover of the book "KILLERS OF A CERTAIN AGE." Cream-colored background, the title words in red, a red hand holding a black knife.

KILLERS OF A CERTAIN AGE by Deanna Raybourn, in which four female former assassins find themselves as marks of their former organization. To save themselves from an untimely demise and be able to enjoy their well-earned retirement, they rely on their tried-and-true, low-tech skills to survive the day. Honestly, I loved this book. It was such a fun ride, featuring older women who weren’t portrayed as superheroes. They actually have to keep up with their yoga routine to be limber, haha. And I adore stories about female friendships as opposed to mean-girl dynamics. I was rooting for these ladies. Recommended.

 

Image shows cover of the book GRAVE RESERVATIONS. Blue background behind a graphic of a white female with bright red lips, wearing red sunglasses reflecting a crime scene. Yellow title.GRAVE RESERVATIONS (Book #1 of the Booking Agents series) by Cherie Priest. This was a fun mystery with smart, capable characters. The lead is a clairvoyant and travel agent who saves a police detective from an ill-fated flight. Recognizing her unusual skill, he enlists her help to jumpstart a lagging case. Intrigue and deceptions come from all sides, yet our protagonist’s powers come through. For some reason, perhaps conditioning (?), I sort of hoped the protagonists would become a romantic couple, but then perhaps the story would fall into romance, which it doesn’t. I found myself questioning why I expected that, but it’s obvious because they do seem like they’ll make a great couple. Maybe that’ll blossom throughout the series. At any rate, this author has an easy, contemporary voice, and the novel features super karaoke. Recommended.

 

Image shows graphic image book cover of FLIGHT RISK. Purple sky, green mountains, white girl with purple lips, wearing sunglasses reflecting part of the crime scene. Title in purple text.FLIGHT RISK (Book #2 of the Booking Agents series) by Cherie Priest. I won this book from my book club leader after giving its predecessor the highest rating. I didn’t know my favorable rating would lead to a prize, so that’s nice. This sequel brings another mystery, with wholly different motivations, to our trusty characters. It was another enjoyable mystery.

And I’ve also had the pleasure of reading several as-yet-unpublished manuscripts to provide back-jacket blurbs. those recommendations you’ll find on the back jacket of the books once they come out. I’ll let you know when.

Until then, keep reading, folks!

 

(The above links are Amazon Affiliate links, meaning I make a few pennies off the sale of each book, at no cost to you.)

Image shows a bookshelf with books

Tallying the year

Image shows a bookshelf with booksI genuinely love end-of-year lists.

Best of. Worst of. Most this or that. The year 2023 at a glance. I like being reminded of all that’s transpired in the past 365 days. I forget a lot of it and like revisiting with the benefit of hindsight.

One of the lists I always see is “How many books I read this year.” I keep track too, but I don’t feel any strong need to share it. I made the list for myself, not to later share in the hopes to impress or shame. Plus, I like to see how many books I read and actually enjoyed. See, those are the only books that make my list. My tally would be much, muuuuch higher if I included all the books I started but didn’t finish.

That’s the point of this post. If you need permission, I’m hereby granting it. You do not need to finish books you aren’t enjoying. The book police won’t come get you. The creators involved won’t be any the wiser. No one will know what you did or did not finish unless you tell them. There are too many books in the world to read them all, and you have too little life force to expend on entertainments that don’t feed you.

So, keep a tally, if you feel so inclined. Or don’t. Finish that book. Or don’t. But of course I’d always advise you try another. A year without books would be a tragedy indeed.

Here’s hoping your new year is bountiful with spectacular reads.

I’ve joined a book club–and I love it!

Picture of poster showing a girl holding a red book in front of her face. The poster reads, "That's what I do. I read books."I know, I know. It’s shouldn’t be big news if an author is part of a book club. But can I confess something here? **looks around sheepishly** I’ve never taken part in a regular book club.

As a kid, I read the books suggested by my school or library, but I didn’t join group discussions about them. I guess I didn’t want to hear people potentially criticize a book I enjoyed. What can I say? I was fragile. Then, as I got older and talked endlessly about books, I joined short-term clubs led by publishers or literary agencies or even clubs with the focus of having the creators attend. So I’d get to meet the authors or illustrators or editors, etc. That’s amazing, right?

But a club with readers who aren’t publishing-adjacent? Not until November 2023 when I joined one of the many monthly book clubs offered by Boswell Books, my local independent bookstore. I’ll post reviews of those books soon, but for now, I just want to say how fun it is to read books outside of what I may have chosen and then talk with fellow readers about them. Further, it’s fascinating to hear from readers who speak freely about a story (because the creator isn’t right there to hear what they have to say) and expound on other elements of a book (because they may not have thought about industry reasons for certain publishing choices). PLUS, a couple of fellow authors whom I’ve invited to join have, so it’s an overall lovely time.

Do you want to make more friends in the new year? Join a book club. Or another club focused on a hobby or passion you enjoy. I hope joining adds fun and friendship to your life. As for my new enterprise, so far so good. 🙂

NaNoWriMo #2

Picture of a calendar for November 2023The more you do something, the more you learn, right? And what I learned this November is that I need to be on solid footing with my story before NaNoWriMo if I expect the month to work for me.

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. I explained the idea and methods for it in last year’s post, found here, so I won’t repeat myself. But let me just say, NaNoWriMo 2022 was a success for me because I knew where I was going with the story before the start. This year? Oof, no.

See, I plot my stories. Other writers don’t. Whichever method works for you is great, but I’ve found I do better if I’ve thoroughly thought through my story, all the way through to the end. So I had planned to think deeply about my story ahead of time. I had planned to outline so I wasn’t wasting time writing drivel. Alas, time is a runaway freight train. It was suddenly November! I had to get my first day’s word count in! No time to lose!

Well, I kinda think I lost half the month, if you want me to be honest. My final word count was well below what I’d hoped–primarily because I was adrift, going back and forth and rethinking parts and blah blah blah.

So. Hear me, writers. I highly suggest you keep following your tried-and-true, nice-and-toasty, satisfying method ahead of NaNo. If you typically plot your stories, do it again before you start. NaNo is no time to charge across uncharted lands while also expecting to double or even triple your daily word count and yet expect magic. You know yourself, so believe in your trusty process. My two cents. I wish you luck.

Cover image of the book THE HAUNTED STATES OF AMERICA

THE HAUNTED STATES OF AMERICA is available for PREORDER!

In February, I told you I’m representing Wisconsin in the upcoming spooky anthology THE HAUNTED STATES OF AMERICA. I’m thrilled to tell you that the book is now AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER! Here’s a look at the cover, illustrated by by Solomon Hughes.

Cover image of the book THE HAUNTED STATES OF AMERICA

Releasing from Macmillan Publishers on July 9, 2024
ISBN 9781250819413

Friends, there is simply no better way to support an author and their work than to preorder their books. Even if you think you won’t read the book for months or years, preorders count in the crucial first week of publication and can determine a book’s entire trajectory. So please do order a copy, either here or through your favorite bookstore. And trust me, by the time you get the book in July, you’ll be facing spooky season again and you’ll be ready to embrace some spine-tingling tales.

To remind you, this creepy collection features 52 twisted short stories, one from each state plus D.C. and Puerto Rico. My Wisconsin tale is personal and oh-sooooo-haunting. I spent countless hours at the Seven Bridges in my youth, so when I learned about this upcoming anthology, I knew I had to set a story there. My terrifying tale includes scenes from the archway, bridge, and trail shown below.

Sign at the entrance to South Milwaukee's Seven Bridges, which reads, "Enter this wild wood and view the haunts of nature"

It reads, “Enter this wild wood and view the haunts of nature.”

The Seven Bridges opening bridge, overlooking a deep gorge

The Seven Bridges opening bridge, overlooking a deep gorge

Image shows Seven Bridges trail

A trail dappled in light.

Thank you so much for your preorder and overall support. May Halloween 2024 be frightening fun,