[Infographic] Get Unstuck! How to deal with writer’s block.

A quick note: I wrote this infographic to go with my presentation at the Willamette Writers Conference this weekend. If you’re attending, I’ll be talking about Joyful Productivity for Writers at 9am on Saturday (in person) and 8am Sunday (virtually). I can’t wait to see you there!

A lot of professional writers say they don’t believe in writer’s block — but I totally do. I’ve been there, staring at the computer screen, knowing I should be writing but feeling totally, completely stuck.

However, as a professional writer, I’ve also had to learn tricks for pushing past that writer’s block in order to get those words flowing again. After all, when you’re up against a deadline you don’t have (much) time to wait for the muse to grace you with her presence.

Here are 15 quick tried-and-true ways to get yourself unstuck and back in the groove with your writing.

(Infographic text copied below for accessibility).

Get-Unstuck-infographic

1. Interrogate why you’re stuck

Every trick in the book won’t help get you writing if you are stuck on something bigger than not knowing a plot point. Free write to tease out the problem. Are you afraid to write something too true, or too close to you? Have you grown out of this project? Are you writing the wrong thing? This can be a scary exercise, but it’s better than continuing to work on the wrong project.

2. Change your environment

Switch things up by writing from a new location. Even if going to the usual favorites (coffee shop, bar, or library) is not in the cards right now, try moving to a place you don’t normally write in the house, or even take a drive somewhere with a good view and sit in your car.

3. Go for a walk

Getting up and moving can help break you out of your rut. Go for a thirty-minute walk around your neighborhood—you can either let your mind wander, or go with the intention of mulling over whatever specific thing you’re stuck on.

4. Go for a dictation walk

Take your phone on your walk, and record yourself thinking through whatever issue you may be having. Use a program like Dragon Dictation, Just Press Record, or Otter.ai to transcribe your thoughts afterward.

5. Remember your “why”

What was it about this project that you are most excited about? If you’ve been stuck for more than a few sessions, this could be a good way to help you find momentum again. Free write on what excited you most about your project initially, and what you’re most passionate about now.

6. Try writing gibberish

Try writing deliberately badly. Set a timer for 10 minutes and force yourself to write total, complete gibberish. This will help you get out of your head so you can get back to writing real words.

7. Set a timer

This is one of my favorite motivational methods. Set a timer for 25 minutes and tell yourself that’s as long as you have to work on the project. Once the timer is up, you can get up and do whatever else you want to. Chances are, though, once the timer goes off you’ll be in the groove.

8. Writing sprints with a friend

Meet up with a friend in person, or set up a video call to do some joint writing sprints. A good format is 25 minutes on, 10 minutes to chat, for as many cycles as you’d like. You could also join an online write-in with other authors for accountability.

9. Create a “swipe file”

Start a swipe file of things related to your work that inspire you. It could be passages from a favorite author, short movie clips, a soundtrack of inspirational music. When you’re feeling stuck, spend ten minutes with your swipe file to get inspired.

10. Skip ahead

Are you stuck in one location of your story? Try skipping ahead. There is no rule that says you have to write linearly. Plus, if you’re stuck because you’re bored of a scene, you may find the scene isn’t necessary, and your readers would be bored by it, too.

11. Get rid of distractions

Use an app to block your access to the Internet, write on a device that isn’t connected, or turn on your noise canceling headphones. It could be less that you’re stuck, and more that you’re letting yourself get distracted.

12. Create a border crossing ritual

When I put in my noise canceling headphones and turn on the sound of a thunderstorm, my brain switches into writing mode like a Pavlovian response. Find your own combination, whether it’s a white noise app, a special “writing time only” tea blend, lighting a ritualistic candle, or something else.

13. Write in a different medium

Our brains work differently depending on what are using, which is why brainstorming with pencil and a spiral-bound notebook can be so freeing if you’re stuck in the more formal writing mode of your fingers on your keyboard. Shut off your computer and write longhand in a notebook, try dictating, use crayons—whatever will make you feel a new spark of creativity.

14. Box yourself in

Try giving yourself limitations to get the creative juices flowing. Try using a writing prompt, telling yourself you won’t use words with the letter L, or whatever parameters you can think of to force yourself to be more creative and playful about your writing.

15. Check your expectations

Do you have unrealistic expectations about how fast you are working? How many words you’re writing in a day? The quality of your first draft? Identify those, acknowledge them, and then set them aside to give yourself space to write in your own way.

[Story Sale] Happy release day to NOIR!

When you write a 5-book saga with a rather large cast of characters, you’re likely to hear from readers that you should have written more about so-and-so.

One of those characters is Detective Timo Cho of the Bulari Police Department, who spends some time investigating our heroes and learning some truths of his own about how the seedy underbelly of Bulari works.

I agree. I loved Cho, and loved being in Cho’s point of view for his scenes. Because his storyline is a bit separate from the rest of the characters — he is investigating them, but not physically interacting until the end of the book — I actually approached his storyline as though I was writing a short story. The end result was a fun noir detective subplot mixed in with the rest of the adventure. (Complete, of course, with the femme fatale.)

I’d wanted to revisit Cho’s story for a while now, so when I saw a call for submissions to a sci-fi crime anthology called NOIR, I knew exactly what story I wanted to write.

“Storm Warning” is the story of Detective Timo Cho doing what he does best: asking too many questions.

It’s set in Bulari, but is completely apart from the events of the Bulari Saga, so it stands on its own. If you’ve read the Bulari Saga books, you’ll find another fan favorite character makes a cameo. If you haven’t read the Bulari Saga, no worries! “Storm Warning” is meant to be just plain fun.

I’ll include a snippet to whet your appetite in a second, but first:

NOIR

NOIR

edited by David B. Coe & John Zakour

A missing intergalactic artifact valuable enough to inspire murder. A cartoon gag gone bad that leads to a gruesome death. Greek deities unraveling a divine mystery in New York City. A human detective navigating the temptations of Faerie in pursuit of a magical killer. Call them sleuths, call them gumshoes, call them shamuses or dicks or beagles—these private investigators prowl the back alleys of imagination, explaining the unexplainable, seeking answers and justice for two hundred dollars a day plus expenses.

In Noir, speculative fiction authors Hal Bodner, Jessie Kwak, Esther M. Friesner, Travis Wade Beaty, John Zakour, Alex Bledsoe, Erik Grove, Andrija Popovic, Julie E. Czerneda, Aprilynne Pike, D.B. Jackson, Justin Jordan, Steven Harper, R.S. Belcher, and Eve Golden-Woods spin tales of intrigue and danger, introducing you to worlds where information is currency and life is cheap. So put on your fedora, raise your trench coat collar against the evening chill, and come explore the shadows. But remember, in this seedy business, you can trust no one…sometimes not even yourself.

Get the book:

Direct from the publisher
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, etc.


Storm Warning [Excerpt]

When Detective Timo Cho watches the replay he doesn’t pay attention to the body. He focuses on the killer’s eyes. 

They’re a deep, after-sunset blue with a thin ring of silver around the pupil, narrowed with intense focus though the lines around the eyes are relaxed. This surgery is complicated, but routine. The timestamp on the footage says they’re around the three-hour mark, but it’s not just the demands of the morning’s work threading the surgeon’s sclera with glints of red. The irritation could be from the lens he wears—the faintly shimmering assistive tech floating over delicate eye tissue—but Cho guesses the surgeon also hasn’t been sleeping well. There are bags under his eyes. The outside corner of the right eye is inflamed. 

And, there.

That’s the moment when things go wrong. A flurry of sudden blinking. The pupils flare, the brows draw in, the corners of the eyes crinkle in sudden confusion. One of the capillaries in the sclera of the left eye bursts, glazing the eye with a wash of red just before the surgeon begins making the fatal cuts. 

Ten seconds later, both eyes widen in horror. And squeeze shut. Cho turns the replay off. He’s seen what comes next enough times.

A Sulila-trained surgeon—the elitest of the elite—deliberately killed a patient in the middle of surgery and then slit his own throat. 

Cho leans back in his chair in the Bulari Police Department’s least-malfunctioning investigations cube, cracks his neck. Studies the patterns of water leaking into the ceiling, layered over the years like a topographical map. If only he could read that to understand what happened here—and how to proceed on this case without pissing off his supervisor, the public, or Sulila corporation. 

Cho’s supervisor, Major Ngara, would say start by making Sulila happy and keep the public from knowing why they should be angry. In fact, he’d given Cho step-by-step instructions, handed down from Sulila: review the hologram, declare the surgeon had a mental breakdown, write up a report that absolves Sulila of responsibility and reassures the public that their hospitals are safe.

Cho digs his mechanical left fingers into a hard knot of muscle in his right shoulder, lets the front legs of his chair clatter to the floor, and skims the replay back to the beginning. This time he lets his gaze go soft as the hologram plays around him, only half-watching the murder, waiting for something to ping his subconscious.

Getting to see the moment of a murder is rare. It definitely eliminates the who. Just leaves the why.

The holograms he usually works with are done after the fact, meticulously recorded by Hallie Bachelet and her crew of crime scene techs, body blanks programmed into the scene so detectives can play them like puppets and puzzle through what might have happened. This recording, though, is surgery-room footage, supplied by Sulila. The quality is amazing—way better than the tech the Bulari Police can get. Cho halfway expected the rich file to crash the BPD’s system when he loaded it in the scenario desk. 

Provided by Sulila means censored by Sulila. A few things are blurred: proprietary surgery tools, the patient’s medical data, and the assistant’s face. Cho’s not allowed to talk to them. The Sulila PR team has provided the BPD with a transcript of the assistant’s testimony to “protect an innocent person’s identity.”

Cho pulls out his comm. Hallie Bachelet answers almost immediately. “You around?” 

“Depends.” From the distant clatter of voices and ringing comms in the background it sounds like she’s in the office. “You got something happy and uplifting to show me? I just got back from a pretty rough scene.”

“It’s all puppy dogs and flowers in this investigations cube. I’m on the Sulila case. Can you help me with this footage?”

She’d say yes anyway, but a chance to muck around with proprietary Sulila footage sweetens the deal. Hallie swears under her breath.

She’s there by the time he has the scenario desk reset, slumping into the seat beside him with a sigh. She’s still dressed for a crime scene in silver-gray scrubs and an appropriately somber hijab, a touch of mascara smudged in the warm brown skin under each eye. 

“Bad day?” Cho asks. 

Hallie waves him off. “Same old. What’s your question?” 

He lets the footage run, pausing about ten seconds before things go wrong. This time, he’s not looking at the footage at all; he’s watching Hallie’s reaction. Her attention darts immediately to the blurred parts. 

“Any way to repair the blurring?” he asks. 

She scoots closer to the scenario desk. “Maybe. Super easy if it’s just a filter the PR team slapped on.” She types for a few minutes, then hits Play once more. The blurring is gone. “Who’s a hero?” 

“You are.”

Cho leans in to study the now-unblurred assistant as Hallie plays it again from the beginning, but he stops it before it gets to the murder—he did promise her something happy.

Hallie waves away his hand. “The day I’ve had, Timo, nothing else can faze me.” She frowns through the murder-suicide, then stops. Replays it.

“I thought you were looking for a cheer-up,” Cho says. 

“Shush.” Hallie leans in, hits Pause. “There.”

Cho frowns at the body, at the surgeon, at the frozen horror on the assistant’s face. “What?”

“There’s time missing in the recording,” Hallie says.

“Can you get it back?”

“That’ll be tougher than just clearing a filter, but I can get one of my techs on it. But Timo…”

Cho turns to meet her gaze.

“I thought you were supposed to have an easy solve on this.”

“Don’t you want to know what actually happened? Justice shouldn’t—” 

“Have compromises, I know. You say it all the time. Just promise me you won’t make any mistakes here.”

“I promise.” He seals the promise with a wink. “Can I thank you for the help here with dinner tonight?”

“I thought there was a storm warning.”

“That’s not until tomorrow.” 

Hallie’s smile tilts to the side. “Then sure. So long as we don’t talk about work.”

“Done.” 

Cho switches off the hologram when she leaves, does a fast search for the assistant’s profile, then wipes the search and logs out of the scenario desk. He’s got a few hours before dinner, and doesn’t owe Sulila’s PR team a report until tomorrow. Still time to ask a couple of questions. 


Read the rest of the story in NOIR. Get it today:

[Excerpt] Ghost Pirate Gambit

Ghost Pirate Gambit is almost here!

In celebration, I’m posting an excerpt; it occurs a few chapters in, but it’s one of my favorite scenes in the first part of the book, where Raj and Lasadi first officially meet. You can also download the first four chapters for free — no need to sign up for any email lists. 🙂

And don’t forget that through May 30th I’m offering a BOGO (buy one, gift one) deal!

Email me with proof of purchase, and the name and email address of a friend you think would enjoy Ghost Pirate Gambit. I’ll send them a copy for free.

Pick up your copy of Ghost Pirate Gambit today!


Excerpt from Ghost Pirate Gambit

The woman with the blond braid has dropped the service industry facade, but she doesn’t seem worried at being caught red-handed in theft. There’s a sort of feral grace in the way she tensed at his voice; she holds herself like a fighter. Something tells him she’ll struggle almost to the death before accepting captivity — and that she’s done it before.

Her gaze rakes down his body, evaluating; the calculating glint in her smoky brown eyes tells Raj she’s no stranger to getting herself out of a tricky situation.

Oh. And that she’ll write him off as collateral damage in a heartbeat.

She definitely isn’t a member of the catering team. Raj likes being right more when it doesn’t mean a major kink in his plans.

“Stay back,” she hisses. Her fingertips are on the plinth’s control panel, her hand clad in one of those shimmering silver antimicrobial gloves all the catering staff are wearing. “You’ll get us both killed.”

Raj freezes.

“Lasers,” the woman says in explanation. She waves her free hand at the base of the plinth. “They’ll kneecap us both if I screw this up.”

“I knew you weren’t a caterer,” Raj says.

“And I knew you weren’t an investor,” she answers. The bioscanner under her fingertips shifts from threatening red to a soothing green, pulses green a second time, then stays that way. A faint click sounds from the control panel and the forcefield around the obsidian totem dissolves with a sigh. The woman’s shoulders loosen imperceptibly. “But you didn’t turn me in to Sumilang.”

“It wouldn’t have been polite.”

“Polite? It’d fit perfect with the asshole Arquellian act.” She tilts her chin to study him. “Unless it’s not an act.”

And at that he places her accent: Corusca.

Ah. Could be another problem.

Indira’s moon is the newest member of the Indiran Alliance, which includes Arquelle. Only Arquelle is a founding member — and perhaps a touch aggressive when it comes to bringing new countries into the fold. Corusca’s citizens had been split on joining, and Arquelle had pushed, coercing an unpopular decision through the Senate. Frustrations in Corusca led to an Alliance occupation, which led to a viciously effective insurgency, which led to a retaliatory “peace” effort. Which led to Raj’s first command post.

Tensions had spread on both sides, until the deaths of seven hundred and twelve souls aboard a neutral New Manilan medical transport poured fuel on the flames. The resulting Battle of Tannis had been disastrous for everyone involved — but far, far worse for Coruscans.

“Let’s talk this through,” Raj says.

“Nothing to talk about,” the Coruscan woman says. “You walk back out of this room and I won’t tell Sumilang about your grift. We both get what we want.”

“One problem,” says Raj. He may feel bad about the war, but he’s got a job to do. He lifts his chin to the obsidian totem behind her. “I’m here for that.”

She blinks in surprise, but her hesitation doesn’t last long. A flash of decision in her eyes; he tries to move before she does, but she’s too quick. She ducks his arm, snatching the totem as she pivots, an elbow to his ribs as she whirls past.

Raj muffles a groan at the burst of pain in his side, bites back a curse as he lunges after her, acutely aware of the slightest sounds of their scuffle. The party outside the museum hall is loud, but not loud enough.

He catches her arm and spins her off her footing; she nearly drops the totem, but as he lunges for it, she tightens her grip once more and swings it at his head. He ducks, just in time. The breeze it makes passing over his head sets his hair on end.

She wasn’t expecting to miss, and she put a touch too much force into the swing. Just enough that Raj can use her momentum to push her off her footing. She pivots at the last second to avoid hitting another golden plinth — this one topped with a saint’s altar — and Raj tackles her before she can take off running again.

They roll to the floor, barely missing the tray of puff pastries she’d left on the table against the wall, Raj cushioning their fall to keep from making too much noise. She’s wiry, but he’s stronger, and he’s gaining the upper hand. He catches her wrist above her head when she tries to swing the totem at him again, frees the electric barb from his belt with his other hand, and jams it against her temple.

She goes still, chest heaving with breath. Every muscle in her body is tense; he can feel her taut strength pressed against his own. She smells like vetiver, with heady undertones of sweet caramel and brush fire.

Focus, Raj.

“I think I win,” Raj says.

In response, the woman ghosts him a smile and glances down. When he tries to follow her gaze, the cold point of a blade pricks below his chin. The corner of her mouth curls up.

“Try it,” she says.

The electric barb won’t kill her, but if he discharges it into her temple it could do some gnarly things to her wiring. Course, he won’t get far at all if she bites that blade into his jugular. He’s not interested in leaving any bodies behind on this job, but he’s pretty sure she doesn’t have that same hang-up — especially about an Arquellian like him. Either way, she’s faster than him. Even if he was willing to pull the trigger, she could slit his throat before the jolt knocked her cold.

She’s watching him make his decision, a hint of amusement on her lips. Like she’s already solved this particular puzzle and she’s waiting for him to catch on.

Her lips part as though she’s about to speak, then she glances up, eyelashes sweeping wide.

He hears it, too: voices heading towards them.

Raj acts before he can second-guess himself, rolling them both out of sight under the hem of the tablecloth. He keeps his grip on her wrist, the electric barb against her temple. He can still feel the edge of her blade against his throat — only now their positions are reversed and she’s straddling his chest.

The woman gives a startled laugh, then presses her lips shut tight and holds as still as he, waiting for the scuffing heels and muttered complaints of the caterers to pass by. Her professional mask has melted into something more playful, and he revises her age downwards. She can’t be any older than him, despite the experienced way she carries herself.

“What’s your name?” Raj whispers when the caterers have passed. One of the woman’s eyebrows lift, but she doesn’t move the knife from his throat. “I’m Raj.”

“Hi, Raj. I know you’re not going to pull that trigger.”

“And you’re not going to slit my throat.”

“I’m not?”

“You’ve got a buyer for this thing?”

“None of your business.”

“Mine pays top dollar. Tell you what. We work together to get out of this and I’ll make sure you get your share. Fifty-fifty.”

“I kill you, I get one hundred percent.”

“You don’t know how good my buyer’s rates can be. What’s your name?”

The woman snorts a laugh and moves without warning, rolling off him and out from under the table, disappearing in a rustle of tablecloth.

Raj hisses out a curse and scrambles out after her, but the woman’s halfway across the hall by the time he gets to his feet. And — how the hell? — she stole his electric barb.

She glances back to gauge her lead, and that’s why she doesn’t notice him: the burly wall of a security guard stepping around the corner. She runs smack into the guard’s chest and the big man’s hands close around her shoulders like vise grips.

And there’s that animal desperation flashing over her face once more — the wild fear of the trap, the feral instinct to fight her way out even if it kills her.


Download the rest of the sample here, or buy your copy of Ghost Pirate Gambit today!

Ghost Pirate Gambit Sample: Click here to download

From Big Idea to Book podcast roundup

I’ve been absolutely floored by the positive reception to From Chaos to Creativity over the last few years, and it’s been so much fun to watch little sibling From Big Idea to Book get out into the world.

To celebrate its launch, I’ve been making the circuit of some truly amazing podcasts. Check them out!

(By the way, if you haven’t grabbed a copy of From Big Idea to Book yet, I’m running a bundle deal. Get signed copies of both Big Idea and Chaos — only $25 for the pair.)


Creative-Penn

The Creative Penn Podcast

Joanna Penn’s podcast was one of the first I subscribed to when I started self publishing, and her cheerful British accent has been the soundtrack to my author journey. So it’s a huge honor to be a guest on her show!

Listen to the episode: From Big Idea to Book with Jessie Kwak

You can also check out the previous interview Joanna did with me, back in 2020: From Chaos to Creativity with Jessie Kwak


Hybrid-pub-scout

Hybrid Pub Scout

Emily Einolander of Hybrid Pub Scout not only was a fantastic host when I appeared on Hybrid Pub Scout earlier this year — they also published a wonderful review of From Big Idea to Book that I’m still glowing about.

Listen to the episode: From Chaos to Creativity with Jessie Kwak


Indy-author-1

The Indy Author Podcast

Matty Dalrymple of the Indy Author Podcast was a total delight to speak with, and I loved our far-ranging conversation about the nature of the writing process!

Matty also posts clips on her YouTube channel — so if you want to see how wild my hair decided to be the day of our interview, go check it out.

Listen to the episode: From Big Idea to Book with Jessie Kwak


Author-success-show

Author Success Show

I also had the joy of talking to the absolutely delightful Jyotsna Ramachandran for the Author Success Show! We got a bit more into the nitty gritty of self publishing and the business side of the writer’s journey, as well as talking about craft.

Listen to the episode: You Don’t Have to Wait for the Muse to be Creative | Author Success Show Featuring Jessie Kwak


Creative Writer's Toolbelt logo

Creative Writer’s Toolbelt Podcast

I had such a thoughtful conversation with Andrew Chamberlain of the Creative Writer’s Toolbelt Podcast! The episode isn’t up yet (I’ll update this post when it is), but I highly recommend checking out past guests. This show is a fantastic source of inspiration for writers.

Meet the Crew of the Nanshe

I love a good “hiring the crew” montage. 

The uneasy gathering in the warehouse in Ronin. Viola Davis approaching the wives of her husband’s dead crew in Widows. Danny Ocean recruiting his accomplices in Ocean’s Eleven.

As I started writing the Nanshe Chronicles, I lived through my own crew-hiring montage. I already knew Raj and Lasadi, Starla’s parents — but I had no real ideas about who the rest of the characters would be. 

They had to be fun, flawed characters that I wanted to spend an entire series with. They had to have chemistry with each other. They had to have depth and mystery, and — most of all — they had to feel like real people whose dialogue and actions I was just recording.

I went for long walks. I jotted down ideas. I watched movies. And I just kept scratching until the magic started to happen and, one by one, the members of Raj and Lasadi’s little crew started to show up and talk to me.

The first book of the series is coming out in a little over a week, so I thought I’d give you a sneak peek at who you’ll be spending time with in the Nanshe Chronicles… using the tried and true heist writer trope of a most wanted list, of course. 🙂  

The art is from my cousin Nico Longoria, a talented freelance comic artist. Check out their Instagram and website for more amazing art!

Bounty board

Woman with dark blond hair in a braid, and pale skin, wearing a headset.

Lasadi Cazinho (Captain)

  • Birthplace: Corusca 
  • Last seen: Battle of Tannis (Corusca; presumed alive) 
  • Distinguishing features: Pragmatic and level-headed, ace pilot and capable commander. Fanatically attached to the cause of a free Corusca. 
  • Wanted for: Captain in Corusca Liberation Army terrorist organization 

Man with shoulder-length black hair and light brown skin.

Raj Demitriou (Grifter)

  • Birthplace: Arquelle 
  • Last seen: Battle of Tannis (Corusca) 
  • Distinguishing features: Quick thinker and charismatic leader with a penchant for lost causes. Captain in Arquellian navy, dishonorable discharge. 
  • Wanted for: Desertion 
  • Special handling: Family political connections require extremely delicate care in case of capture 

Man with black hair and pale skin, winking. Wearing a pair of goggles pushed up on forehead.

Jay Kamiya (Mechanic)

  • Birthplace: Corusca 
  • Last seen: Battle of Tannis (Corusca; presumed alive) 
  • Distinguishing features: Mechanic with a miracle touch, tendency to hotheadedness; full tattoo sleeves. Known associate of Lasadi Cazinho. 
  • Wanted for: Member of Corusca Liberation Army terrorist organization 

Woman with long, curly black hair, dark skin with freckles, red jacket.

Ruby Quiñones (Hacker)

  • Birthplace: Unknown 
  • Last seen: Ironfall (Dima) 
  • Distinguishing features: Tech genius with a promising future that went south (reasons classified); red leather jacket, freckles, golden tattoos on collarbones 
  • Wanted for: Intellectual property theft 
  • Special handling: If captured immediately deliver to Huancaya Corp 

Young man with a coif of curly black hair, freckles, dark skin. Holding up a peace sign.

Alexander Quiñones (Thief)

  • Birthplace: Unknown 
  • Last seen: Artemis City (Artemis) 
  • Distinguishing features: Fast talker with even quicker fingers; teenage brother of Ruby Quiñones, ward of Aymaya Apostles.  
  • Wanted for: Stealing anything that’s not nailed to the ground 
  • Special handling: Minor; requires maximum security if detained 

More murdercopters, but this time they’re French

I’m fascinated by early helicopters — and the people whose brains created them.

I get planes. It’s pretty easy to look at a soaring bird and extrapolate that if you made a contraption with the right kind of wing, a human could use it to glide like a hawk.

But the whirligig motion required to make rotorcraft fly isn’t as obvious. Whose brain thought, “If I attach propeller blades to a blender and hold it above my head, I’ll probably fly and also maybe not die?”

Ridiculous and terrifying murdercopters are my favorite genre of aircraft.

Longtime newsletter subscribers may remember the little buddy that sparked my interest: Lewis C. McCarty Jr’s Aerocycle.

You can see those pics here.

You might also remember that the aerocycle made an appearance in Heat Death (Bulari Saga 4). I polled you all, and the result was that you wanted to see one of my characters ride a similar deathtrap. You sadists.

Well, I have a whole batch of wild rides for you today.

Jessie stands next to a human-sized astronaut made entirely of LEGO bricks.
Jessie stands next to an astronaut made of LEGOs

My husband and I have spent the last week in Paris. We’ve seen all the usual hits: the cheese shops, the Eiffel Tower, the wine bars, Notre Dame, the bakeries, and, of course, the National Air and Space Museum of France.

If you’re interested at all in early flight, I highly recommend this museum.

The French were pioneers of flight — starting with hot air balloons in the 1800s and progressing to dirigibles, then some very fanciful personal glider contraptions.

Many of the original prototypes are on display at the museum, giving you a fascinating look into how humanity took its first baby steps into the air — and into orbit and beyond.

(I like this one that’s inspired by bat wings.)

A human-sized pair of bat wings made out of wood and canvas.
This seems legitimately fun to fly.

There’s a fantastic rotocraft display, as well as an entire hall dedicated to modern prototypes.

It was in the helicopter hall that I first learned about Raúl Pateras Pescara de Castelluccio, an inventor from Argentina who created this nonsense:

An open-cockpit helicopter with two sets of rotating blades — except the blades are double-decker and made of canvas.
So many blades! So close to your head!

This experimental Pescara helicopter was built in France in 1925, This is his model 2F, which the plaque explains climbed to 2.5m, flew for more than 10 minutes, and covered 1,160m in a closed circuit.

That’s over a kilometer, slightly faster than you could walk it — but with a much bigger adrenaline rush.

I mean, look at that thing. Can you believe it flew?

I can’t — but there’s actual video! This is a slightly different model than the one in the French Air and Space Museum, but it’s wild.

As always, I find inspiration for my science fiction in my travels — and that definitely includes the visits to air and space museums. Blood River Blues (Nanshe Chronicles 2) took inspiration from an exhibit on Alaskan bush planes at the Boeing Air Museum in Seattle.

So don’t worry — I’ll try to figure out a way to include a Pescara murdercopter in a future book. 😉

(For more French murdercopter photos check out my post on Instagram.)

I’m off to eat some more cheese and continue butchering the French language beyond recognition!

(French people have been very polite and helpful about both of those pastimes so far.)

I hope you’re having a lovely week, and not strapping a mini helicopter to your back.

A mannequin in a flight suit, wearing a "jet pack" made of mini helicopter rotor blades.
At least he’s wearing a helmet.

Or, do.

I’m not gonna stop you.

But please do send me video.

Introducing my new series: The Nanshe Chronicles

I’m about to head on my first international trip since before the pandemic, and I’m beginning to immerse myself in the process of exploring a new city and culture.

I used to dream of being constantly on the move — road trips with the wind in my hair and the open highway stretching out in front of me, backpacking adventures stumbling into small towns and new sights, life a constant stream of new and fascinating experiences.

Like most people, my travel plans in 2020 were shunted down the road by the pandemic — but that didn’t stop me from exploring.

Because near the end of 2020, I began writing the Nanshe Chronicles.

I’d spent the previous three-ish years working on the Bulari Saga, which takes place almost entirely in the city of Bulari. I enjoyed immersing myself in the world, but I was itching to hop on a ship and start exploring the rest of the Durga System.

As a writer, my world building process is basically to make things up as needed to serve the story, rather than creating a world from scratch and layering story over it. I’d mentioned dozens of places, but didn’t know much about them. I knew a few facts, but I didn’t know how these places felt.

When I started working on the Nanshe Chronicles, I knew I wanted to do the exact opposite of the Bulari Saga, when it came to location. Instead of diving deep through the layers of a single city for five books, I wanted each book of the Nanshe Chronicles to take the reader — and me — to fantastic new locations.

Like any science fiction writer, I draw on what I know in order to write what I don’t know. I thought it would be fun to share some of the real-life travel inspirations behind locations in the first three books of the Nanshe Chronicles.

Let me take you on a tour.

Nanshe Chronicles 1: Lost in the labyrinth at San Jose, CA

A plucky space ship soars towards a menacing space station on the cover of Ghost Pirate Gambit.

In book one, Ghost Pirate Gambit, the newly-minted crew of the Nanshe are still learning to trust each other. I needed to send them out on a job — and into a physical location — that would put them under enough pressure that their deeply-locked secrets would break out. A place designed to test them physically and psychologically.

What better inspiration than the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA?

My Grandma Kwak instilled in me a longstanding fascination with ghost towns, houses with turrets, and the Winchester Mystery House — so when I got a chance to go during WorldCon one year, I jumped at the chance. Instantly, I knew how I was going to use the visit in the novel I’d just begun starting to plan.

(I wrote a longer post about my visit over on Patreon.)

The house, if you’re not familiar, was built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of firearms magnate William Winchester. As the story goes, after the death of her husband and newborn in 1881, a medium told her that she should leave her home in New Haven and travel west to construct a home for herself and the spirits of people who had been killed by Winchester rifles.

Supposedly the medium told Sarah that the way to placate the spirits was for the home to be under construction continuously — for the hammers to never stop ringing.

She moved to California hired workers, and from 1884 until her death in 1922, her mansion was continuously under construction.

In Ghost Pirate Gambit, Auburn Station is the fever dream of a long-dead space pirate who thought if she constantly kept her station under construction it would keep her safe: airlocks that open to nowhere, halls that corkscrew dizzily, corridors that dead-end without warning.

And plenty of boobytraps to keep out unwanted visitors. 😉

Nanshe Chronicles 2: From Canaima, Venezuela to Aguas Calientes, Peru

A plucky space ship hovers over a verdant planet on the cover of Blood River Blues.

Just after college, I spent six months living in Santa Elena de Uairén, Venezuela, working as a carpenter and volunteer coordinator for a small local NGO.

Santa Elena is on the edge of Canaima National Park, which is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen in my life. You can stand at the edge of a cliff and look over the brilliant emerald canopy of the Amazon rainforest as far as the eye can see. You can climb the tabletop mountains (tepuis), hike rivers made of pure jasper, and see the tallest waterfall in the world.

And while the tourists gawk, the locals are doing their best to scrape by in a place so remote that — unless you’re incredibly wealthy — the nearest airport is an eight hour bus ride away.

I drew on my time in Santa Elena de Uairén for Nanshe Chronicles 2, Blood River Blues. In it, the crew touches down in New Manila for a job that has them facing down old ghosts as they con their way into racing the famous Liluri Star Run.

Part of the race takes place deeper in the mountains of New Manila — and anyone who’s been to Machu Picchu will probably recognize where I took inspiration for the town of Moie. Aguas Calientes is the spot most tourists overnight in before trekking or bussing up to Machu Picchu: it’s a lovely village set into the cliffs of a deep mountain ravine, with a river tumbling through the middle. I tapped into the visuals of the town as much as the frenetic tourist energy it exuded when writing about Moie.

Nanshe Chronicles 3: Scarred hearts and scattered bones in Alba de Tormes

A plucky space ship floats by a hot pink gas giant on the cover of Cursed Saint Caper.

The locations in Nanshe Chronicles 3, Cursed Saint Caper were inspired less by a physical place I’ve been than a single line I wrote down on a Post-it:

“Dendera, temple of dreamers.”

I don’t remember why I wrote that down, or where I heard about Dendera. I didn’t research it at all — I didn’t want to. Something about the idea of a dreaming temple sparked my imagination, and I didn’t want to tie it down with reality.

In doing some quick googling now, I find that Dendera was an Egyptian temple dedicated to the goddess Hathor, and supplicants who visited the temple could stay in special quarters where they could commune with the goddess in their dreams.

Coming from a Christian background myself, the idea of a dreaming temple brought to mind Christian mystics like Sta. Teresa de Ávila and St. Julian of Norwich. I’d seen Sta. Teresa’s heart at the convent of Alba de Tormes, carefully preserved in an ornate reliquary; I remember studying it, searching for the scar where she’d been pierced by the arrow of Christ’s love.

Did I find the scar? Hard to tell. Was Sta. Teresa’s experience real? It was to her, and in my mind that’s the important bit.

I’ve stood in sacred places like Alba de Tormes and read the writings of people who truly believe they’re channeling the divine. But I’ve also come across plenty of con artists and self help gurus who are only trying to channel other people’s money.

No matter your religious or philosophical tradition, people will try to use faith to make a quick dime on people who just want to trust.

It was that dichotomy of holy and scam, divine and con artist, true faith and shell games that inspired me in this book. The crew of the Nanshe will need to unravel truth from fiction in their own dreams as they tackle a con artist. This job takes them from the glitz and glamour of Artemis City to the mystic, unsettling quiet of the distant gas giant Bixia Yuanjin.

Introducing the Nanshe Chronicles

When I wrote the very first book set in the Durga System, Starfall, I had no idea the adventure I was about to set out on.

I didn’t know how much readers were going to resonate with the main character, Starla — and I had no idea how much I would eventually become intrigued by the story of her parents, the notorious Raj and Lasadi. 

I was worried when I began writing the Nanshe Chronicles. I’d spent years living with the characters and stories in the Bulari Saga, and meeting the crew of the Nanshe was odd at first. 

Lasadi doesn’t trust that easily. Jay doesn’t give up many secrets. Raj and Ruby seem like open books on the surface, but then you find out they’re only showing you select pages. And Alex is still figuring himself out — let alone learning how to share himself with others. 

Slowly, though, I began to find my way into this first book. Then the second. Then the third. Eventually, the crew started to open up to me, and I started to realize they were something special.

As I write this, I’ve finished the first three books in the series, along with a prequel novella, and I feel like I know this crew pretty damn well. 

I’m having a blast writing these books, and there are plenty more adventures to come in this series!

Stay tuned for more sneak previews and goodies as we get closer to the launch date. I can’t wait to share this new adventure with you!

If you haven’t already, go pick up Artemis City Shuffle for free and start on the adventure!


How to get your hands on Ghost Pirate Gambit

Right now you can pre-order Ghost Pirate Gambit in print, ebook, and audio directly from me. I’ll be launching this book into Kindle Unlimited on May 24th, but if you’re not a KU reader, don’t worry. If you’ve pre-ordered from me, you’ll get to read the book before it goes into Kindle jail. 🙂

Don’t forget to add Ghost Pirate Gambit to your Goodreads list!

News Roundup: Short story sale, audio books, and more

I’ve been pretty head-down the past few months, dividing my time between finishing writing the Nanshe Chronicles, preparing for the launch of the first book in May, and working on a big book project with a new nonfiction ghostwriting client.

Not to mention extracurriculars like spending time with my family and some local travel!

A lot of cool things have happened over the past few months, publishing-wise. I realized that although I’ve been keeping my newsletter subscribers updated on all the Cool Things, I hadn’t breathed a word to the rest of the world on my blog.

(Guess you should sign up for the newsletter if you want me to remember to tell you things. Seriously, even my mom gets most of her news about my life there. I’m a horrible daughter.)

So with no further ado, here’s a roundup of all the news that’s fit to print from Q1 of 2022.

Audiobooks!

Did you know you can now listen to the whole Bulari Saga as narrated by the phenomenal J.S. Arquin? He’s also working his way through the Nanshe Chronicles, so we’ll be able to release those audiobooks at the same time as the ebooks and print are released.

They’re available anywhere you buy quality audiobooks, but you can also get them direct from me at a discount. And right now, both Double Edged and Ghost Pirate Gambit are on sale. 🙂

New Bulari Saga short story!

I’m thrilled to announce that I sold a short story to NOIR, an anthology of sci-fi detective stories that’s coming out later this year from Zombies Need Brains.

The story features a detective many of you already know and love, Detective Timo Cho of the Bulari Police Department. It’s titled “Storm Warning,” and it features Cho doing what he does best: asking too many questions.

Even more anthologies!

I have stories in two other anthologies that you can get your hands on right now. The first is Underland Arcana Deck 1, which is a collection of all the short stories published during the first year of the Underland Arcana collections. (Which are lovely little books — I highly recommend subscribing.)

In my story, “At the Heart of the River,” a river just wants to finally have the full affections of the young man who’s loved her all these years.

The second anthology is Dispatches From Annarres, a collection of short stories written by Portland authors who were inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin. My story, “Black as Thread,” is about a brother and sister who use fashion to fight an invading force. I’m delighted and honored to say “Black as Thread” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for short fiction published by a small press!

From Big Idea to Book!

For all you writers out there, my latest book from Microcosm Publishing is finally out in the world!

Much as From Chaos to Creativity took you on a choose-your-own-adventure path to finding a productivity system that worked with your creative brain, From Big Idea to Book is designed to help you come up with a writing process that’s productive and which brings you joy.

If you’re curious, I wrote more about writing process and joy on the DIY MFA blog: “How to Recapture the Joy in Your Writing.”

I’ve also been doing podcast interviews about the book, which I’ll link to when they’re live!

And there’s plenty more to come

I think I’ve said all the things there are to say for the moment. I’m going to keep my head down and keep writing the next book — but rest assured there are plenty more exciting things on the way.

I promise I’ll try to remember to tell you about them… but if you want to make sure you don’t miss a thing, sign up for the newsletter. It’s fun!

A look back, a look ahead

I’ve been thinking a lot about work these past few months.

It’s in the zeitgeist, as we collectively as a society realize we can’t keep hustling at 125% day in and day out while the world goes up in flames around us and we pretend everything’s fine.

It’s on the minds of several of my ghostwriting clients, who are coaching their own clients through burnout and trying to find meaning in their lives.

And it’s been on my mind as I juggle writing thoughtful posts about burnout for said clients — while kickstarting From Big Idea to Book, racing up against deadlines for Nanshe Chronicles books, and launching a productivity course in January.

Oh, all while pretending to be on vacation in Arizona, where I’ve been working in the mornings and spending time with family and “relaxing” in the afternoons.

I’m cheerfully telling people how excited I am for the new year, how I’m going to put creativity first in 2022 — and yet.

I’m torn in a half-dozen directions, as usual, with no finish line in sight. 

As usual.

I’m lucky. Most of this chaos is of my own making: client work I’ve said yes to, books I’m excited to write, projects I initiated. I have what Charlie Gilkey calls “Shiny Object Syndrome,” gleefully jumping at new opportunities and filling my plate to bursting without stopping to think how I’ll manage it all.

That said, I can feel myself circling burnout, and I know I need to start working smarter.

I need to take real time off. To close the computer after dinner. To go on walks with my neighbor in the afternoon without stressing that I need to rush back to my desk.

I have no idea how to do that. I’ll let you know if I figure it out.

What’s coming in 2022

All that said, let’s take a look at what I’ve got in the works for you in 2022!

Nanshe Chronicles

I know! I’ve been talking about these books for ages, and you’ve yet to see more than my short story in CROOKED V.1. 😉

My original goal had been to launch the first Nanshe Chronicles book, Ghost Pirate Gambit, in March. But a few weeks back I learned that the official launch date of my new nonfiction book (see below) will be March 8.

So in order to not divide my metal capacity and marketing-shouting goodwill, I’m pushing back the launch of the Nanshe Chronicles to May. I’ll be putting out all three of the first books one after another in May, June, and July.

I know, I know. It’s a bit of a wait. But my lucky Patreon subscribers will be getting their copies up to a month earlier than that!

Nanshe Chronicles Audio!

I’ll be working with J.S. Arquin (who narrated the Bulari Saga audiobooks) to produce the first three Nanshe Chronicles books — so if you’re an audio listener, you’re in luck! Those will be coming out at the same time as the print and ebooks.

CROOKED

There will indeed be a CROOKED V.2, as I continue on my quest to make sci-fi crime a Thing. I’ll be putting up a call for submissions in January-ish — if you know of anyone who I should ask to contribute, let me know.

I’m also currently working on a couple of stories for sci-fi crime anthologies other people are editing — one about noir detectives, one about the future of crime.

(I’m revisiting the Bulari Saga for the noir one, giving Detective Timo Cho a chance to do what he does best — ask too many questions.)

And then…?

Stretch goals?

(Is this the root of my overwhelm problem?)

I’ve got a book with Starla, Mona, and Luc kicking around in my brain. It would take place after the final Bulari Saga book, but act as an entry point into a new series following those crazy kids on their own series of adventures. (If you read the Epilogue you probably guessed I was laying seeds for this)

I also have a fantasy series I’ve been working on off and on for years. It’s been sitting in the metaphorical trunk for years, partly because I was working on other things, partly because it was missing… something.

But a few weeks back I realized what it was missing was a large dash of Killing Eve, and now I’m on fire to write it. Not to mention I’m coming back from a trip to Arizona, which is the landscape that I modeled this fantasy world off of.

Nonfiction

As I mentioned above, From Big Idea to Book, my latest nonfiction book, will be out in March. It’s published through Microcosm Publishing, and I’m super excited for it.

It’s currently Kickstarting here.

I’m also working on another book for Microcosm, a fast and dirty guide to freelancing. Basically, dumping ~10 years of freelance writing knowledge into book form.

From time to time, I have the conversation with friends about whether they should start freelance writing.

My goal with this book is to give readers enough information that they’ll either be dissuaded from trying to freelance, or they’ll be so sparked to do it that they’ll be off and running.

How about you?

If you’ve made it to the end of this rather long post, tell me: What are you up to in 2022? Do you also have too many creative goals?

If so, maybe you want to join me for the Most Creative Year course, which is launching January 1st.

We’re in this together, friend.

Happy New Year!

Gifts for Readers: 2021 Edition

Oh, hello! Welcome to my gift guide for readers for 2021. Got a reader on your shopping list? Are their reading tastes weird like mine? You’re in the right place.

These aren’t the “Best books of 2021.” Nor is this a comprehensive list of books I think are worth gifting.

Rather, this is a list of books I personally read in the last year or so that I wholeheartedly recommend. Books I’ve been dying to shout about. Books that, were we standing next to each other right now, I would put directly in your hands and insist you purchase.

There are sci-fi and fantasy books, of course, along with a couple fun YA/middle grade and some suspense/thrillers to round out the mix. I’ve also included a few of my favorite non-fiction books from this year.

I thought about copying over the product descriptions so you could actually know what the books are about. Instead I opted to write my own blurbs while drinking a bottle of wine. You’re welcome.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

(Quick note: Some of these links are affiliate links — which means I get a few pennies when you make a purchase. But believe me. I’d be shouting about all of these things for free. I also chose to include Bookshop.org for the print links, because they donate to local bookstores! You could also order through your own local bookstore if you like.)


Technology

Oh, wait! Before we dive in to the books, do you have a reader in your life, but you’re not sure what their favorite genre is, or what they have or haven’t read? Give them the gift of lots of books at their fingertips!

  • E-reader — I have both a Kobo Clara and a Kindle Paperwhite, and love them both equally. I know, I know. The smell of paper, etc., but the ability to pack all 27 books you’re certain you’ll read on vacation without taking up any more suitcase space than a poetry chapbook is pretty great. Plus, when you’re reading Fonda Lee’s doorstopping Green Bone saga way too late in bed and you nod off and the book hits you in the face, it doesn’t hurt as bad if it’s an e-reader.
  • Oh, they already have an e-reader? Do have one of these lovely e-reader covers by Fintie? I have a galaxy print for my Kobo and a marble print for my Kindle — I also got one of their hardshell cases for my laptop. Seriously, I always assume if something has fun patterns and colors it’s not as well-made — but these Fintie cases are great. (And apparently only available on Amazon, sorry.)
  • Audible subscription — One of my favorite wedding gifts was an Audible subscription. My husband and I were headed on an extended trip to Peru after our wedding, and we spent a ton of time listening to audiobooks together. (And, hey — you can get the Bulari Saga books on Audible now!
  • Libro.fm subscription — a new kid of the audio block, Libro.fm is a great option if you want to listen to audiobooks, but also support your local bookstore. Their app is super intuitive — I’ve really been loving it.

Science Fiction and Fantasy

I wish I’d had a chance to read a fraction of the amazing sci-fi and fantasy books published this year! Here were some of the faves I read this year.

Persephone-station

Persephone Station by Stina Leicht

Thank you to my cousin Faith for recommending this book to me! She said it reminded her of my Bulari Saga, and damn if she wasn’t right. Seedy underworld alliances, found family who have each other’s back, and lots and lots of explosions. You’re gonna love it.

Ebook links

Print (Bookshop.org)

Black-Sun

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

I don’t read a ton of fantasy these days, but I LOVE Rebecca Roanhorse (keep reading this gift guide, you’ll see). So when she released her first epic fantasy based around Pre-Columbian cultures, I picked it up — and devoured it in a few days. Lush, lovely, and a real page-turner. I cannot wait for the next book in this series!

Ebook links

Print (Bookshop.org)

Trail-of-Lightning

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Since I’ve brought up Roanhorse, I’m just gonna go ahead and put this one here, too. Post-apocalyptic monster-hunting adventures set on the Navajo Nation after a flood cuts it off from the rest of the world and tears the fabric of the world between gods and humans once more. Love love love both this book and its sequel!

Ebook links

Print (Bookshop.org)

Torn

Torn by Rowenna Miller

Did I say I didn’t read much fantasy these days? Sure, but when Rowenna Miller tweeted a 1-star review complaining that Torn had “not enough magic and too much rebellion” I one-clicked it and was not disappointed. Do you like fashion, sewing, and revolutionary politics? Like a lot of fashion, sewing, and revolutionary politics? This will be right up your alley.

Also, LOOK AT THAT COVER! I can’t get over how fantastic it is with the needles and the blood and the whole thing. I am clearly the target market. Maybe someone on your list is, too.

Ebook links

Print (Bookshop.org)

Deal-with-the-devil

Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha

Hey, speaking of rebellion? I am loving this new series by Kit Rocha. Communist mercenary librarian badasses do crime for good with rakishly broodily handsome supersoldiers. A little steamy, but not nearly as much as Kit Rocha’s Beyond series — which I also enjoyed, but gotta say I’m digging this new series more.

Pick it up for the person on your list who you’d most like to have on your team during the apocalypse.

Ebook links

Print (Bookshop.org)

Jade-City

Jade City by Fonda Lee

Have I raved at you about Fonda Lee’s Green Bone saga yet? No? Well let me rave at you now. Gorgeously written, full of complicated characters you love to root for, and all those tense, complicated crime family negotiations that I just eat up. The final book in the trilogy just came out a few weeks back and I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so if you spoil it for me I’ll cut you. Don’t even try.

Ebook links

Print (Bookshop.org)

Luna

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

Since we’re talking intensely epic crime family drama, please go read the Luna trilogy. Fashion! Dinner parties! Lavish descriptions of both intricate interpersonal politics and delicious-sounding cocktails. GORGEOUS and DEADLY and SO MUCH FUN.

Ebook links

Print (Bookshop.org)

Widdershins

Whyborne and Griffin series by Jordan L. Hawk

I picked up Widdershins because I met Jordan at a writer’s conference and we instantly bonded over our deep appreciation of good IPAs. Bonus, his books sounded fun! A bookish wizard solves cosmic horror crimes with his dashing ex-Pinkerton detective boyfriend and best friend the headstrong lady archaeologist? Let’s check it out, I figured.

Friends — these books got me through the pandemic. Whenever I needed a good pick-me-up, I grabbed the next book in the series and sank into a world full of people I’m secretly starting to think of as friends. (Oh — heads up, there are steamy times ahead.)

Ebook links

Print (Bookshop.org)


Want more recommendations? Check out my “hopeful science fiction” post for some more great reads.


Suspense and Thriller

Don’t tell anybody, but even though I write science fiction I primarily read thrillers. I binge them like candy with no regrets — and I’ve read some amazing ones this year.

Jane-Doe

Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone

I picked up Jane Doe on recommendation a month ago, and absolutely tore through it. The minute I finished, I texted this to a couple of fellow true crime podcast listening friends:

Hey murder ladies book club — I just read Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone on recommendation from a new friend and I fucking loved it. A functioning sociopath who loves her cat sets out to ruin the life of a manipulative asshole dude. I would now kill for Jane but she would probably get there for me first.

I could rave more about it, but you should probably just pick it up for your weirdo true crime podcast loving friend. (I see you girl, email me.)

Ebook [AMAZON ONLY]

Print (Bookshop.org)

Killshot

Killshot by Elmore Leonard

Not gonna lie, I’ve been wanting to read some Elmore Leonard for a while, but 100% picked this particular book because it shares a title with Bulari Saga 5. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but from the first paragraphs vividly describing the cracks in the hitman’s hotel room ceiling I was totally hooked.

(Seriously — almost a year after reading it, so many scenes of Killshot are etched in my mind. Leonard is a master of detail.)

I also gotta say I was expecting a bit more stereotypical relationship between the husband and wife, but a lot of the book is from her point of view and — guys. Leonard clearly interviewed some exasperated women as research for writing Carmen Colson. Just let Carmen take care of business, Wayne. She’s got this. Step back and don’t worry your pretty little head. Just go fishing or whatever you do, Wayne, Carmen’s got a plan.

Ebook links

Print (Bookshop.org)

When-the-stars-go-dark

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

This one was a bit of a tough read due to subject matter (missing girls, sexual assault, the loss of a child), but it was an excellent book. I read it soon after we’d spent a weekend in Humboldt County, CA, so the setting of the book felt gorgeously familiar. And the prose was really, really lovely. Like, Tana French lovely.

It’s perfect for that true crime fanatic in your life.

Ebook links

Print (Bookshop.org)

The-Secret-Place

The Secret Place by Tana French

Hey, speaking of Ms. French, have I shared with you lately the good word that is the Dublin Murder Squad series? I’ve been rereading Tana French’s books this year because her prose is a masterclass in writing conversations where one level of information is being relayed in the words, and a total other level is happening in the body language. Hashtag writer goals.

It’s hard to pick a favorite of her books, but I do really love The Secret Place. Don’t be scared off that it’s book 5 in the series — you can pick them up in any order. If you’re looking for a standalone, her most recent book, The Searcher, was also really fantastic.

Ebook links

Print (Bookshop.org)

Stillhouse-Lake

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

Also in the category of books that got me through the pandemic? At one point when I totally lost motivation for anything, I picked up Stillhouse Lake and binged it — and the next three books in the series — over the course of a week.

They’re just so page-turnery, with characters you want to root for, and some seriously cliff-hanger writing. I’ll shout out a content warning for violence against women, stalking/harassment, and on-page serial killer horribleness. Caine handles that all very skillfully and thoughtfully, in my opinion, but I don’t want to throw you in a pond you aren’t interested in swimming in.

(That’s a thing people say, isn’t it?)

Ebook links

Print (Bookshop.org)


Young Adult/Middle Grade

My niblings are getting to reading age, and the eldest (she’s almost 11) takes after her auntie with her nose always buried in a book. The following suggestions are books I’ve bought for her recently, and also read (and loved) myself.

Be-prepared

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Quick humblebrag, but Eisner and Caldecott award winning Vera Brosgol is my neighbor! Like, “hey Vera can you grab that package off my porch we’re out of town” neighbor. Like, “hey Jessie do you want half a loaf of this sourdough I just made” neighbor (she’s an excellent baker!).

But you don’t care about that. You care that Vera is a phenomenal storyteller and illustrator, and Be Prepared is incredible. I bought it for my niece and my sister says she read it through twice the same day it showed up in the mail.

Hey, me too, kid. Highly recommend.

Ebook links

Print (Bookshop.org)

Race-to-the-Sun

Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Yes, this post has become a shameless Rebecca Roanhorse stan account. Here’s the thing, friends. I grew up on the Yakama reservation, surrounded by people like the characters in Roanhorse’s books — people I so rarely see in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. So that’s one of the reasons I love her work.

But more than that, her writing is just ridiculously fun! I bought this book for my niece for Christmas, but I read it first myself and it was fantastic! (Don’t tell my niece and spoil the surprise — I don’t think she’s old enough to have found my blog).

Ebook links

Print (Bookshop.org)

Clockbreakers

Clockbreakers: Asterion’s Curse by Kate Ristau

This is another series I bought for my niece this summer. I loved mythology at her age, so I figured we’d both dig reading this series together. I was totally right — they’re really fun! Plucky BFFs learning how to fend for themselves, quirky minotaur mentors, and a truly cunning villain.

Full disclosure, Kate’s a friend — but that’s not the only reason I was able to score a signed set for my niece. Head to her website and I bet she’ll sign some for you, too.

Ebook links

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Nonfiction

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The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks

Bear with me on the self help recommendation here, but I have been thinking about The Big Leap constantly since I read it a few months ago. Gay Hendricks has a very “so I was talking to my buddy the CEO on the golf course the other day” vibe, but he teases out the ways that we hold ourselves back from love and happiness in a truly brilliant way. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy for yourself, and for a friend.

Ebook links

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Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

I debated putting this one in here. Not because it wasn’t absolutely the best book I read in 2021, but because it’s … not “gifty”? Not happy? I read this for a book club, and I kept texting the friend who recommended it “OMG this is getting so horrible” and she would text back “Oof just wait.”

It’s a true crime book about a series of murders of members of the Osage tribe in the early 20th century, and the way Grann lays out the story and surrounding history is masterful. Like, I’m still reeling in awe of his storytelling skills. (Is it too much of a spoiler to say that white colonizers weren’t a good thing for the original inhabitants of this continent?)

Killers of the Flower Moon is being made into a movie directed by Martin Scorsese, which should be coming out next year. And maybe this isn’t a classic holiday gift, but this book is Extremely Recommended Reading. You won’t regret it. Give it to a friend. Read it yourself. Then email me and let’s talk, I have a lot of Thoughts.

Ebook links

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In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

I can’t even remember the last time I read a memoir, but when Mark Teppo showed me this memoir about an emotionally abusive relationship where every chapter is written as a different genre — “The Dream House as Noir,” “The Dream House as Bildungsroman,” etc. — I was fascinated. It’s gorgeously written, and way more of a page-turner than I expected.

Wait — is this not a good gift guide book either? Like, if you give a memoir about an emotionally abusive relationship to a friend, what message will they be thinking you’re trying to send? I’m starting to worry I’m failing at this gift guide thing.

But read this book, it’s awesome. I couldn’t put it down even though — and I can’t stress this enough — it’s a literary memoir. Those usually bore the shit out of me.

Ebook links

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The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls by Mona Eltahawy

Okay we’re back on track here, I promise. Do you have a badass feminist on your holiday shopping list? Get them this book. Mona Eltahawy is a NPR correspondent and generally rad person, and I am totally loving her collection of empowering feminist essays about the traits women are generally expected to have, and what we should embrace instead.

Get angry, murder ladies! Whether you’re navigating the seedy underworld of Luna (or Jade City or Persephone Station), sewing up a rebellion, librarianing mercinarilly, taking down way more than your fair share of serial killers, or just making up for your husband Wayne’s lack of awareness (I SEE YOU CARMEN COLSON, YOU GODDESS), Mona Eltahawy outlines the seven skills you need to dismantle the patriarchy.

Learn them. Internalize them. We ride at midnight.

(Oh hey, men, you’re more than welcome to ride with us! The patriarchy sucks for you, too.)

Ebook links

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Photo by Lucas George Wendt on Unsplash