Quarantine Books for the Fantasy Reader

Stuck inside? Of course you are. Not to worry—I’ve found some books that will keep you company. Some new, and some not so new.

X Marks the Spot: An Anthology of Treasure and Theft edited by Lisa Mangum

“Magic pirate stories.” There’s no part of that sentence I don’t like. Bonus: the opening story is by Kristen Bickerstaff, who wrote a really fun piece in The Lost Legends. This one released just a few days ago, and it’s just in time, because I’m pretty sure mermaids and swashbuckling and treasure maps is exactly the fun you need in your life right now.

When Fire Loves Water – Part 1: The Siren by J. Suzanne Frank

Here’s another one hot off the press. If the last book about pirates and magic strikes your fancy, then you’ll want to dive into this YA tale about teenagers and mermaids. While When Fire Loves Water features teenagers caught up in a fantasy world, the strange creatures, interesting magic, and vast world-building make it like nothing you’ve ever read before. Plus, it has a really cool map. (You’re not a fantasy reader if you don’t drool over cool maps.) If you love YA and want something new, go start this series today.

Assassin’s Apprentice – The Illustrated Edition by Robin Hobb

I know. It’s a classic. Why bother posting about a classic? Because the illustrated edition is amazing. So far, only the first book in the series has been released in this format, but the rest are on the way and I’m obsessed with the brilliant paintings and gorgeous layout. This is how books are supposed to look.

The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius

A philosophy textbook? Ok. I realize this one is a strange choice, but bear with me. In the sixth century, poor Boethius, a very good man, was imprisoned wrongfully. Some kind of political stunt. Forever separated from his life and his family, he turned to philosophy and discovered great comfort even in his cell.

Why is it on my quarantine readings list? Because if you’re trapped at home and need a pick-me-up, you’ll be surprised what philosophy has to offer. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn The Consolation of Philosophy is blissfully short and a breeze to read. And free.

Dragon’s Lure – Legends of a New Age edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jennifer Ross, and Jeffrey Lyman

Sarah Ban Breathnach said, “It simply isn’t an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.” (No, it wasn’t Tolkien.) If that’s the case, here’s a book full of stories that are definitely worth telling.

This one’s been around for a while, but anthologies sometimes fly under the radar. I just received a signed copy from David Coe (Thanks!) and have enjoyed every word of this collection so far. It’s amusing, diverting, and it’s about dragons—exactly the distraction I was looking for.

(I also need your book recommendations if I’m going to get through this, so bring ’em on.)

6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Pay for Books. (A Guide for Idiots.)

Paying for books is way too mainstream. And what have writers ever done for you, anyway? Instead of buying that new book from a bookstore, do something that nourishes your inner anarchist and download the pirated version instead!

Here’s why it’s a good idea:

1 – It’s so…rebellious. You know that rush of adrenaline when you don’t have to pay for something? You’re practically a folk hero! Sure, writers tend to make less than minimum wage, but repressing them into poverty is worth it. Why? Because you get to pretend you’re subverting an imaginary authority figure. Just like in a movie! Stick it to The Man, you sexy rebel!

2 – Easier to read. PDF files are obviously much more fun to read than well-designed e-books. Artful layouts are no match for Adobe update windows.

3 – Real time saver. It’s soooo hard to click on the Buy button on Amazon. So hard. You should, instead, spend half an hour looking for a cheap alternative. Saving a few bucks is absolutely worth the time you’ll waste.

4 – Writers don’t even want your money. There are plenty of ways for writers to pay for hospital visits, and lots of them have already set up GoFundMe campaigns for their medical bills. I’m sure any writer would agree that working for free and begging from strangers is a good arrangement for them, anything that keeps you from buying stuff like a normal person.

5 – Libraries simply do not exist. Buildings filled with most every book you’ve heard of? Capable of beaming them straight to your phone or e-reader? It’s a pipe dream! There’s no way such an infrastructure could already exist, bought and paid for and ready to give you endless books for no charge. This isn’t Harry Potter!

6 – Malware. Getting .pdf versions of books has lots of neat features, like when you get free software to go with your purchase. The kind of software that collects data and sends it to Who Knows Where. That’s a service you can’t get from normal book sales.

Conclusion: Buying pirated copies of books clearly has no downside. Bonus: thanks to your cold, anti-establishment stance, you can easily ignore the selfish pleas of the impoverished author who needs to buy heart medicine and groceries rather than having just one or the other. And not only do you get to brag to your friends that you didn’t have to pay all of $1.99 for a book (you are so cool), now a bunch of identity thieves know exactly how clever you are!

At last, Cover Reveal for THE LOST LEGENDS!

I’ve teased you guys enough. Here it is:

Ta-da!

It looks cool on the inside, too. All thanks to Ryan Swindoll, a real genius with print design. Contact him at ryan.t.swindoll[at]gmail.com if you want to see about making your own book or magazine (or whatever) look amazing.

Stay tuned, friends. These are some of the best fantasy stories I’ve read in years. (It also has something of mine, but after reading the other entries I began to feel embarrassed.)

If you like the cover, share this post and spread the word. THE LOST LEGENDS is a labor of love between me and a handful of passionate authors, designers, and editors, so help us get it off the ground!

Cover Reveal for my Anthology, THE LOST LEGENDS, Coming Soon!

I’m days away from being able to show you the cover of my upcoming fantasy anthology, THE LOST LEGENDS. You’re gonna love it.

I’ve been gushing over the cover of for months, ever since Ryan Swindoll, book designer extraordinaire (and a darned good writer), showed me his design. Ever take one look at something and just know it’s right? The moment Ryan unveiled his idea, everyone on the editing team swooned like he was Elvis Presley handing out kittens.

So…stay tuned…THE LOST LEGENDS: TALES OF MYTH AND MAGIC is almost here!

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Should Writers Promote Their Books Online? Uh…Yes. Duh.

Unless you think a magical marketing fairy is going to sprinkle pages of your book in everyone’s homes, you’re going to have to do the hustling yourself.

Doesn’t everyone know that?

Apparently not, according to this week’s Twitter drama.

Now, let me confess, I’ve been vocal about criticizing self-promoters, but only the ones who are downright annoying. Like the perpetrators of those kill-me-now direct messages from someone you followed three seconds ago. You know the ones:

Hey! LOL. I noticed you followed me and wanted to give you a free gift! It’s a copy of my book! at a discount! And I’d appreciate if you’d pass along a five-star review since we’re friends now.

(They will always start with the word “hey,” which may or may not be capitalized.)

And don’t forget those odd accounts that are nothing but retweets of boring, boilerplate book ads. They’re obviously bot accounts posing as members of the wonderful writing community, and I’ll complain about that kind of spam any day.

But actual marketing and self-promotion? I’ve never had a problem with that.

However, one guy on Twitter does have a problem with self-promoters, and this week he kicked up a big fuss by referring to self-promoting authors as “hucksters.” Don’t bother looking for the original tweet, because he’s hidden it and run off. (I could point a big finger at his account, but instead I’ll be nice let him continue retreating.)

Mind you, he didn’t simply tweet his opinion, he made it personal. This guy tagged specific accounts and called on people to unfollow them, all for the terrible crime of…talking about their books.

But it backfired spectacularly.

Point of order: A “huckster” is a criminal con artist. This is no small insult. Thankfully, those he called out were inundated with waves of new followers, and the collective sympathy even generated some book sales.

The #writingcommunity has a lot of power when they act together, and someone who comes in trolling is going to be quickly rushed out the door.

So don’t mess with writers, because we look out for each other.

And if you’ve got a book to sell, I’d love to hear about it.

(BTW–I’m releasing a fantasy anthology with stories from some of the best authors in the #writingcommunity. It’s called THE LOST LEGENDS and it’ll be out soon! Take that!)

Title drop for my anthology! (Drum roll, please…)

I’m always bumping into writers. Conferences, writers groups, random people on the train scribbling out a first draft. (Anyone else notice that almost everyone is working on a book?)

My favorites are the fantasy writers. Rather than being competitive (my foray into the music world showed me that artists can be terrible to each other) the nerds who gather around to talk about our magic systems and dragon names just want to geek out. It’s like finding your tribe.

But there’s something bittersweet about meeting with these kindred spirits. Believe it or not, there are more fantasy authors at a local writing conference than you’ll find on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. There’s not enough room in the mainstream market for all of us, or even a tenth of us.

We’re not (that) bitter. We’re grown ups who know it’s a narrow field with almost no room to break in, and there’s nothing we can do…or is there?

After thinking about all the fantasy writers I know, an idea slammed into my face: Let’s just put our stories together!

Why weren’t we already doing this? I contacted a few writers I know and said that I wanted to make an anthology. No, I’ve never done it before. No, I’m not published, either. Yes, I’m a nobody. But let’s see what happens when we put our heads together.

I don’t know who could ignore such an amazing offer, but the response was overwhelmingly “YES!”

Since this anthology was for fantasy nerds and being written by fantasy nerds, I decided to give my writers free range. I wanted those stories that didn’t get published because they were too creative, too short or too long, too funny, or just too different. Forget trends and market expectations, I told them, and just write.

And the stories are stellar. Since the submissions started rolling in I’ve been overwhelmed, my inbox bursting with those magical tales that transport me and remind me why I started reading fantasy in the first place. Some of the stories are harrowing, some are full of emotion, and some have made me laugh out loud. (I might add, some of these authors you’ve actually heard of.)

My editing team and I had to find a name for this magical collection of stories. How do you explain that you’ve gathered stories that steal you from this world and throw into a place where adventure is right under your feet and anything is possible? It wasn’t easy. But we managed.

Later this year, it’s going to be my pleasure to present to you…THE LOST LEGENDS: TALES OF MYTH AND MAGIC!

I’ll reveal the cover reveal really soon, and you’re gonna love it. But my writers are going to love it more, because we fit everyone’s name on it.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Writer’s Block

It was an honor to be asked to write something academic once again, but I’ve been out of that game for a few years and felt a little…rusty.

This year I’ve been focusing on my fiction and my upcoming fantasy anthology (stay tuned–title and cover reveal coming soon!) and haven’t written an academic paper in years, so I figured the research would be tough. But that turned out to be the easy part.

I took to the library stacks like a monkey on a tree. I disappeared down dimly lit corridors and emerged clutching dusty tomes filled with lost stories and forgotten essays. I neatly arranged them in an elegant line in the copy room where I (very carefully) scanned their old pages in a blur. Some of the pages threatened to crack and the spines could scarcely hold on, but I handle old books with more care than any mother with her newborn, and each old book was treated with delicacy and dignity as I loosed them from their shelves and resurrected them from obscurity. I was a one-man army in that library, fueled by the knowledge that my research would soon be published in a collection of essays from my fellow scholars.

But something finally went wrong as I began to put words to my thoughts. Right away, the opening paragraphs didn’t “click.” I ignored it and moved on, hoping they weren’t really that bad. Sometimes your writing feels lame at first, but when you look it a few days later you realize it’s fine. That happens. Right?

But that didn’t happen this time. I looked at it a week later and, as I feared, the words that kicked off my essay really were face-palmingly terrible.

After a week with zero progress it started to get embarrassing. I emailed my editor to say I was only a paragraph away from finishing, and they replied saying they didn’t mind. I was still on schedule, after all, but I pride myself on finishing my work early. Early! And here I was frustrated by three sentences! (And, folks, they were really, really bad.)

I started to wonder if I should pull out of the gig and turn my back on academia forever. My thesis about the role of science in the medieval worldview was exciting, but it wouldn’t excite anyone if I wrote about it like someone who let their cat type it up. Maybe, I thought, I’m not cut out for academic work after all. There’s a reason, despite my graduate work, that my first name isn’t “doctor.” I’m not a real academic. I’m just a faker. Maybe it was time I admitted that to myself.

But those familiar pangs of creative frustration reminded me that I’d been there before, and that writer’s block had always yielded to me. Every time. And I suddenly felt confident that I would, once again, triumph over it.

I think those difficult moments are not some kind of barrier from the universe, designed to keep us from making progress, but are really just our instincts holding us back, saying, This part isn’t good enough. Keep trying. Maybe it’s just our own wisdom showing us there’s treasure to be found in those broken sentences if we’re willing to hunker down and work for it.

So I focused on the problem. I wrote down everything I wanted to accomplish in those opening lines and then wrote down every reason they were letting me down. In the past, this painstaking approach has, slowly but surely, helped me tear down those walls.

It took weeks, like I said, but eventually a trickle of an idea came to me, followed by a another…and another…until eventually I was drowning in a full flood of inspiration and I couldn’t type fast enough to keep up with my soaring thoughts.

Sure, it took me three weeks to write one paragraph, but it was worth it. I wouldn’t change a thing, because without writer’s block to hold me up I would have turned in a lousy essay.