What We Were Reading in 2015: Recommended by the Editors

Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

Last November we shared some of our favorite reads from the year. We decided to do it again for 2015 and as our list came together, we discovered that our suggestions range from audio books to blogs to novels. These were all things we read in 2015, regardless of when they were published. The list includes at least one ARC for a work to be published in 2016.

Background Image: Fatima M/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Background Image: Fatima M/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Baker’s recommendations:

I read practically all day long, mostly non-fiction and news. I’ve always been a slow reader. More accurately, I’m a reader who likes to savor the read. When I get close to the end of something I’m loving, I read more slowly and in shorter bursts so that it lasts. My recommended reads from 2015 made it impossible for me to throw that brake.

Essays by Charles Pierce

Charlie is my political reading recommendation for 2015. He writes for Esquire, usually from a progressive viewpoint but those on the left aren’t any safer from his laser focus than those on the right. His humor is impossible to hide but when the subject is serious, his wit becomes razor-sharp critique. My feeling about his writing, particularly his voice, makes me think of a line Clark Gable delivers as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind: “We’re alike. Bad lots, both of us. Selfish and shrewd but able to look things in the eyes and call them by their right names.” Nearly every day, Charlie’s essay (or essays; he’s prolific) gives voice to what’s on my mind.

The Last Days of Graceland” by Elise Jordan

I read this article on a somewhat stressful day, when I needed a portable distraction. With free wifi and lots of downtime, I thought Buzzfeed would fit the bill so I headed to the site. Instead of another silly list or meme, I found this fascinating, inspiring account of Paul MacLeod’s life, death, and passion: Graceland Too, a “museum” that was little more than a display of a zealous fan’s collection of memorabilia. The key to this essay is Jordan’s connection to its subject; Graceland Too was the stop-and-point house in her hometown of Holly Springs, Mississippi. By adding her personal experience, she creates the frame of community within which she sketches out a near-Shakespearean tragedy of family, obsession, and murder.

Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

My favorite read of 2015, this is more than a memoir. Coates structures the book as a letter to his son, which makes this reflection on blackness in America an intimate conversation as well as an impetus to a long overdue examination of race in our national history, in our culture, and in our future as well as in our own hearts and minds.

Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming

Another memoir, this time by actor Alan Cumming. I liked the “then/now” structure, the suspense and mystery carried throughout, and the theme of fathers, sons, and what we withhold versus what we give and how.

Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence” by Anne Thériault

Women share universal experiences relevant to their sex. Thériault chronicles a handful of instances of abuse, sexism, assault and more against the backdrop of male aggression that’s accepted in our culture. In the final section, she states that she tries not to be afraid yet admits that she is (a piece of bravery in its own right). In an online world where outspoken women receive death threats and rape threats for the simple act of speaking their truth, voices like Thériault’s are rare and deserve to be amplified, not silenced.

Mystery Science Storybook: Bedtime Tales Based on the Worst Movies Ever by Sugar Ray Dodge

On a light note, I loved this comic by Sugar Ray Dodge. Dodge maintains the RiffTrax wiki and is also a talented artist. His unique drawing style fits perfectly with the RiffTrax aesthetic and his story work hits the sweet spot between homage and satire (like its source material). Drawing on the original works that the RiffTrax and Mystery Science Theater 3000 crews riff(ed), Dodge follows in the traditional by skewering all sides. No one is safe and your sides will pay the price.

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Broker’s recommendations:

Snapshots From Space by Emily Lakdawalla

Lakdawalla blogs at the Planetary Society website about planetary science, and did a lot to piece together the pictures from the Pluto flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft (the data are still coming in!), in addition to other space probes out there exploring our solar system.

Bad Astronomy by Phil Plait

Plait is also in the business of making astronomy accessible. Phil’s interests are more wide ranging, including some non-astronomical topics, and he’s great at explaining things in the news.

Widower’s Grief by Mark Liebenow

And to shift gears completely, check out Liebenow’s blog. Mark lost his wife suddenly a few years ago, and he writes honestly (and well!) about the process of coping with grief.

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Harpspeed’s recommendations:

Finding time to read this year has been a challenge. Yet the idea of not reading is so unfathomable.  I met that challenge with a little ingenuity and some stolen time—I’m learning to multitask. My personal reading selections this past year have been exclusively audio books. I generally read about 30 minutes most mornings while running or walking really-really fast. The 30 minutes explains the shortness of my list. It takes several hours to finish a story. And I never do the math when I am contemplating purchasing a story; I never ever calculate in advance how many hours it will take me to finish a particular book. That would be depressing with so many books on my list.

Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Winter People has elements of mystery and historical fiction. It is the story of two women separated by time whose fates cross in a thrilling realization: The dead can come back. Think Laura Ingalls meets Sleepy Hollow. This story is also about the family ties; mothers and daughters are prominent. This is my current listen and McMahon’s story has hooked me with her rural characters and eerie setting. The landscape in this story holds many secrets revealed bit by bit in its folklore. I’ve met some of the historical characters and anticipate meeting their modern counterparts soon.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

This story was recommended by my friend, Lisa, who loves horror and psychological thrillers. She is my go-to-girl for a good thrilling read. Malerman’s story has has elements of both. A realistic fiction story set in an alternate, post-apocalyptic world. This story is terrifying because in order to survive, the characters must keep their eyes closed when they venture outside—outside to where curious and dangerous creatures roam. Much of the story is told in flashback by the main character—a young mother of two in a desperate flight to find a mysterious sanctuary from the creatures and from a hopeless existence. The pacing is excellent. Malerman dials up the terror, chapter by chapter, leading the reader up a very steep climax and over the edge to the very last page.

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Gruen’s story, set in Scotland during World War II is a cozy, entertaining read. Three wealthy American socialites cross the Atlantic to hunt the Loch Ness Monster. The characters reminded me of classic old movie characters with their speech, mannerisms and triangle—say Cary Grant, Clark Gable, and Loretta Young. Gruen writes great characters and I enjoyed all the discourse and conversations that strayed from what I thought was the main plot. Or was it?  This story is more about the journey than the destination and much is revealed in small moments in the small Scottish village where Maddie and her two handsome friends wait out the war hunting for Nessie.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I love reading stories set during World War 2. This Pulitzer Prize winning story was exceptional. Two star crossed characters—one a brilliant young orphan boy who is commandeered by the German army to fix radios and the other character, a young blind French girl who spends her days in a Paris museum where her father works as chief locksmith. The two characters are drawn to each other unknowingly at first by a legend of an exquisite diamond that the blind girl’s father smuggles out of the museum before Paris falls. The Germans know of its existence and of the legend it promises to its owner. Meanwhile, the French resistance is infiltrating German intelligence and the brilliant German orphan boy finds himself in Paris working for the wrong side when he becomes aware of the lovely, blind French girl with a dangerous secret whom his commanding officer will kill for.

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Billiard’s recommendations:

Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson

As I wrote on Goodreads, I really, really loved this. I saw that another reviewer described it as “If there were a Girl Scout camp in Gravity Falls,” and I was like, “Yeah, that’s about right.” If paranormal weirdness isn’t your thing, you might want to skip this one. Some people seem to be put off by the art style, but I thought it was cute and suited the story quite well.

As You Wish by Cary Elwes

Published in 2014, but I read it in 2015. Delightful.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler: SNL alum, Tina Fey bestie, Leslie Freakin’ Knope. Amy Poehler is an awesome lady who does awesome things, of which this book is just one of many, many examples.

Reflections (Indexing #2) by Seanan McGuire

Indexing is a Kindle serial. It combines a procedural with fairy tales and I often wonder how no one has optioned it for a TV series yet.

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Bellman’s recommendations:

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

This latest installment in Bujold‘s Vorkosigan series is a change of pace from the usual, so it may not appeal to someone expecting her usual fast-pasted adventures. Described as “a book for grownups”, I’d classify it as a pastoral story, and I found it a delightful change of pace. One of the reasons I return to Bujold over and and over is for her persistent message of how it’s never too late. It’s never too late to turn your life around, or to find your life anew, or to change. That’s a message I never tire of, and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is a trumpet of defiance in the face of the constant “You’re too old…” messages society bombards us with.

The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove

The world-building premise of The Glass Sentence is that time and space have fractured and resettled in unconnected pieces. So 1890s Boston and the prehistoric ice ages coexist side by side. In addition, the “Great Disruption” that shattered the world caused many of these eras to develop alternate histories to the ones people were familiar with. Map-making is half science, half magic, and the various maps include maps to people’s memories. It’s a fascinating world, and the adventures of Sophia Tims, the thirteen-year-old heroine of the book, create a solid story within it.

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

This is a dark book for middle grade readers. It looks at friendship and trust through a very twisted lens. Alistair is approached by his grade-school friend Fiona, who tells him about a world where kids’ daydreams are made real, but that the kids there end up disappearing from the real world when they are taken by The Riverman in the other world. Starmer does a really good job of creating a truly creepy and disturbing atmosphere where it is hard to tell what’s real, what’s imagined, and what’s good or bad.

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Beaver’s recommendations:

The way we tell stories is evolving along with our smartphones” by Kate Pullinger

Pullinger is both a traditional novelist and author of digital fiction. She co-created the ongoing digital novel Inanimate Alice.

As well as using our phones more, we are also accessing multiple forms of content on these devices. We make and watch videos, we take and share photos. We chatter. We play games. We watch movies and TV. We listen. And we read. We read texts and messages, we read social media feeds, we read journalism, we read gossip, we read commentary. A lot of the time we spend staring at our phones we are reading.
And yet most of us don’t consider our phones to be our primary reading device, despite evidence to the contrary; when asked “what are you reading?” (does anyone ask this question anymore?) we might look a bit guilty, as the title of the last book we finished escapes us.

Humans of New York. “HONY provides a worldwide audience with daily glimpses into the lives of strangers in New York City.” Yes, there’s a book, but the best way to read/view these snapshot stories is in their original form on social media. The typical story is a one-shot, but others are serialized over multiple posts. Tumblr | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

Where Love is Illegal. “Documenting and sharing LGBTI stories of discrimination and survival from around the world.” Similar in format to HONY—glimpses into the lives of people around the world through a single photograph and brief story. Tumblr | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

What Would You Grab in a Fire?” by Megan Stielstra

There’s a Tumblr I’ve followed for years called The Burning House. It’s a hypothetical exercise in what you’d grab if your house was on fire. Stielstra’s piece is The Burning House come to life—the decision-making moments after she finds out her home is on fire. I read it in January, but the piece took on added weight a few months later when I woke in the middle of the night to shouts of “fire!” It turned out it was the building next door, but it was a close enough call that I did learn for myself what I’d really grab in a fire.

Farewell to America” by Gary Younge

Of the many things I read this year on the current state of affairs in the US, this piece lingered with me, perhaps because of Younge’s outsider/insider perspective.

This is the summer I will leave America, after 12 years as a foreign correspondent, and return to London. … [W]hile the events of the last few years did not prompt the decision to come back, they do make me relieved that the decision had already been made. It is why I have not once had second thoughts. If I had to pick a summer to leave, this would be the one. Another season of black parents grieving, police chiefs explaining and clueless anchors opining. Another season when America has to be reminded that black lives matter because black deaths at the hands of the state have been accepted as routine for so long. A summer ripe for rage.

The Chef Who Saved My Life” by Brett Martin

A story about life and food and writing…

Meanwhile, through the years, I told the story of my own meal with Jacques. Often. It’s a good story—heavy but not too heavy, semi-confessional, a dash of celebrity, a happy ending. One evening, occasioned by a shared plate of prosciutto at The Tasting Kitchen, a restaurant in Venice Beach, I told it to an especially sharp friend. When I was done, he looked at me for a long time. You should write about that, he told me. Sure, I plan to, I said.

Then he said, ”Don’t make it an obituary.”

20 Questions: An Interview with Margarita Engle

Absolute BlankBy Shelley Carpenter (Harpspeed)

Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American poet, award-winning novelist and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. As a reader and a writer I am doubly excited to have had such a wonderful conversation with Margarita who writes children’s stories and young adult novels, many of which echo her own family history and love of nature.

20 Questions: An Interview with Margarita Engle

Background Image: margaritaengle.com

Toasted Cheese: Margarita, what were you like as a kid?

Margarita Engle: I was a shy bookworm with glasses, a long braid, a broken tooth, and homemade mother-daughter clothes. I loved plants and animals, especially horses. I wrote poetry.

TC: From your self-description, you could be a young character in a book, yourself. Tell us what inspired you to write your first book?

ME: After a long separation from Cuba, I finally obtained permission to go back in 1991. My grown-up prose novels were inspired by family history, but after the turn of this new century, I switched to children’s and young adult verse novels. The Poet Slave of Cuba was my first verse novel, and it changed my life forever.

TC: Many of your stories such as The Surrender Tree, The Poet Slave of Cuba, The Drum Dream Girl are historically set in Cuba and have characters that struggle for their freedom and independence. Are any of the characters’ experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

ME: The Wild Book is based on stories my grandmother told me about her childhood. Mountain Dog is inspired by real people and real wilderness search and rescue dogs. Enchanted Air is a memoir.

TC: Skywriting has a young character that escaped from Cuba on a raft made from inner tubes that parallels the modern world. In the last 50 years, hundreds of refugees made similar epic and perilous journeys across the dangerous 90 miles of ocean to the Florida coast. With US economic sanctions lifting, how will this new political atmosphere affect your writing?

ME: I just returned to Cuba a couple of weeks ago, and not much has changed yet, but there is hope, and that is huge. I always write about hope, but now I’ll do it with the extra excitement of knowing that more than a half of a century of mutual hostilities between my two beloved countries will finally begin to fade.

TC: Another aspect of your stories relates to gender equality. Your female characters are often main characters and are wonderfully fierce and determined to stay true to their beliefs and purpose. They have a strong sense of themselves, of who they are. They persevere and affect positive and political change for themselves and others. Is there a message for girls today in your stories?

ME: Perseverance and a belief in equality certainly are recurring themes, but I don’t invent that aspect. It already exists in the lives of real people I admire, such as Rosa la Bayamesa in The Surrender Tree, Fredrika Bremer in The Firefly Letters, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda in The Lightning Dreamer, Maria Merian in Summer Birds, and Millo Castro Zaldarriaga in Drum Dream Girl.

TC: Family is also a prevalent theme in your stories. There is separation and loss in many of them, yet love and friendship are present even when the characters disagree or are antagonists. Can you speak to that?

ME: I don’t do this consciously. It just emerges from the need for mutual understanding and forgiveness.

TC: From your writing I also detect a love of nature based on your lovely descriptive environmental prose. Setting is as prominent as the characters in many of your stories.

ME: Before I turned to full time creative writing, I studied agriculture and botany, and worked as an agronomy professor, an irrigation water conservation specialist, and a scientific writer. I have always loved nature, even though I grew up in the big city of Los Angeles.

TC: Tell us why you love dogs.

ME: When I married my husband, he had a dog that went to all his college classes with him. Now, 37 years later, he has a wilderness search-and-rescue dog trained to help find lost hikers in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. My role is hiding in the forest, so that various K-9 SAR teams can practice. Dogs are just part of my daily life.

TC: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?

ME: I love to travel, and I especially love returning to Cuba, but I also went to Panama to research Silver People, and Borneo for Orangutanka.

TC: Why are so many of your novels are written in verse?

ME: I fell in love with the form, and especially with its suitability for historical fiction. I love the way free verse gives me room for a character’s thoughts and feelings, without requiring the clutter of every fact and figure known about a subject. Occasionally I’ll add a bit of rhyme, especially in a picture book for very young children.

TC: Your picture books also convey similar themes on a smaller scale.

ME: Drum Dream Girl and Summer Birds are about women who accomplished things only men were supposed to attempt. The Sky Painter is about Louis Fuertes, the bird artist who stopped the tradition of killing and posing birds. When You Wander is about search and rescue dogs, and how to avoid getting lost in the wilderness. Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish is a Cuban folktale about being satisfied with what we have. Orangutanka is an introduction to a beautiful, intelligent, critically endangered species. In general, my picture books are either about people who dared to try something original, or about animals, and the things we can learn from them.

TC: When you were researching, did you discover anything interesting or cool that didn’t make it into any of your stories? Perhaps seeds for future stories?

ME: That’s an interesting question, because it really is easy to get sidetracked, and become fascinated with stories related to the one I’m researching. The Firefly Letters grew from research for The Poet Slave of Cuba, and The Sky Painter was an offshoot of research for Silver People. Many of the things that haven’t made it into a book yet really do survive as tiny seeds in the back of my mind.

TC: Here’s my burning question: You are the recipient of many prestigious awards for your stories and poetry—Is there a cost to literary fame? More responsibility? Or is it all good?

ME: It’s all good! Awards help me continue to get published.

TC: What books have most influenced your life most?

ME: Poetry from Cuba and Spain is the most influential, especially José Martí, Dulce María Loynaz, and Antonio Machado.

TC: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

ME: Tomás Rivera was my creative writing professor. He really was a mentor, simply by teaching me to write from the heart, without worrying about getting published. That comes later.

TC: Do you have a specific writing style and process?

ME: I’m a morning person. I write first drafts with a pen on paper, because I love the flow of ink. I try not to worry about corrections until a much later draft.

TC: What was the hardest part of writing your books?

ME: The hardest part is fear. Each time I start a manuscript, I have to find the courage to say what I want to say, without worrying about the approval of strangers.

TC: Do you have a favorite character from your books?

ME: My grandmother in The Wild Book.

TC: How long does it take to write a historical verse novel? How long does it take to write a picture book?

ME: A historical verse novel usually takes me around one year of research, and one year of scribbling, but The Poet Slave of Cuba took ten years of false starts in prose. A picture book can be written quickly, but then I have to wait for the editor to choose an illustrator, which can take months. Once the illustrator agrees to work on the book, it can take several years before the artwork is complete. Writers need patience. There are no shortcuts.

TC: Thank you, Margarita. And one final question: do you have any advice for Toasted Cheese writers?

ME: Listen to Tomás Rivera: Write from the heart. Don’t worry about getting published. That comes later.

Fiction is a Series of Choices: Interview with Seanan McGuire

Absolute BlankBy Erin Bellavia (Billiard)

Seanan McGuire (pronounced SHAWN-in) is a literary force to be reckoned with.

She is the author of the October Daye urban fantasies, the InCryptid urban fantasies, and several other works both stand-alone and in trilogies or duologies. The ninth October Daye book, A Red-Rose Chain, comes out next month. She also writes under the pseudonym “Mira Grant.” (For details on her work as Mira, check out MiraGrant.com.)

You’d think that would be enough to keep her busy, and you’d be right, if we were talking about an ordinary human. In her spare time, Seanan records CDs of her original filk music (see her Albums page for details). She is also a cartoonist, and draws an irregularly posted autobiographical web comic, “With Friends Like These…”. Somehow, she also manages to post to her blog, Tumblr, and Twitter regularly, watch a sickening amount of television, maintain her website, and go to pretty much any movie with the words “blood,” “night,” “terror” or “attack” in the title. Most people believe she doesn’t sleep. We think there might be some kind of demonic bargain going on.

Seanan was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her novel Feed (as Mira Grant) was named as one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2010. In 2013 she became the first person ever to appear five times on the same Hugo Ballot.

We talked to Seanan about gender, being a “social justice warrior,” navigating social media, and the soon-to-be released A Red-Rose Chain.

Background Photo: seananmcguire.com

Background Photo: seananmcguire.com

Toasted Cheese: You have a name that, to many, appears to be of ambiguous gender. On your Tumblr, you recently posted a link to this article, and responded to a reader’s question about it (here). Can you tell us a bit more about any gender bias you’ve dealt with (directly or indirectly) in terms of publishing/readership?

Seanan McGuire: For the most part, my readers are awesome, and they aren’t weighted one direction or another (so it’s not “only women read me” or “only men read me,” or anything like this). I think I receive a lot more rape threats than male authors. They seem genuinely stunned, when I talk to them about it, to discover that this is just how life is for me, and for most of the other female authors I know. I wish it would stop.

TC: You seem to endeavor to make sure your characters represent a variety of racial and gender identities. We (and many others) see this as a positive. This question comes in two parts:

  1. Is this something that comes naturally to you, or have you had to consciously work at it?
  2. Have you dealt with any pushback, either from publishers or fans, because of it?

SM: I honestly just want the characters I write about to reflect the diversity that I see in my friends and in the world around me. I also grew up white and cisgendered in America, so I do have to make an effort not to default to “white, cis, American.” That can be an effort. It’s worth it.

I’ve received a few inquiries to the effect of “why did character X have to be gay?” or “why did character Y have to be Indian?” I try not to be cranky about those. I do wonder if the people who ask me those questions go up to people on the street and ask “why did you have to be ______?” Fiction is a series of choices. Reality is a series of coincidences. If our choices are not as varied and diverse as those coincidences, we’re doing something wrong.

TC: You blog and tweet a lot about social justice issues (like racial and gender inequality, the representation of women in the media, etc.), and as we previously noted, these issues certainly enter into your work. Because of that, you and a number of other current science fiction and fantasy authors have been the target of complaints by other authors and fans claiming that these “social justice warrior” (SJW) issues are “ruining” SFF. What is your response/reaction to those complaints?

SM: I feel like a lot of those people have not read much science fiction, which has always been about “SJW issues.” Science fiction is about politics and society and pushing the envelope. Anyone who’s read Tiptree or Heinlein or Piper or King can see that. I think that there’s a tendency to paint the work of our childhood in rose tones, thinking it was always perfectly suited to us—I find it when I go back to watch old horror movies, and am just stunned by all the slut-shaming. I wonder if some of these people wouldn’t be equally stunned if they went back and read the authors they say they admire.

TC: We recently wrote an article about the negotiation of social media for writers… you weren’t able to participate at the time, but since you’re an author we always think of when we think of authors on social media, we’d like to ask for your response to a few of those questions! So… how has your relationship with the internet/social media changed since being published?

SM: I spend a lot less time reading web comics, and a lot more time trading Disney pins. Really, it hasn’t changed that much.

TC: How would you describe your relationship with your fans online?

SM: A lot of them are super-sweet, and so excited to talk to me. I do worry about hurting someone’s feelings without meaning to, since I’m a little odd sometimes, so I try to be ultra careful.

TC: What are three things you wish fans wouldn’t do when interacting with you online?

SM: Ask me questions about pub dates that I haven’t announced; ask me for spoilers; yell at me because a book is not available in their region. I am incredibly accessible and up-front. The flip side of this is that if I haven’t said something, I probably can’t, and I get really uncomfortable when pressured.

TC: Let’s talk about Toby! The Winter Long, Book 8 in the series, was kind of a game-changer. With A Red-Rose Chain coming next month, what should readers expect from Toby & Co. moving forward?

SM: A book annually, as long as DAW lets me. More seriously, I don’t do spoilers. They, too, make me super uncomfortable.

(At least four more books after A Red-Rose Chain are confirmed at this time. Be sure to check out the review in our next issue for more!)

TC: Many readers of this series enjoy the way you’ve built the faerie world Toby inhabits. We know that you studied folklore, but how much of Toby’s Faerie is your creation, as opposed to already-existing folklore?

SM: It’s sort of “chicken and the egg.” Most of Toby’s Faerie is based on folklore, but then spun, hard, in my own direction.

(You can find out more about Seanan and Toby’s version of Faerie on Seanan’s blog, where she answers reader questions about Toby’s world in the lead-up to the release of each book. You’ll see several posts at the link, but if you want to dig even deeper, check out the Toby Daye tag!)

TC: And let’s go out on a light note… we know you’re a big fan of lots of different kinds of media. Give our fans a recommendation of one of your favorite:

Books
All-time favorite: It by Stephen King.
Recent favorite: The Girl with All the Gifts by M.K. Carey.

Movies
Slither, written and directed by James Gunn.

TV shows
Most likely to re-watch: Leverage or The West Wing.

Musicians/Bands
I spent literally a decade following the Counting Crows around the West Coast. I am a fan forever.

Seanan’s Links:

Excerpts from My Commonplace Book: On Doubt, Fear, and Failure

Absolute BlankBy Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

I prefaced the first article in this series by saying “By far the most popular article I’ve written for Toasted Cheese is ‘Keeping a Commonplace Book’ (see Top Posts Today in the sidebar for evidence; it’s always there!).” and it’s still true. When I get a Pinterest notification, nine times out of ten, it’s someone liking or repinning that article. (The other 10% consists mainly of people liking something I pinned as a joke, ha.)

For this month’s article, I chose the theme of “doubt, fear, and failure” because I think all writers have experienced feeling like they have no idea what they’re doing, like everyone around them is more talented, like they’re writing and writing and writing and getting nowhere. If you’re feeling like an imposter, rest assured, you’re not alone. Every writer has been there at some point. Remember, everyone has their gameface on, and what they allow you to see does not reflect their own internal struggles.

Background Image: Andrew Hall (CC-by-nc-sa)

Background Image: Andrew Hall (CC-by-nc-sa)

When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing. This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible it’s easier to do. And because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that again, yet.Neil Gaiman {+}

What’s your advice to new writers? Don’t give a shit. Don’t care. Books, until recently, were dangerous: banned, burned, watched. Write something dangerous. Say something you shouldn’t. Blow something up. But well.Shalom Auslander {+}

Anyway, do we really want consistency in an artist? What does this pressure to please the market have to do with art? Originality involves risk, and risk implies the possibility of failure. That’s how greatness is born.Robert McCrum {+}

Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth. —Katherine Mansfield {+}

I often need to remind myself that I need to hear failure out, because by failing at doing an easy thing, a groupthink thing, a thing one has been taught to do for one’s career, one might be encouraged to make or do or be something more original and true. Because failing as an artist is a necessary thing, a thing I wish I could more easily accept.Rebecca Brown {+}

I do worry a little that the modern age has taken the failure stage out of the creative process. Now if you can’t get your manuscript published, it’s because the publishers are cowards, can’t see your genius, and you can self-publish it (and then send out slightly crazed emails to critics). There is a lack of humility, a failure to recognize that getting knocked on your ass is actually good for you.Jessa Crispin {+}

I was talking to my graduate class a bit … about how career writers—career anything, I suppose—are always having to list their shiny accomplishments, and how it would be such a great relief sometime to write up your Anti-Vita and let people see it. It would be such a moment of candor, of behind-the-curtain truth. All the awards you didn’t get, all the amazing journals your work wasn’t good enough to be published in, all the prizes you were nominated for but—oops!—didn’t actually win. Sigh. All the teaching innovations, trotted out with such high hopes, that failed miserably. And so on. How you sat at home on the sofa and muttered, “What’s the point?,” embarrassing yourself and boring your family members, who tiptoed quietly away. Revealing all the failures would be such a relief, such an exhale, such an “I’m nobody, who are you?” opportunity. —Joy Castro {+}

It’s painful to write. It’s painful to take a clear look at your finances, at your health, at your relationships. At least it’s painful when you have no confidence that you can actually improve in those areas. I would not speak for anyone else, but most of my distractions … are traceable to a deep-seated fear that I may not ultimately prevail.Ta-Nehisi Coates {+}

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t writeW. S. Merwin {+}

“I think the single most defining characteristic of a writer”—I found myself saying to a friend the other day, when she asked my thoughts on the teaching of writing—“I mean the difference between a writer and someone who ‘wants to be a writer,’ is a high tolerance for uncertainty.” … It’s hard to write well. But it may be even harder to simply keep writing; which, by the way, is the only way to write better.Sonya Chung {+}

[M]y internal life as a writer has been a constant battle with the small, whispering voice (well, sometimes it shouts) that tells me I can’t do it. This time, the voice taunts me, you will fall flat on your face. Every single piece of writing I have ever completed — whether a novel, a memoir, an essay, short story or review — has begun as a wrestling match between hopelessness and something else, some other quality that all writers, if they are to keep going, must possess.Dani Shapiro {+}

“[T]hat kind of self doubt and low self-esteem you’re describing is just part of the creative process.” This was a revelation to me—that those terrible feelings actually signaled that I was IN the creative process and not that I was failing at it.Michelle Huneven {+}

[I]n my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.Junot Díaz {+}

What many talented people lack is the ability to keep going when external rewards are minimal or non-existent. … Every writer gets rejected, sometimes over and over. But the ones who only have potential stop submitting (or just stop writing) somewhere along the way. They get discouraged and feel beat down. And then, before you know it, they’ve become someone who used to be a writer. Or someone who wanted to be a writer. —Chris Guillebeau {+}

[Writing a book is] very difficult. But so is losing 30 pounds or learning French or growing your own vegetables or training for a marathon … While it’s tempting to keep the idea of writing wrapped up in a glittery gauze of muse-directed creativity, it’s just another sort of work, one that requires dedication, commitment, time and the necessary tools.Mary McNamara {+}

I discovered that, by spending a long time on a short story, I could make it pretty good. But all around me, people were turning in truly terrific short stories and saying, “Oh, I wrote it the night before I turned it in.” There was so little talk of process back then, I really thought that I was the only writer there whose work went through an ugly stage. For years, I thought with deep shame that I was a fraud, up against the truly talented. It took me about twenty years to realize they were lying, and just armoring themselves for the criticism to come, and pretending not to be as invested in the work as they were. —Michelle Huneven {+}

“A novel is a work of a certain length that is somehow flawed,” a wise critic once said—and as I was told during the first few weeks of my MFA program. To write a novel, and see to it through from the first word to the 150,000th, you have to be willing to embrace the idea that every once in a while your prose is going to be, for lack of a better word, more prosaic than it would be otherwise. Why? Because to get a reader to make it through 150,000 words (the length of my last, and about the length of your average robust novel), you need this clunky, unattractive but very utilitarian thing called a plot. —Hector Tobar {+}

What’s in your head is seemingly infinitely richer than what you finally get down on the page. I think that’s why some people never actually get the writing done. They have a dream of a book in their head, and every attempt to write it down feels impoverished. The difference used to bother me until I thought about what the tradeoff was. The book in your head may be the platonically ideal book you could write, while the book you do write may seem a poor beast indeed, Caliban to your ideal book’s Prospero. But the book you write is real. And when you finish, you can hold it in your hands. —Richard Rhodes {+}

I worry about rejection, but not too much. The real fear isn’t rejection, but that there won’t be enough time in your life to write all the stories you have in you. So every time I put a new one in the mail, I know I’ve beaten death again. —Ray Bradbury {+}

“The peculiarity of being a writer,” [Joan] Didion says, “is that the entire enterprise involves the mortal humiliation of seeing one’s own words in print.” … Yet even worse than publication, she says, is the risk that something unfinished will be published.Adrienne LaFrance {+}

5 Tips for Perfecting Your Writing Contest Entry

Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

How can I do better in contests?

  • Keep story pacing in mind
  • Use familiar characters or settings to save time
  • Go with the idea you feel passionate about

Toasted Cheese sponsors four contests each year, with deadlines at the change of the seasons. There are similarities and differences among the contests. Writers have entered the same contest for years, sometimes placing and sometimes not. Some writers enjoy the challenge of working within parameters or against a deadline. Some are trying to publish for the first time and some publish frequently.

For a lot of authors who try contests, it’s enough to finish and submit the entry. For others, winning (or placing) is everything. Placing in a contest can mean a publication credit, a prize, or a networking opportunity. So if you’re past the “it’s enough that I sent it” but you’re not placing in the contests you enter, here are a few tips based on entries we’ve judged over the years.

Background Image: 2day929/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Background Image: 2day929/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

1. Follow the guidelines

Is the contest for a specific genre? Is there a theme? Is there a word count range or a maximum word count? Does the contest happen with regularity (every month, once a year, etc.)? Are the guidelines you’re reading for an old incarnation of the contest? When is the deadline? Is there a time of day (and time zone given) that entries must be sent by?

As you work on your story, you might find it breaking through the parameters (for example, it doesn’t want to resolve within the word count). Let your story flow naturally. No matter your time limits, there’s time to edit (even in a one-hour contest). Budget your time according to the way you work. If you like a lot of prep time and planning with a little writing but a lot of editing, you don’t need to divide your available time into thirds.

If your story gets far from the contest guidelines, set it aside and try something new if you want to continue to work on something for the contest. Use the story that expanded beyond the parameters for your next project. If you’re inspired, keep working on this piece and try a contest another time.

2. Stretch, don’t break; push, don’t puncture

Judges are looking for entries that take risks, not liberties, with the guidelines. Stretch them and think in different ways but don’t stretch the guidelines so far that the judges will have difficulty seeing how you used the themes. If you feel bold, push your own limits as well as the limits of the contest. Write whatever you’re inspired to write. If it goes outside the boundaries of the contest, you can either edit it to fit or use it for a regular submission.

Keep in mind that the clever twist on the theme that you thought of in the shower is exactly the same twist that someone else has been working on since the contest was announced. It’s not enough to throw in the tweak. You have to write the best possible version of it. Don’t rest on the fact that you came up with the great idea. Someone else did too and you have to have the better entry.

3. Write fresh

Never, never blow the dust off an old story and submit it, even if it meets all the parameters. Judges always know and they don’t appreciate it. Usually entries like these are the first to come in and they reek of stale writing. If you already have a piece you think is perfect (and it’s never been published; we check that too), rewrite it. Change some character names. Change the setting. Start the story two paragraphs later. Flesh it out or trim it. Add new technology, if relevant. Add a new obstacle. Change the ending. There’s always something you can do to make your story fresh and new.

4. Edit the entire work

We see a fair number of contest entries that fall apart in the middle or the end but we very rarely see it in regular submissions. We have two theories about why this happens. One is “kissing the word count.” Writers see that the word count limit is approaching and they feel pressured to wrap it up. The other theory is that writers edit their entries more fervently at the beginning and less so in the middle and at the end. It could be that the writer is tired. It could be that that’s where the story really takes off and it’s pleasing the writer so much that she gets caught up as a reader (which isn’t a bad thing) and forgets to edit.

Our advice is to make sure you edit the entire work. Do you have as many notes at the beginning as you do at the end? Why? Is it because you stopped editing your story? Did the story really take off about 1000 words in and you didn’t have much to change? In that case, do you need to chop about half of the opening?

5. Stay true to your voice

When writing for a specific purpose or audience, it can be easy for a writer to lose his voice. He might emulate previous winners, use different language than usual, or try too hard to impress. It may be accidental or it may not. There’s no simple trick to retaining your voice. Just be aware of it. When you reread your finished story, does it sound like your other work? Could your ideal reader pick it out of a lineup?

Organize Your Story Online

Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

This time last year I was writing a story for Wicked Women Writers, a horror fiction contest sponsored by Horror Addicts. In addition to time parameters, which translate to word count) and the need to record my story for the podcast, I had to make use of elements that were assigned to me: setting, a beast (from the Chinese zodiac), a blessing, and a curse. I was lucky enough to have a story set in New Orleans, complete with a voodoo potion and a gris-gris bag, during Mardi Gras. I wasn’t so sure about the goat.

ab_15-05_pinterest

I began working through ideas without writing much. In a paper notebook, I jotted ideas for the plot but nothing was coming together except for character sketches. I made a playlist of old Southern spirituals, live Dixieland performances, and early blues recordings and played it while I learned more about voodoo and studied maps of the French Quarter. I spoke to friends who’d lived in New Orleans; the only time I’ve spent in Louisiana was a childhood visit to family in Baton Rouge.

As I browsed online, I was inspired by Chagall paintings that featured goats, the architecture of New Orleans (including the tombs in St. Louis cemetery #1 and Metairie Cemetery), and stories of the community following Hurricane Katrina. I bookmarked the links I found but many of my inspirations were just images so I hit upon the idea of creating a private Pinterest board for what I’d found so far. The board helped me organize, picture my setting, and narrow my many ideas into a workable story. After the story came up for voting, I made the Pinterest board public and included a link to it.

Stephanie’s “The Gray Girl” Pinboard

Creating a Pinterest board as a modern “idea book” worked so well for me that I’ve done it again and am currently gathering ideas for a new project. If you’re a visual person, if you like to organize online, or if you get a story idea on the go and you’d like to have an app for that, you might like to create boards like these.

What’s all this Pinterest stuff?

I think of Pinterest as a big corkboard. Some people think of it like a scrapbook or notebook. Early adopters used Pinterest to gather and save recipes, knitting patterns, or ideas for weddings. It’s basically a visual blog that lets you link to content via images. Whereas platforms like Tumblr allow you to use text only, you must use images or videos on Pinterest. If the page you want to pin to doesn’t have an image, you can add an image of your choosing and then link it as you choose.

Creating pins is simple. If there’s an image or video on a page, you can almost always pin it (even gifs). You can create your own images and upload them to your board. Don’t be surprised to see your own created image come back to you (mine did).

If you want to pin a page and there’s no image, you can upload any image and put the URL of the page you want to pin into the link box (use your computer to do this instead of the Pinterest app).

How can I use it?

There are a lot of ways, none being right or wrong. Your board(s) may be public or private, maintained by individuals or groups. You can have one board or many (sub-boards aren’t yet available).

The question becomes: “What do I pin?” Here are some basic ideas for writing-specific boards, which could be used generally or for a specific project:

  •         Story (plot ideas, research)
  •         Character (inspiring images, clothing, traits)
  •         Setting (architecture, landscapes, rooms)
  •         Theme
  •         How-to graphics (plotting, character creation)
  •         Prompts (these are one of the most prolific types of pin)
  •         Favorite books and journals
  •         Writing advice
  •         Exercises
  •         Worksheets
  •         Generators (character names, traits, prompts)
  •         Articles
  •         Challenges
  •         Quotations & sayings (writing. books, character, jokes)

Does this look familiar? It should if you have a “writing” folder among your bookmarks. Clearing out your bookmarks is a great way to get started using Pinterest as your central writing resource.

Stephanie’s Writing Pinboard

I’m not into Pinterest but I read this far

You can use other apps in the same way, taking advantage of their particular features. Tumblr might be less visual (depending on the template you use) but if you like searching your own collection via tags or recycling and repurposing ideas from other users, it might be more to your taste. Whereas Pinterest limits you to 500 characters on a pin, Tumblr will let you write and post an entire story (without the need for images). You’re not going to find explicit adult content at Pinterest. Meanwhile it’s plentiful at Tumblr, which can be useful if you’re writing erotica or using other adult inspiration for your story. Tumblr has settings that can keep adult content off your dashboard if you choose.

I keep Evernote on my devices because I never know when I’ll overhear a conversation I want to save or a name I want to use. It’s replaced the old memo pad I carried since high school, as well as the “I’ll jot this on my arm” method of notetaking.

I like Pinterest because I’m visual and I like having everything on a single page with small images that catch my eye differently every time I visit said page. Someone else might have an established system for story creation but needs help with organizing writing time.

Give me some options other than Pinterest

Other platforms you can use to create your online idea book include:

  • Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, and other traditional blogging applications
  • Evernote and OneNote (these are similar programs. Like Pinterest, Evernote clips online content and works best as an app. OneNote is better on PC and is an organizational junkie’s dream)
  • Instapaper (syncs across devices; use with friends)
  • Thoughtboxes (think Post-Its in folders)
  • Licorize (you can transfer your Delicious links; has an “add” button for browsers)
  • Bundlr (has a paid “ad-free” version)

Check these out and see which works for your purposes. When browsing apps like these, think of how, when, and where you’ll use them. Many are listed as “productivity” apps, designed for balancing work and personal life. As a creative person, you’ll discover new ways to use them to organize not just your writing life but also your writing projects.

 

Negotiating Social Media for Writers: A Conversation With Jim C. Hines, Mary Robinette Kowal & Kameron Hurley

Absolute BlankBy Erin Bellavia (Billiard)

“The Internet, like the steam engine, is a technological breakthrough that changed the world.” —Peter Singer

The internet can be both a blessing and a curse, giving us a wealth of information at our fingertips, and allowing us to make connections across continents and around the world. For published authors, the internet has become a place to research quickly and easily as well as interact with fans and colleagues instantaneously. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr all create spaces that allow for different levels and types of interaction.

We wondered how blogs and social media affect the writing and personal lives of working authors, so we contacted Jim C. Hines, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Kameron Hurley, all authors with a prominent online presence, and asked them to talk to us about their lives on the internet.

Negotiating Social Media for Writers

Background Image: Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Toasted Cheese: Thinking back to before you were published, can you think of any online behaviors that may have helped your career?

Jim C. Hines: Back in the wee days of the internet, when we hand-coded our “online journals” into Geocities while adding starry backgrounds and moving dragon gifs, I mostly used my web presence to connect with a handful of other struggling writers. It was a great way to share encouragement and to feel like I wasn’t alone in the struggle. Back then, the internet was pretty much worthless as a tool for self-promotion, at least for most of us, but it did help me build those human connections. That’s one of the things I try to focus on today, fifteen years later. Promotion and sales are nice, but those connections are the best part of being online.

Mary Robinette Kowal: Most of the online behaviors were mirrors of things that I do in real life. Celebrating other people’s successes, being interested in what people are working on, and generally trying to be helpful while trying to avoid being pushy.

Kameron Hurley: Writing well and passionately, certainly. Engaging with people. And not being a jerk, generally. That doesn’t mean not disagreeing with people—I disagree with people all the time—but I disagree with ideas and statements and world views. I try not to condemn people as human beings because we disagree about something. Writers have professional disagreements all the time. What I learned is that there’s a core group of people in the business with you now who will be there in twenty years, so try not to burn any bridges or start any feuds unless you’re really, really sure of what you’re doing. You’re going to see these people at all your professional events.

Writing is a business, and you have to treat it like any other business.

TC: What online media (social and otherwise) do you use most? For what? How do you use different media in different ways?)

JCH: I’ve got a blog I use for longer essays and things that require a bit more complex thought. And also the occasional Lego picture. Twitter is great for joking and chatting with folks, like the world’s biggest social bar. I’ve also started doing a little more long-form stuff on Twitter, posting things in five or ten parts. Facebook is good for posting photos and sometimes links back to longer pieces or conversations, along with shorter excerpts and jokes and such. Facebook is also nice for getting input or feedback. It’s easier to tap into the internet hivemind over there.

MRK: Twitter is where I hang out the most. I like the conversational aspect of it. It’s fantastic for research, because most of the people on there are really, let’s be honest, looking for a way to procrastinate. So queries like, “Anyone know where I can find the telegraph code for Atlanta in 1907?” get answered in five minutes flat.

KH: I spend most of my online life on Twitter, and I write all of my long form content on a blog that I own and manage at kameronhurley.com. I strongly recommend that if folks are going to write content, that they host it all on their own websites. Platforms grow, change, and dissolve, but you can maintain your website and its content presumably forever.

I cross-post all of my content to Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and Tumblr, and I recently started an Instagram account. Tumblr and Instagram I created primarily because I knew there was a huge potential audience who used those platforms that I was completely missing. The average age of someone using Twitter is 34. If you want to find younger readers, you need to be where they are, so I do make an effort. That said, I don’t like them as much, so I keep my involvement there very low maintenance. It’s all on autopilot, set to post across platform when I click “publish” on my blog.

But Twitter is the biggest cocktail party, and certainly the platform that’s been best for me to connect with colleagues and fans. I’ve virtually “met” a ton of people who I later hung out with at conventions or appearances. I like the immediacy and low time investment of the form.

I’d pick one or two social platforms you like and put your time into those. Don’t try to fracture your time too much, or you’ll burn out really quickly. Social media moves so fast that keeping up is a full time job in and of itself.

TC: How has your relationship with the internet/social media changed since being published?

JCH: It’s gotten… bigger, really. More people, more followers, more interactions, more content… it takes significantly more time than it used to. There are a lot more options out there now. It also feels a lot more tense sometimes. I think there are a lot of important conversations and discussions happening right now, but there are also days I just want to post funny animal pictures, you know?

MRK: I talk a lot less about my personal life than I did. I used to blog about lunches and company. When 100 people follow you and they are mostly folks you know in real life, then it’s just chatting with your friends. But with 14,000 followers, it now it feels like I’m invading the privacy of my guests if I trot them out for public view.

KH: I spend more time thinking about what I’m saying instead of just blasting out angry rants. Overall, I think this is actually a good thing—as a writer, I should pay special attention to the words I’m using, and writing publicly now, with more people listening, means I’m more aware of the impact of my words, and I take greater responsibility for them. Do I really mean what I’m saying in exactly this way? Am I needlessly attacking someone? Am I being gauche to shock and hurt people? What am I trying to accomplish with a rant?

TC: Has your pre-publication online life ever “come back to haunt you”?

JCH: Not yet! My post-publication online life, on the other hand…

MRK: Not yet!

KH: Strangely enough, not that I know of. But then, my colleagues are forgiving.

TC: How do you use blogging and social media for promotion? How much self-promotion is expected of you?

JCH: I’ll announce when new books come out and things like that, but self-promotion is very much secondary. People know I’m an author. There’s links and info about my books on my sites. If readers want to check those things out, they can. They don’t need me shoving it in their face every other post.

As for how much is expected of me? I haven’t had much outside pressure from my agent or publisher or anything like that. I’ve talked to authors who feel like they’re supposed to be online and actively promoting themselves on ALL THE SITES, but that hasn’t been my experience, nor is it something I’d be comfortable trying to do. I don’t want to be a salesman. I want to talk about cool SF/F stuff with my fellow geeks, and maybe sometimes rant about stuff that pisses me off.

MRK: I do. I think the thing most people miss with social media is that the emphasis is on social. Which means that you have to be engaged in the community for it to work. Sometimes I describe social media as a high school cafeteria. You can wander through, overhearing snippets of conversations, and occasionally stop to join in them. If you need everyone to know about a thing, you stand up on the table and shout about it. If you’ve been engaging and part of the community, then everyone will help spread the word. If not…you’re just the obnoxious person who stood on the table and shouted.

KH: No one really expects authors to promote themselves; they hope for it, sometimes they ask and prod about it, but writing and promotion are very different skills, and the reality is that many of the world’s best writers are very poor promoters. The best advice I ever got on promotion was from fellow science fiction writer Tobias Buckell, who told me to only do the things I enjoyed doing when it came to promo. I don’t like doing readings, so I stopped doing them, and I doubled down on what I’m good at, which is blogging. I can write essays pretty quickly. Now I do fairly extensive blog tours during the release weeks of my books.

What you find is that media works like a sieve—you do a ton of blog posts for small blogs, and folks one tier up see that. So you do some for mid-sized blogs. Then you get invited to podcasts, you get invited to radio shows, then mid-sized publications quote you, then larger publications come knocking. It’s about projecting your presence across a number of different media during a short, intense, promotion window. Think of yourself like a puffer fish, always putting out content that makes you look like a bigger deal than you are. Sounds like a trick, right? And it is. People think I’m far more financially successful than I am when it comes to writing fiction, but that, in turn, has led to me being more successful because I’ve been invited to more projects and gotten more gigs. You project success and importance and speak loudly and smartly, and you’re funny and delightful, and then people start asking you to do more work. If you can do the work well, and on time, then congrats—you’ve faked your way to success!

Which is what a lot of us do, really. A lot of promotion is pretending to be the person you want to be, even during the times you’re really not feeling it.

TC: How would you describe your relationship with your fans online?

JCH: Pretty darn good. One fan just send me a gift certificate for gourmet bacon. My fans and readers and community of online geeks are awesome.

MRK: They are lovely, lovely people.

KH: That’s a good question. I think you’d have to ask them! Fun, overall, for me. Fans are delightful and encouraging, and one of the best parts of the jobs. I’m on Twitter to have fun, interesting conversations. Most of the folks who follow me are there for that reason, too.

TC: Of course, one drawback of the internet is the anonymous hate and trolling that sometimes goes along with having an online presence. Can you describe a time when you had to deal with hate and/or trolling?

JCH: Eh. I don’t get too much trolling, and the hate is significantly milder than I’ve seen other people get. (Which I’m sure has absolutely nothing to do with me being male and white and straight. /sarcasm) I have no problem with people arguing with me online. When people get abusive or cross the line into just being dicks, I generally just block them and get on with my life.

MRK: Yesterday. So, I decided that it would be a nice thing to offer to help people who couldn’t afford a supporting membership for the Hugo awards, by doing a drawing to give some away. This led to cries of “Vote buying!” even though I wasn’t up for an award. My feed became infested with people associated with GamerGate. So I did something I call “politeness trolling.” Which is that someone says something hateful to me, and I answer them with a request for clarification, often accompanied by an apology. More often than not, this actually leads to an interesting conversation.

And the ones that are just trolling me? Heh. I grew up in the South where we’re taught to say, “That’s nice,” instead of “Fuck you.” I can bless someone’s heart all day.

KH: I used to get death threats and such in the beginning (back in 2004), when I had comments turned on for my blog. I got rid of comments, have my assistant screen my email, and block people ruthlessly on Twitter now. I’ve made it so I’m able to live pretty troll-free. Twitter’s mute function is fabulous. I’m also very careful never to wade into comment sections that I know aren’t going to be useful conversations—you get very good at figuring out when someone’s discussing your work and when someone just wants to start a pile on, or poke at you to see if you’ll have some public meltdown. Inciting author meltdowns is a sport, for some people.

I see so many people giving over their platforms to trolls these days—retweeting hateful statements, getting into arguments with people who are clearly just there to argue—and I can’t imagine it’s very satisfying to anyone but the troll. You have to get that trolls are sadists. They want you to waste your time arguing with them. They want to discourage you from creating work. They want you to be upset and be fearful. The best thing you can do in the face of evil is to do the work that evil doesn’t want you to do, because it’s the work that helps create a world that has no place for them.

TC: It’s fun to watch popular authors interact with fans online, and while I’m sure the majority of interactions are positive, what are three things you wish fans wouldn’t do when interacting with you online?

JCH: Stop adding me to Facebook groups without asking! Don’t tag authors when posting nasty reviews of their books. And for Cthulhu’s sake, if you think the proper way to argue with a woman is to call her a bitch or a c**t, or to post threats of rape or violence, do civilization a favor and get the hell off the internet.

MRK: 1. Apologize for bothering me; 2. Offer me unsolicited advice on writing; 3. Complain about the pricing of my books.

KH: I occasionally get folks who tweet at me like twenty or thirty times a day, without really adding to a conversation, just sort of being like, “I’m here! I’m here!” It’s lovely that they are there, but the reality is that if something feels like spam, I need to mute it for my own sanity. I do sometimes get folks who try and make “ironic” sexist or racist jokes, which always falls flat with me. I mute those immediately, even knowing they meant no harm. When you’re surrounded in real hate all day, even the ironic stuff gets to you.

Overall, though, my fans are great. They are funny and smart and supportive. I even had one bring me a bottle of scotch to a signing, raising the bar for all future fan interactions (TAKE NOTE FANS).

TC: Can you offer any advice to those hoping to be published, regarding their internet/social media presence?

JCH: Be yourself. Have fun. Don’t try to do everything, because you’ll burn yourself out fast. Figure out what you’re comfortable with and do that.

MRK: Don’t stress about it too hard. The social in social media means that you really should be engaging in ways that are comfortable to you. Anything that you have to work at, or hate doing, is going to show as a lack of sincerity. And at the end of the day, your job is to write. So do that first.

KH: Do what you love. Avoid the stuff you don’t like doing. But know the difference between “I don’t like this” and “this is too hard to learn.” Sometimes, if you take the time to learn a new platform, you’ll end up liking it, but you don’t know if you don’t try.

And don’t be a jerk. For the love of all things… don’t be a jerk. Be the best possible version of you. Treat people kindly and humanely. These aren’t pixels, they’re people. And when you are burned out (and you WILL be burned out, at one time or another), it’s OK to take a break from the internet and promotion and all the rest.

I’ve gotten to the point now where I schedule six weeks a year that are just to promote whatever novel I have coming out, and I don’t expect to do any writing in that time. Then I go dark for a month or two, and really pull back on my social presence after that while I work on the next book. Don’t try and be “on” all the time. Break it up into manageable chunks of time.

But most of all, I want to remind folks that the work comes first. Write great books. THEN figure out how to tell people about them. Walk before you run.

pencil

Jim C. Hines‘s first novel was Goblin Quest, the humorous tale of a nearsighted goblin runt and his pet fire-spider. Actor and author Wil Wheaton described the book as “too f***ing cool for words,” which is pretty much the Best Blurb Ever. After finishing the goblin trilogy, he went on to write the Princess series of fairy tale retellings, and is currently working on the Magic ex Libris books, a modern-day fantasy series about a magic-wielding librarian, a dryad, a secret society founded by Johannes Gutenberg, a flaming spider, and an enchanted convertible. He’s also the author of the Fable Legends tie-in Blood of Heroes. His short fiction has appeared in more than 50 magazines and anthologies.

Jim is an active blogger about topics ranging from sexism and harassment to zombie-themed Christmas carols, and won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2012. He has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Masters in English, and lives with his wife and two children in mid-Michigan.

Mary Robinette Kowal is a Hugo-award winning author, voice actor, and professional puppeteer. Her debut novel Shades of Milk and Honey (Tor, 2010) was nominated for the 2010 Nebula Award for Best Novel. In 2008 she won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, while two of her short fiction works have been nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story: “Evil Robot Monkey” in 2009 and “For Want of a Nail” in 2011, which won the Hugo that year. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and several Year’s Best anthologies, as well as in her collection Scenting the Dark and Other Stories from Subterranean Press. Mary lives in Chicago with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters. Sometimes she even writes on them.

Kameron Hurley is the author of the novels God’s War, Infidel, and Rapture—a science-fantasy noir series which earned her the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer and the Kitschy Award for Best Debut Novel. She has won the Hugo Award (twice), and been a finalist for the Nebula Award, the Clarke Award, the Locus Award, and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her most recent novel is the subversive epic fantasy The Mirror Empire. The sequel, Empire Ascendant, will be out in October 2015. She writes regularly for Locus Magazine and publishes personal essays at kameronhurley.com.

Recycled: Books

Absolute BlankBy Shelley Carpenter (Harpspeed)

Last spring I attended a vintage craft fair and my take-away was unexpected. The fair was a delightful mix of antiques and art but with a twist—the old and the new were fused together in a recycling theme. Familiar objects got a second life as they were transformed into something new with added parts and new purpose like the birdhouses made from broken crockery and ancient-looking license plates. Painted signs from bygone days were transformed into coffee tables. Purses and tote bags were created from recycled juice boxes, candy wrappers, and burlap sacks straight from somebody’s barn. I felt a resurgence of my own creativity happening with every step, every glance, and every touch. Some of the crafts I wanted to try out like the folk art ocean buoys and the wind chimes made from fishing wire, spoons, and glass doorknobs. Both would look pretty nifty in my front garden I thought.

I walked around for about an hour when I spied the book tent. I was almost giddy and I could hardly wait to see what treasures awaited inside. I paused a moment for a crowd of young families to exit and stepped into the small space immediately surprised at what I didn’t see—where were all the books? I expected a table of stacked books sorted by author or genre: contemporary fiction novels piled high–crime, mystery, horror, historical, romance–and another section of non fiction–biography, poetry, memoir, coffee table books on various subjects, crates of old trade journals and magazines. But there were no tables. No crates. No vintage journals.  Not even an old Playboy magazine. When the last of the crowd headed toward the door flap I saw bookcases lining the perimeter—books at last!

Photo credit: Pimthida/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Background Image: Pimthida/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

I made my way over to a case that displayed classics. They were shelved with their covers facing out. There weren’t very many but I did spy some familiar old friends:  Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, Dracula, Huckleberry Finn, Scrooge, and The Great Gatsby himself. They were hard cover editions and I reached for Mary Shelley’s book. It had a black leather cover with faded, etched details. I held it in my hand a moment and when I was sure no one was watching I lifted it up to my face and inhaled deeply. It smelled old and oily and reminded me of saddle leather. It was a beautiful book and would be “a first” in my collection of classic novels. I brushed its cover with the palm of my hand… so soft and worn like it belonged to Frankenstein himself. I turned the cover over to see what was on the back and that was when I noticed the spine. Someone had carefully taken it apart and added thin leather strapping like shoelaces that held its two covers in place. (The spine flipped open and shut thus hiding the strapping.) I opened the copy and found its pages had been replaced with blank ones–it was a literal absolute blank. I fanned through it and felt a little pinch in my heart. All that was left of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece was its leather façade. I replaced it and reached for Huckleberry Finn and felt another pinch.

On another shelf I spied Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and some kid’s books from the golden age of children’s literature—a Dick and Jane story from the 1950s, and other books that I didn’t recognize. They were all the same inside. They were all just the covers devoid of their printed pages, reduced to notebooks or journals. I picked over a few more when I caught the eye of the proprietor. She smiled and was about to say something when two women came in and distracted her. They went straight for the rose-colored copy of Vanity Fair, marveling at the ingenuity of the “artist” who created such a thoughtful and “useful” article.

Meanwhile, I stood there in horrified fascination watching them pull the journals from the shelves as I had done just moments before. It was like witnessing something terrible and not being able to look away. In those moments, I thought about the authors—how they would feel to see their life’s work capitalized upon in such a grotesque manner. My spell broke when one of the women asked me if I was going to buy the remains of the Jane Austin book that I was clutching to my chest. I shook my head and gave her the copy before leaving.

I thought about this encounter all the way home. I felt repulsed. Had the covers of the journals been replicated, made to “look” like the books themselves, then I would be okay with it. Some of the most revered classics and artwork have had their cover images borrowed and placed on tote bags and mugs. I own a graphic T-shirt with the imprint of a famous Japanese woodcut painting that I wear guilt-free. But the books on display at the vintage craft fair were in fact the real covers of real books, the skeletal remains of what I considered to be icons of our literary culture. I felt a small fissure forming in one my ventricles. Was I over-reacting?

I thought some more.

I thought about the physical life cycle of a book. A book is created inside a publishing house and is born in the bookstores and in the big warehouses waiting for its first owner. After purchase it may linger on a shelf for weeks or months or even years before being read and then perhaps given away or re-sold. The lucky ones might make their way to a secondhand book shop or onto Craigslist or tragically and most likely end up in the carton at the end of someone’s driveway after a yard sale, homeless and at the mercy of the elements.

The story is not over. Perhaps a book dealer comes along and pulls the weathered volume out of the box and recognizes that it is a first edition collector’s item. It is sold at auction. That is a fortunate book, indeed, and it will spend its days in a glass library to be revered, but sadly again, never read. Better still, maybe the yard-salers will donate their unwanted collection to local charities that will distribute them to public institutions or maybe send them abroad as ambassador books to those who have a dire need for books. Books that don’t make the cut I presume would be put in the recycled paper bin or worse burned as kindling. My heart feels heavy from this thought. So what do we do with books that have outlived our need for them? Books that are beyond repair?

In my ideal world, we would send them to my figurative friend, Mortimer “Mo” Folchart, a character‬ from Cornelia Funke’s YA novel, Inkheart. Mo is a craftsman who makes his living repairing books and has the added talent of breathing life into characters that he reads aloud. A true book doctor he is. But there are no more Mos in the real world. At least none that I can think of outside of museums and monasteries…

Still, some people might argue that that we should be saving trees and reading books and other print on electronic devices. In fact, many readers I know are moving away from hard copies and are doing just that. When they are finished they have the option to save their book electronically, or click the delete button and be done with it. Nothing wasted or left behind. Yet, what of the rest of us whose books inhabit a shelf or more?  Should we have a funeral for them and bury them in the backyard? Rip out their pages and make paper wallets and cute origami animals?

In late November I returned to the fairgrounds, this time to visit the vintage holiday bazaar, some of whose artists and crafters I had seen earlier. Many of their wares were recreated art on a holiday theme. Not surprising, I also found more recycled books. This time carved into the shapes of pine trees and candy canes and letters that made words like: JOY and CHEER and MERRY. I admit that I wasn’t feeling very joyful or cheerful or merry as I picked through them. I found their pages intact but impossible to read due to their re-shaping and re-sizing. Once again, people found them to be clever and charming and bought them for $10 a piece. I suppose that the world won’t miss a 1972 copy of Reader’s Digest or an Encyclopedia Britannica that predates the Internet.

s-book

In fact, I received a monogram book as a gift. Ironic it is and even more so now that it is displayed in a place of honor facing out on the shelf alongside some of my favorite volumes. The book is in the shape of my first initial letter and was given to me by a very-special-somebody who recognizes me truly as a lover of books, a purveyor of novels and stories, a life-long reader. The recycled book may have indeed reached its final use and in its last life, it shall remain on my shelf indefinitely despite its appearance because it still resonates meaning.

How to Write a Book Review (and How to Request One)

Absolute Blank

By Shelley Carpenter (Harpspeed)

Mindset:

I think one of the important components in writing a book review is mindset. One needs to be open minded to reading books that they may not typically read. Professional editors and writers may have the option of choosing the books they review with the added perk of a salary. At Toasted Cheese and many other literary journals the editors and writers review books for the joy of it and to support fellow writers. It is a labor of love.

Revving Up before Reading:

Another practice I follow is to learn about the author before reading his/her book. I visit blogs, social media, and websites. Knowing something about the author makes the reading a more personal experience and may help later when it is time to write the review and the short biography that follows. I also look in the Toasted Cheese archives to see if there are submissions and links to other writing. It is like taking a test drive before driving cross-country.

Mindfulness:

The task also requires mindfulness. Before I open a book that is slotted for review, I always ask: What makes this a good book? This is a great question particularly if one is reviewing a book that is outside of their writing or reading genre(s). Giving myself an assigned question truly helps to focus on the task. Within the context of the question there are three sub-parts that I consider: What is this book about? This relates to genre, character and plot, the general information that most reviews contain. What do I notice within the text? This refers to style, language, theme, vocabulary, etc. a.k.a. the writer’s toolbox. Lastly, what do I notice beyond the story? Does it relate to the real world in any way? Are there comparisons or contrasts that can be drawn?

Another name for this practice is active reading. Meanwhile, I’m annotating the copy—I’m circling, underlining, highlighting, and writing notes in the margins. I also attach sticky notes on the pages that answer my question(s). By the time I finish reading, there are usually a dozen or more colored notes sticking out of the copy.

I take my time with every book and collection of poetry and stories and when I’ve finished reading and annotating, I let the words simmer in my mind for days before my fingers touch the keyboard. This is how I begin.

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan/Flickr (CC-by)

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan/Flickr (CC-by)

By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

Tips for Writing a Review for Toasted Cheese:

  • Keep in mind Candle-Ends is our way of connecting the TC community with the literary journal. We’re looking for positive/neutral reviews that support the writers in our community.
  • We’re ok with fluffy, but not with false praise. Be honest, but kind.
  • We know one of the reasons writers hesitate to write reviews is they’re unsure how to handle reviewing a book they didn’t love unequivocally. Here are some suggestions:
    • Describe the book. For a novel, tell readers about the key characters, the gist of the plot, the setting. For short stories or poetry, give readers an overview of the types of stories or poems they can anticipate. Write about the overall theme of the book. Describe the writer’s style.
    • Let the book speak for itself. Include representative quotes in your review so readers can see what to expect and judge for themselves.
    • Highlight the the book’s strengths.
    • Sandwich criticism between praise. If there is a weakness you think is important to mention, put it in the middle. Start with a positive and end with a positive.
  • A brief mention of why you personally related to the book is fine, but don’t digress too much. Keep the focus on the content of the book.
  • Provide a brief biography of the author as well as links to their website and/or social media accounts.
  • Please mention if you have a personal connection to the author.

Tips for Requesting a Review from Toasted Cheese:

  • Requests for reviews should be sent to our reviews editor at reviews@toasted-cheese.com
  • Be sure to mention the author’s connection to Toasted Cheese (please note: we only review books by writers with a pre-existing connection to TC).
  • Author or publisher must be able to provide a digital and/or print copy of the book to the reviewer.
  • Indicate your willingness to write a review. Not only is it good karma to reciprocate, but requesting authors who write a review will be moved to the front of the queue.

Toasted Cheese Writer Survey

Absolute BlankBy Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

Thank you to everyone who took the time to answer our survey. Our goal was to get to know our readers better and we were very pleased with the number and range of responses.

DEMOGRAPHICS

How old are you?
30-49 (31)
18-29 (18)
50-69 (14)
13-17 (8)
70+ (1)

Where do you live?
North America (63)
Europe (7)
Asia (2)

Is English your first language?
Yes (68)
No (4)

It wasn’t surprising that the majority of our respondents were English-speakers from North America, but it was good to see some of our international readers represented as well. We have had submissions from most continents (not Antarctica, though that would be very cool—any research scientists at the South Pole reading this?) so we know we have a wide reach even if the majority of our readers are “local.”

It was interesting to see that all the age categories were represented. This is something we weren’t sure about but will definitely take into account when planning future articles. We should note we didn’t include the 12-and-under age category on the survey because of COPPA but we do know we have readers in that group as well (see next section).

Background Image: Farrukh/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Background Image: Farrukh/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

TEACHERS AND STUDENTS

If you are a teacher who uses TC in your classes, what level do you teach?
College / University (2)
High School (1)
Adult Education (1)
“My teacher used it. Does that count?”

If you are a teacher, what subject(s) do you teach?
English (4)
Creative Writing (3)
Literature (1)

If you are a teacher, what section/part of TC do you use the most?
“Hard to say; pretty much the whole site.”
“Just refer students here in a general way.”

We’re not going to lie, we’d hoped more teachers would respond to the survey. From our site stats, specifically the number of incoming links from schools and teacher pages, we know that a lot of teachers use TC as a resource and refer students—including preteens who weren’t an age group we originally anticipated using the site—here, and we would love to know more about why you like TC and if there’s anything we could do that would improve the user experience for you. We’ll keep trying to connect.

WRITER TYPE

Which of the following apply to you?
I have a job that’s not writing-related. (29)
I’m a student. (19)
I have a writing-related job. (15)
I’m a stay-at-home parent. (7)
I’m retired. (6)
Other answers: I am self employed. | Teacher/author/reviewer | I write | Former college professor | I write short fiction | My job is writing-intensive, but not writing-related. | Recent college grad, living with parents. | Unemployed.

How much time do you spend writing weekly?
0-10 hours. (31)
10-20 hours. (23)
Less than 40 hours but more than 20. (11)
It’s my full-time job. (5)
Other answers: More than 40 but I write a lot for work. It’s skill practice, but not quite the same as creative fiction. | Binge poetry fiction/creative non.

What genres do you write?
General Fiction (literary, mainstream, etc.) (56)
Supernatural Fiction (scifi, fantasy, horror, etc.) (36)
Flash (31)
Poetry (29)
Creative Nonfiction (20)
Other Nonfiction (essays, articles, etc.) (17)
Mystery (16)
Fan Fiction (9)
Other answers: Historical fiction | Romantic Comedy | Speculative / Borderline | small one or two line pieces to go with a photo series. | Anything TC contests require.

We see that TC has a broad audience, that no single category dominates. We have those who write on their own time to those who write for a living, those who write a little to those who write a lot, and all genres well-represented. On the one hand, that’s really cool; on the other, that doesn’t really help us to narrow down what type of content to focus on! We suppose it’s a sign we should continue what we’re doing, but perhaps add some more niche articles that would appeal to different groups.

SUBMITTING AND PUBLISHING

Do you write with the intent of publishing your work?
Sometimes (43)
Always (26)
Never (3)

Have you submitted for publication?
Yes, in the last month. (20)
Yes, but not recently. (19)
Yes, in the last year. (15)
No, not yet (but I plan to). (13)
No, I write for myself only. (3)
No, I prefer to self-publish. (2)

How many times do you edit a piece before submitting?
More than 3 but less than 10. (37)
2-3 times. (24)
10+ times. (9)
Once. (2)

Have you had work published?
Yes, a few times. (29)
Not yet. (27)
Yes, many times. (9)
I have self-published. (4)
Other answers: First one in November | Once, but not paid | Poetry Anthologies | I submitted my work to a TC contest. Does that count?

What do you do with your rejection letters?
Keep / save / file / archive them. (29)

“…for motivation to try harder”

“…for reference”

“…to learn from them”

“…as motivation to continue trying”

“…to review them occasionally”

“…in hopes of laughing at them someday!”

“I make notes on things to change, then put them somewhere I cannot find them.”

Throw them away / delete them / ignore them / nothing. (20)

“I make note of reflections in a log, then delete/toss them.”

I have not received any yet. (14)

Depends on contents. (5)

“I collate both good and bad criticisms if written down. If it’s an automatic rejection, I simply delete it from my inbox.”

“I ignore them unless the editor offers constructive comments.”

“It would depend on the contents: save-trash”

“I’ve been ridiculously lucky and haven’t gotten any yet. When I do, I’ll keep them in a file to refer to a) when I’m looking for ways to improve my writing and b) to remind myself that I’m actively trying, putting stuff out there.”

“Read and recycle unless they are particularly encouraging. Then I save them.”

Use as motivation. (4)

“Turn them into motivational posters.”

“Post them on my board next to the positives.”

“Frame them. If I get a personal note.”

“When I receive one, I’ll be happy to frame it.”

 

We’re thrilled to see how many of our readers are submitting their work and having success at publishing, but don’t worry, we’ll never forget those of you who are just starting out. It also warms our cold editor hearts to see the number of times most of you revise your work before submitting.

It looks like rejection letters could be the subject of its own article—kudos to those of you who find creative ways to turn rejection into motivation. Group hug!

BUSINESS

Do you have an email address just for writing-related business?
No, I use my primary email. (51)
Yes. (19)
Other answers: I use my University email. | No.

We’re disappointed no one admitted to using someone else’s email and/or an email with a random name on it, because this happens on a regular basis and we’re so curious as to why! Get your own email people who do this. Everyone else, carry on.

Do you have an online portfolio or writing-related website?
No. (35)
Yes, I have a writing-focused blog. (21)
Yes, I promote my work via social media. (18)
Yes, I have my own website. (13)
Other answers: I also referred people to my publisher to read blurbs on my books | Online writing websites | Kind of. I write on it, about books. | Under construction.

This question had a definite divide. We found it somewhat surprising that nearly half our respondents had no online space for their writing at all, while the other half in most cases had more than one space to share their writing. This could potentially be the subject of a future article.

How do you research markets?
(for submissions) I do my own research by reading a variety of publications. (47)
I use a website (like WritersMarket.com). (25)
I use a resource book (like Writer’s Market). (21)
(for queries) I do my own research by visiting agent and publisher websites. (20)
I’ll worry about that later. “First I must learn to write!” (10)
Word of mouth (5)

“ask friends and colleagues”

“I know several authors and editors well enough to ask them for advice.”

“people’s bios”

“Talk to readers about what they are reading, what they like and don’t like etc.”

“Twitter”

If you use a book or website to research markets, which one?
Writer’s Market (19)
Duotrope (7)
Poets and Writers (3)
WritersMarket.com (3)
Poet’s Market (2)
Newpages.com (2)
Other books/sites: Novel and Short Story’s Writer’s Market, Cozy-Mystery.com, The Submission Grinder, freelancewriting.com, Mslexia, querytracker.net, The Writer magazine, thereviewreview.net, Writer’s Chronicle, Writer’s Digest, Ralan, Dark Markets, www.writing.ie

Google / the internet generally (7)

“I just surf the net for contemporary poets and check out where they’ve already published.”

“I mostly use writer blogs and websites”

Many / Various (6)

“Multiple genre-related sites”

“Depends on the piece”

“Not a specific one…”

None / “What is a market?” (18)

There were so many different responses to these questions. We liked the word-of-mouth responses—we neglected to include that in our options, and obviously connections are an important resource. As well, some of the market resources you use were new to us. We had a couple respondents ask “what is a market?” so it looks likely that markets/market resources will be the subject of a future article.

Props to those of you who are taking the time to focus on developing your writing craft before worrying about submitting.That phase of the writing life is too often undervalued.

WRITING CHALLENGES

Do you participate in writing challenges?
No, challenges aren’t for me. (32)
Yes, NaNoWriMo. (18)
Yes, other writing challenges. (22)

If you answered “other writing challenges” in the question above, which one(s)?
TC contests / Mini-Nano (7)
Other contests/competitions (not specified) (8)
Other: Liberty Hall, On the Premises, StoryADay, WriteChain Challenge, monthly poetry challenges available on Facebook, mostly blogging challenges, school writing challenge, weekly prompt challenges, writers group.

Other responses:

“goals I set for myself”

“I don’t do challenges other than ones I set for myself”

“I don’t understand the question. writing is a challenge.”

“I have done NaNo and some other challenges, which is how I learned they aren’t for me.”

We weren’t surprised to see a divide on the responses to these questions. About half the respondents aren’t interested in writing challenges, while others had many/varied responses. This mirrors the divide we’ve always observed between contest entries and regular submissions, i.e. there is next to no overlap between these two groups of writers. We think it would be fascinating to interview writers on both sides and dig deeper into the differences.

TC CONTENT

What types of writing articles do you like to read?
Elements of fiction (character, plot, setting, etc.) (53)
Inspiration / Creativity (50)
Business of writing (submitting, querying, etc.) (41)
Author interviews (41)
Anything really / Everything (2)
Other answers: Articles about writer’s spaces and time management. | book reviews | grammar/weak words/transition words and phrases | how to make 3D characters | I don’t.

Apparently you like a bit of everything (except for the person who doesn’t like reading articles about writing at all, lol). Which we guess tells us to continue what we’re doing. And for the person who mentioned book reviews, that article is coming very soon!

Any comments or questions?

How does your payment system work regarding the authors’ work you accept for publication? Is there revenue sharing? Is your magazine distributed in the form of hard copy, digital, or through online publication? —um.

I love the monthly writing prompts and playing with the contest themes. Also, I enjoy messing around in the forums when I have the time and inclination even though I have yet to coax myself into posting something myself. All-in-all, I love your site!! —thank you!

I rarely do surveys, but this was fun! Served to also make me think about where I am writing-wise and what I’m looking for out of writing resources and support materials. Many thanks! —thank you!

I really really appreciate your Twitter presence. Your writing prompts are pretty sweet! —thank you!

I’m at a point where I’m focusing on learning what I think are intermediate skills: how do I approach revising large works (novella, novel), what are the steps to querying agents, when do I get an editor involved, what is the editorial relationship like, and how can I maximize my learning throughout this process? Things like that. I like TC’s writing prompts and fiction contests, and find these useful for practicing the craft. —thank you, and thanks for the suggestions!

Love your site —thank you!

More power to Toasted Cheese this 2015! 🙂 —thank you!

No questions. I just love your site. You guys do great work, and you do it consistently. —thank you!

No success locating an agent. —so… an article on finding an agent perhaps?

Spork. —scuppernong.

This is an unusual quiz, don’t forget about the new authors. —ok!

What the heck is a market? Also, when will you be revealing the DoW 2014 winners? —article on markets, gotcha. Dead of Winter winners are announced January 31; this is in the contest guidelines, ffr.

Thanks again for participating and be sure to check out the A Pen In Each Hand exercise.