Women’s Fiction & my relationship with it

The older I get, the easier it is to get swallowed up by my frustrations far before I consider my joy. Whether that’s because of mental health issues or the fact that the U.S. is attempting to survive in a post-2016 Election reality, who knows. But the benefit of recording your thoughts is seeing some of your own fallacies (aka. Calling out your own bull-honkey). 

Recently, my friend and I launched our podcast, The Shiny Squirrel, where we talk about all the creative nerdy things along with the social impacts of being involved in that space. Monday, we published an episode getting into the nitty gritty of being a woman in these different creative fields. 

While I stand by everything I said, there’s one item – in regards to publishing – that I failed to give justice to. And that’s Women’s Fiction. I’ll still argue that books like Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness should be shelved in fantasy and Gillian Flynn should be in thriller (sorry, I’ll die on this hill). But Women’s Fiction plays a very important role in the lives of not only female writers and readers, but also the industry. 

No. 1 – Women’s Fiction is more than just “beach reads”

Women’s Fiction is first and foremost stories surrounding the female experience. Yes, there is a large market for “beach reads” – your romcoms and self-discovery stories with lighter subject matter. However, there are also books that are so devastatingly profound and raw that make you feel ‘seen’ for the first time. 

Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You comes to mind. Not only is her writing absolutely stunning, but the way she captures the human experience in relationship to identity, family, society, and everything in between, leaves you in tears. 

Another brilliant example is Halsey Street by Naima Coster, who captures the complexity of healing internal and familial wounds against a backdrop of cultural and economic clashes and the harm gentrification causes. 

There’s also swaths of complex stories that handle the topics we don’t want to talk about with incredible humor while maintaining brutal honesty about the characters’ experience. 

Here, I’m drawn to almost anything written by Liane Moriary. Summer Heacock’s The Awkward Path To Getting Lucky is also on my list here. It handles the constant pull between personal and professional while also dealing with the painful issue of vaginismus. 

No. 2 – There’s nothing wrong with “beach reads” 

No one can read devastating story after devastating story and maintain any kind of sanity. Sometimes, you really do just need something to make you laugh and leave you feeling empowered when you turn that last page. 

Everyone knows Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding – this is one such book. For those of us with body conscious issues, this was one of those stories where you could laugh about the frustrations while also cheer on a woman who is determined to feel sexy regardless. 

A more recent example is Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Olephant Is Completely Fine. Eleanor is one of those MC’s that you connect with immediately. She’s intelligent, lacks a filter, and is completely fine… that is until she realizes she’s not. The book takes you through her journey of self-realization and rediscovery. 

No. 3 – Women’s Fiction has done some of most innovative genre bending I’ve ever read

Because the focus is on the character’s experience, it clears the path for crossing genre lines strictly maintained by the rest of the industry. Historical romance with time travel? Yup! Magical Realism, Romance, and Science Fiction? Definitely! Cross-generational mother-daughter stories with different historical settings and plenty of magic to go around? I’ll escort you to the shelf. 

To give you titles and authors to the above examples… 

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon 

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

The unfortunate reason Women’s Fiction tends to make me flinch…

Here’s the thing about these incredible genre-bending books… they aren’t marketed well. Mostly, because I don’t think the industry has figured out how to market them just yet. With the exception of Outlander because of its recent success with its TV show, these little nuggets of literary innovation get lost amongst the shelves. As a reader, you have to DIG to find them. 

And that’s the frustrating bit of Women’s Fiction. It allows this brilliant space for all these incredible stories, but because you have such a wide range to choose from as a reader, finding what you need is so incredibly difficult. You might be looking for something like Anders’ unique flavor of fiction, but after picking up twelve different titles in the vein of Moriarty or Honeyman, you give up and walk away without buying anything. 

The impact of this? Publishers are less likely to invest in books like Anders or Morgan because “the numbers say there’s no market for it.” 

I know this blog post is getting super long, so I’ll finish with this… Support your female authors. There are so many brilliant novels written by talented, intelligent storytellers shelved in and out of Women’s Fiction. I’ve pasted a few more authors to check out below. 

V.E. Schwab

N.K. Jemisin

Amal El-Mohtar

J.L. Gribble

Karin Slaughter

Lori M. Lee

Jasmine Warga

Elicia Hyder

Let me know who your favorite female authors are in the comments! Load up my TBR! 

Much love.
– Bree

Short Story: Brownie takes on Tag-a-longs

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a short story featured on another blog last October.

Which was a lie… it was October 2017… because I can’t time well I guess.

Anyhoo, my lovely friend, Melanie, put together this month of creature features leading up to Halloween, and (because I’m a goon) I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share one of my favorite mythological creatures: the Brownie.

I’m relatively obsessed with mythology in general (sorting out Celtic/Irish/Germanic is an on-going battle since the Romans destroyed so much of those ancient cultures, grr), but for whatever reason, the creature that brings me the most joy is the British Brownie, which is somewhat adjacent to goblins or fairies (specifically house elves – think Dobby in Harry Potter).

But before I ramble on too much, here’s what happens when a brownie faces off against Girl Scouts…


Brownie takes on Tag-a-longs

Brownies are one of those few creatures that maintain a benevolent relationship with humans. They attach themselves to homes and to families and take pride in taking care of both. From cleaning to baking, Brownies take responsibility, so when someone or something invades their space, they tend to go a little crazy.

Enter Barry. Barry the Brownie has been with the same family for years, and nothing has ever swayed his confidence in them… until he returned from the grocery store one day to find a box of cookies sitting open on the counter.

As you can imagine, Barry struggled with this. His family didn’t buy cookies. He baked them. He’d always baked them. There was no need to buy pre-made pre-packaged cookies. So he set the bag of groceries down and picked up the box. At the top was the logo of his enemy: Girl Scouts. Every year, those little girls in their brown sashes and gappy smiles knocked on the door selling their blasphemous goods. Usually, Barry’s there to send them packing. But they must have come while he was out. Evil little demons.

He turned the red box over in his hands. Tagalongs. The box had already been opened, so someone in his family had already tasted non-Barry baked goods. Irritation reddened his cheeks as Barry pulled the plastic wrapped tin out. Three cookies were missing. Three! Who’d betrayed him? Was it Frank? Frank never appreciated the work Barry did. It was probably Frank.

Barry opened the trashcan to throw the box inside, but curiosity stopped him. Well it wasn’t so much curiosity as it was hubris. He needed to be 100% positive that his baking was superior, so he took out a Tagalong and bit into it.

The box dropped from his hand. The cookie was delicious. Peanut butter. Chocolate. A tiny touch of buttery shortbread cookie. It was perfect. And Barry hadn’t made them.

Panicked, Barry rushed to the cabinet and took out everything he though he would need – peanut butter, butter, flour, sugar, eggs, chocolate – and began experimenting. He started with the shortbread cookie because he knew shortbread. But once he had to turn his attention to the peanut butter filling, that’s when things took an unfortunate turn. Over and over again, he mixed peanut butter with powdered sugar, peanut butter with granulated sugar, peanut butter with brown sugar. Nothing worked. Through the French doors off the kitchen was the family office. Barry stared at the computer a moment, then shook his head. No. Brownies don’t use Pinterest. Only humans resort to Pinterest. So he tried the filing again, returning to the first mixture of peanut butter and powdered sugar, added a touch of vanilla extract. Closer.

He swiped some of the filling onto each of the cookies and began to melt some chocolate on the stove. When he took it off, he went to dunk his first cookie and the filling separated under the heat. Barry hadn’t ever been violent, but he wanted to throw the bowl of chocolate at the wall. He restrained himself, put the cookies into the freezer, and tried his best to calm his simmering temper. He failed.

For ten whole minutes, he sat on the floor in front of the freezer, glaring at it, cursing the box of Girl Scout cookies that still sat on the counter. When the filling was finally set up, he dunked each cookie in the melted chocolate and set them out to dry.

Have you ever watched chocolate set up? No? Well, it’s the baker’s equivalent of watching paint dry. It’s useless, nonsensical, and Barry did it anyway. All the while, the red Tagalong box mocked him in his peripherals.

He kept his hands away from the chocolate (he didn’t want fingerprints on the cookies). But the wait was excruciating. Were his cookies better than the Girl Scouts? Or would he need to hang up his Brownie apron forever? Barry didn’t know what he could do outside of being a Brownie. Taking care of his human family home was his pride and his joy. Stupid Girl Scouts. Stupid delicious Tagalongs.

With the chocolate coating finally set, Barry picked up one of his cookies and took a bite. It was delicious. The buttery shortbread. The sweet peanut butter. He’d out done those evil Girl Scouts. He just knew he had. Still, he took another Tagalong from the package and bit in.

And then he lost it. The Tagalong was still superior. Screw impulse control. Barry threw the box. It hit the wall and cookies went flying, littering the yellow paint with spots of brown chocolate. Barry flinched at the mess, then realized he didn’t need to clean it up. It was no longer his job to. His family had replaced him with pre-made, pre-packaged witchery. So the flour bag went flying. Then the sugar. The chocolate chips. The carton of eggs. Everything sitting on the counters – sans his cookies – got thrown into the air.

A gasp stopped his tirade. Rebecca, the mother of the family, stood at the edge of the kitchen, eyes darting around, trying to take in the mess. Barry straightened himself, fixing his plaid vest and retying his moss green bow tie.

“Barry?” was all Rebecca said, looking for an explanation.

Barry pointed at the Tagalong box near her feet.

She sighed, picked up the box, and walked it over to the trash. A weight lifted from Barry’s shoulders. Rebecca hadn’t even checked to see if any cookies remained. She then turned to the tray of Barry’s cookies on the island, grabbed one and popped it into her mouth.

Barry waited in anticipation. Regardless of being replaced, he still ached for his family’s approval.

“These are delicious,” she said after swallowing.

“Not as good as Girl Scouts,” Barry scoffed.

“Is that the reason for,” Rebecca motioned her hand toward the rest of the kitchen, “all of this?”

Barry nodded.

Rebecca shook her head but said nothing as she went to the closet and retrieved the broom.

“I guess I’ll get my things,” Barry said, defeated.

“Now why would you do that?”

“You’ve replaced me with Girl Scouts.”

Rebecca laughed.

“You think this is funny? I’m being serious. You don’t appreciate me.”

“Oh Barry,” she began, putting the broom down. “No box of cookies could ever replace you.”

“But I failed.”

“How?”

“My cookies. They’re no good.”

Rebecca took hold of Barry’s hands. “Okay. One: you know that’s not true. And two: you’re family. Anything you make will be better than something bought simply because you made it.” She let go and walked to the office. She lifted a wrapped box from her desk drawer and handed it to him. “I was going to wait to give this to you next week on your anniversary with us, but I think now is a good time.”

Barry – not wanting to destroy the wrapping paper – glided his finger beneath each of the tape pieces and unfolded the wrapping from the box. A new digital kitchen scale rested in his hands, capable of reading both grams and ounces.

“I noticed your old one was fritzing the other day and thought you’d appreciate a new one.”

“So you’re not trying to replace me?”

Rebecca shook her head. “Of course not. Like I said, you’re family.”

Barry clutched the scale to his chest. “I’m sorry about the mess.”

Rebecca shrugged. “I worried when my coworker gave me that box to bring home.”

“So you didn’t buy them?”

“Nope.”

Barry looked around at the mess he made. “Sorry.”

“I tell you what: I won’t bring outside cookies home again if you promise to not jump to conclusions. Deal?”

All Barry’d wanted was his human family’s appreciation. That stupid red box had just burrowed beneath his skin and discredited everything he’d ever done for them. He hadn’t slowed down long enough to even consider how those cookies got there. Brownies weren’t exactly known for their rationality. Still, Barry nodded and helped Rebecca clean up the kitchen.

Moral of the story: if you’re lucky enough to house a Brownie, don’t bring home baked goods… especially not Girl Scout cookies.


Thanks for reading!

– Bree

Theatre, adulting & other nonsense

So… I’ve been up to a few things since last we spoke, dear internet. Mostly good, a little bad, and a shit ton in-between. Questions is where to start? 

Let’s go with theatre. Three musicals, one play, a revue, a showcase, and a mini-concert for Pride racked up my evenings and weekends. I had the pleasure of acting alongside some incredible people while learning plenty of new skills in the process. 

The highlight? Playing Wednesday in the Addams Family Musical at the Postal Playhouse in Le Mars. Not only did I get to use my [vocal] belt in a musical for the first time, but I also obtained my first experience applying prosthetics. 

IMG_1966

Thirteen hand-made bald caps later, I couldn’t be prouder of that show, especially the cast. We had a lot of high school students in Addams, most notably the actors playing Pugsley and Uncle Fester (pictured above). Our stage manager and make-up assistant director were also both high schoolers and they carried themselves with so much maturity – just incredibly impressive. 

The mini-concert I put on for OC Pride was the other performance highlight for my year. I can’t begin to express how grateful I was for the opportunity to perform during this weekend celebration (clip of “Wish That You Were Here” by Florence and the Machine below). In my corner of the country, homophobia and general bigotry run pretty rampant, so the ability to celebrate love and gender representation with some of the most beautiful souls I’ve met was an absolute blessing I’ll cherish forever. 

Moving on… since ya know… I kinda abandoned y’all for a year. I began working full-time again. I was given the opportunity to write for a local paper. I’d forgotten how much I loved journalism. Everyone has a story to tell and getting to tell those local stories was an utter joy. I’ll link some of my favorite assignments below. 

One million and counting

King says goodbye to LPD

Fire chief takes mental health program on the road

I have since been offered a job at another company doing more administrative work (journalism pays pennies). It’s been a better transition for the puppy. 

This past year has also seen a fair amount of travel. Two anime cons and one writers’ workshop and your girl is exhausted. I love cosplaying and fangirling as much as the next nerdfighter but I’m tapping out at four cosplay creations between Katsucon and Anime Midwest. Though I’m not gonna lie, cosplaying Aziraphale from Good Omens with my best friend as Crowley was definitely the highlight of my year. 

20190706_114708

And I launched a podcast! Today. My bestie, Melanie, and I launched “The Shiny Squirrel Podcast” today, July 15! Season 1, episode 1, can be found on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Podbean. We’ve also released an off-topic pod (normally accessible on our Patreon during the off-season) and an Anime Midwest special episode to celebrate the launch. 

Last but not least, I’ve kept writing (do I even have the option of quitting at this point?). I finished book one of the Aeon series [adult edit] earlier this year and sent it to beta readers. Now, I’m polishing the beastie for querying later this fall. I’ll have to do a complete separate post on this project’s evolution because otherwise you’ll be reading a novella-length blog post. 

Along with the novel, one short story was featured last October in another blogger’s Halloween series, and I’ve since applied for one anthology and plan to apply for another this week. I’m only mildly terrified, guys. Okay, super terrified but whatever. 

So what have y’all been up to? Hope 2019 is treating you well despite the psychotic political climate the US of A has managed to contort itself into. 

Much love!
Bree

 

Moving Forward Without Apology

Wow. It’s been a while, huh? 

As much as I want to apologize for my absence, I’m not going to. I’ve spent most of my life apologizing: for sneezing, for laughing too loud, for walking through a door ahead of someone, or even for the sound of my footsteps. 

This instinct isn’t uncommon, especially for women, but I’m realizing the internal implications of saying sorry means that I did something wrong. How is sneezing wrong? It’s a normal bodily function. Much like self-care has needed to become a normal practice for me, which is why I’m not going to apologize for my lack of posts. 

And though I do intend for this to still be a writing blog, it’s first and foremost mine, and apparently, self-discovery is as much a part of my writing journey as is learning how to avoid passive voice. 

In the time I’ve spent away from my blog, here are some of the more prominent pieces of my journey:

  1. I’m not writing YA anymore. My writing voice and the stories I’m drawn to just aren’t quite YA, and that’s okay.
  2. I love weightlifting. Picking weightlifting back up has probably been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. It’s an investment that has an almost immediate payoff in regards to strength gains. 
  3. I’m finally feeling like myself again. And this has a little to do with me reclaiming my body with #2, but mostly, I’ve stopped demonizing my mental health. The Sioux Falls VA has done an awesome job at finding a medication combination that works really well for me and their therapy has helped give me tools to reclaim my joy. 
  4. Finding community. None of the above would be possible without a support system. The friends I’ve found through writing and theatre have given me a place to stand and build self-worth on. 

All of this to say, the blog will be changing a little. Don’t worry, I’ll still rant about writerly things, but I also want to celebrate the things that make writing possible for me. 

Thanks for sticking with me!
– Bree

Happy Book Birthday to J.L. Gribble!

Guys, I am SO EXCITED to help launch the third book in the Steel Empires series, STEEL BLOOD. I had the privilege of getting to know the author J.L. Gribble during the 2014 NaNoWriMo when she was finishing up the draft of the second book in this amazing fantasy series. Since then, the first book in the series, STEEL VICTORY, has received some glorious praise from Publishers Weekly:

“The innovative combination of genres is appealing, and Gribble’s multiple story lines—invasion, anti-creature bias, and intercity politics—mesh very well together….This is a solid first effort that sets the stage for more installments in an intriguing world with complex characters.” – Publishers Weekly, May 2015

Book 2, STEEL MAGIC, also received a few nods:

“Gribble brings the newest generation to the forefront with an adventure reminiscent of Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series.” – Library Journal, June 2016

Along with the delightful blend of the paranormal, apocalyptic, and alternative history genres, the characters in this series have such profound bonds with each other that it’s hard not to fall in love with each and every one of them. From Victory, the centuries-old vampire who just wants to enjoy her retirement from being a mercenary, to Kane, the warrior-mage who would do anything for those he cares about, these are characters whose stories you want to know. Hell, I didn’t even mention my personal favorite, Mikelos, the daywalker with a quick wit that certainly causes most of his trouble.

But without further ado, here’s STEEL BLOOD…

Steel-Blood-Jacket.inddAs her children begin lives of their own, Victory struggles with the loneliness of an empty nest. Just when the city of Limani could not seem smaller, an old friend requests that she come out of retirement for one final mercenary contract—to bodyguard his granddaughter, a princess of the Qin Empire.

For the first time in a century, the Qin and British Empires are reopening diplomatic relations. Alongside the British delegation, Victory and her daywalker Mikelos arrive in the Qin colony city of Jiang Yi Yue. As the Qin weredragons and British werewolves take careful steps toward a lasting peace between their people, a connection between the Qin princess and a British nobleman throw everyone’s plans in disarray.

Meanwhile, a third faction stalks the city under the cover of darkness.

This is not a typical romance. It’s a good thing Victory is not a typical vampire.

STEEL BLOOD is available online through the publisher, Amazon, and Barnes & Nobles.

If you haven’t picked up this series yet, you can find STEEL VICTORY, here. ENJOY! Did you not see the weredragons?! 


Gribble photo colorBy day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. She is currently working on the Steel Empires series for Dog Star Books, the science-fiction/adventure imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Previously, she was an editor for the Far Worlds anthology.

Gribble studied English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She received her Master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where her debut novel Steel Victory was her thesis for the program.

She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats. Find her online (www.jlgribble.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jlgribblewriter), and on Twitter and Instagram (@hannaedits).