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

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).

Beautiful People – March 2017 Edition

Every month, the incredible Paper Fury and Further Up and Further In host the BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE meme. It’s a meme consisting of ten questions geared toward helping writers dive further into their manuscripts and their characters.

I went back and forth on what project to use for this month’s Beautiful People Meme, especially given that next month is Camp NaNo. Do I keep going with the project I’m querying? Or play with the shiny new idea that is in a completely different universe to GUARDED (the querying MS) and the rest of the books in that series?

As much as I love the Aeons, I need to shelve that universe for a tidbit to let my mind switch over to a new/different fantasy universe. So let me introduce Teagan and McKenna, the MC’s for the shiny new idea.

No. 1 – What’s their favourite book/movie/play/etc.?
If Teagan and McKenna were in our world, they’d probably watch the TV show Supernatural religiously. They’d both be Dean girls, but both would secretly prefer Sam.

Supernatural funny face.gif

I mean, how could you not love those faces?

No. 2 – Is there anything they regret doing?
Ummm. Honestly, these two aren’t really “regretful” types. Teagan thinks regrets are a waste of time. The only time McKenna has regrets is when she doesn’t do something.

No. 3 – If they were sick or wounded, who would take care of them and how?
If McKenna gets sick or wounded, she has three people who come to her aid: Teagan, their caretaker Gareth, and her friend Raum. For Teagan, it’s McKenna and Gareth. Physical wounds are easy enough to deal with (yay magic). But if they don’t expel enough of their magical energy, their bodies will seize up on them. If they don’t stay physical throughout the episode, there could be long-lasting damage. So Raum is more than happy to slap the girls around a bit if it will keep them from letting their latent magic eat away at their nervous system… because violence is always the answer, kids. (KIDDING!)

No. 4 – Is there an object they can’t bear to part with and why?Teagan's comb
For Teagan, it’s her mother’s hair comb. It’s bronze and has decorative spikes. The hair comb was passed down from high priestess to high priestess. Teagan was on the fast track to inherit it before the temple was destroyed.

McKenna earlingFor McKenna, it’s her acolyte earring. When an acolyte begins honing their magic, they’re gifted an earring signaling their growth. McKenna had been so young when the temple was destroyed, so the earring is her only tangible memory of those days.

No. 5 – What are 5 ways to win their heart (or friendship)?
Teagan: Integrity, Intelligence, Stealth, Snark, Selflessness.
McKenna: Whimsy, Humor, Snark, Adrenaline, anything related to flying.

No. 6 – Describe a typical outfit for them from top to bottom.

steampunk_gal_by_harpyqueen-d5gmd5l

Picture curtesy of HarpyQueen on Deviantart

The aesthetic of this fantasy world is very steampunk in nature, so the fashion is multilayered and complex and every piece of garment would have a purpose.

Shoes: Laced riding boots. They’re durable, fairly comfortable, and way more easy to move around in than the healed shoes worn by the upper class.

Tights: The girls (and most of their class) wear leggings instead of the thin tights the women of the upper class do. Leggings offer more coverage and warmth when their skirts are pulled up for easier movement.

Skirts: If the girls are wearing skirts, they usually have a ribbon sewn into the inside that they can pull up and knot so the front of the skirt is hiked up out of the way of their movement. The only time the skirt is actually down completely is when they have to deal with the upper class. Having such a short skirt is much frowned upon for the richer part of the population.

Shirts: Usually something linen with billowy sleeves. Often cream in color from lack of dyes. Sometimes the girls will embroider the lapel or the cuffs… if they’re bored.

Corsets: This is where the girls usually get creative. Most of their corsets are constructed with leather, but each has unique metal detailing depending on what they’re planning that day. McKenna likes the one with the retractable mini-grappling hook attached to the back. Sure, it’s a bitch to put on, what with the harness straps you have to step through before you even start lacing the corset, but it’s super useful. Teagan usually goes for the corsets she’s detailed with metal loops to which she can tie different items, ie. tools, herb pouches, coin purses.

Jackets: Sometimes leather, sometimes cloth, but always dark in color. Dark coats tend to let the girls disappear a tad easier than the brightly colored ones of the upper class.

Accessories: Teagan has a monocle, a fact that I’m kinda in love with. It’s enchanted to act as a kind of security footage feed. She and McKenna run multiple ‘businesses’ and the monocle lets Teagan know where she needs to be and when. Each of the girls also have a cuff bracelet that measures how much excess magical energy they need to burn off.

McKenna loves bowler hats. She wears one most days. Unlike everything else, they have no use other than to sate McKenna’s love for them.

No. 7 – What’s their favorite type of weather?
Because the city is often smothered by smog, both girls ache for clear, sunshiny weather.

Supernatural on a tandem bike.gif

No. 8 – What’s the worst fight they’ve ever been in?
I have a feeling I’m about to find out with the drafting process. I already know these two are going to rip the plot out of my hands, so I honestly don’t know what previous or future fights are going to come down the hatch for these two. I do know that when the temple of the old religion was dismantled, the girls had a hell of a time finding ‘normalcy’ after that, but as for how violent that ordeal actually was, I’m not 100% sure.

No. 9 – What names or nicknames have they been called throughout their life?
I’m a sucker for shortening names. McKenna often gets called ‘Mic’ by her closest friends and ‘closer friends.’ Teagan doesn’t really have a nickname. She does often get called ‘Minerva’ by some of their village elderly, at least the ones who were devout patrons of the temple. Minerva was the temple’s high priestess and Teagan’s mother. The older Teagan gets, the more she resembles Minerva.

No. 10 – What makes their heart feel alive?
Teagan lives for the days she gets to escape the floating city to the forest beyond the city’s shadow. The air is clean, the colors are vibrant, and there isn’t an Upper (person from the upper class) in sight.

Meanwhile, McKenna lives for the moments right after she escapes trouble. Her blood is pumping, her chest heaving, and her falling adrenaline makes her practically gleeful because she was able to get away with whatever flavor of mischief she chose that day.

Supernatural Batman.gif

If McKenna knew this reference, she’d use it… after every incident of mischief… Every. Single. One.

So those are the MC’s for my next project. I’m excited to jump into their world and play with this duo’s dynamic. Between the different character development, world building, and plotting I’ve been jotting down, it promises to be a wild ride. Steampunk, magic, and trouble. Could it get any better?

My Query Letter Will Be The Death Of Me

CLASSIFIEDS AD: Writer to sell soul for ability to write effective query letter

I wish I was kidding. Truly. But Dear Lord, am I a failure at writing summaries. I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read, webinars I’ve taken, critiques I’ve gotten, seminars I’ve attended in the past couple years, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t for the life of me succinctly and effectively put my characters’ story into a 250-word query letter.

Every time I rewrite the thing, I get two responses: 1) This is great! 2) This is confusing and needs a total rework.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Bree, this industry is subjective. You’re not going to please everyone.”

Right. Subjectivity. This makes up for about 10%. In my mind anyway. Maybe I’m not giving subjectivity enough credit, but when your inbox is filled with rejections (8 as of last week), you kinda have to take a step back and take a good hard look at your novel’s cover letter, especially when those 8 rejections came directly from the query, no partial/full requests.

Like I said above, I’ve rewritten that damned query letter multiple times, vetted it with critique-ers and forums. Every round just gets more confusing and my confidence has pretty much tanked as a result. I know this story isn’t unique. Rejection is a part of life when you decide to pursue this career path, but damn, am I tired.

I love my story. I want an agent/editor who loves it as much as I do. So I’m totally willing to wait for “the one.” But I’m at that point where I feel like my inability to sell my ideas effectively are destroying my chances of finding “the one.”

I’ve heard the argument, “Well why don’t you just self-publish?” And though I completely respect the writers who do take that leap to self-pub, that’s not something I want for my writing-journey. I don’t just want to BE published, I want to BE WORTHY of publishing. I want an agent and editor who is going to push me to be better than I can be on my own, to push me to make my stories greater than I can on my own. I recognize that I have a limited amount of knowledge/ability to objectively judge my own work and crave that expert who’s going to take a red pen and DESTROY my writing [so I can make it better].

And that’s why I will continue to revise that evil query letter and continue submitting. If you’re trudging through the query trenches, I hope that you’ll do the same.

Good luck and best wishes in your writing/publishing journeys, Friends. I’d love to hear your stories down below!

– B