Trash or Treasure?

I’ve got some book winners to announce in just a bit. But first, let me tell you about my Saturday. You’re stuck hearing about it, so you might as well nod your head as if you really wanted to hear about it—or at least part of it. Anyway, I attended an ugly Christmas sweater party at my pastor’s house. It was an eye-opening experience. I wore this little number.

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My phone remained in my purse, however, so I can’t supply photos of the other sweaters. Perhaps that’s for the best. Some industrious individuals threaded Christmas lights through their sweaters in the hope of gaining one of three prizes. The guy who won the “most authentically ugly” prize had pinned Christmas potholders (one with teddy bears in Santa hats) to a sweater. Pretty much everyone voted for him. No one else stood a chance. The winner of the “most crafty” sweater was a person wearing a tree skirt and a sweater with tiny Christmas lights sewn into it. Again, a landslide victory. The third prize was a “Scrooge” prize for the person who refused to wear a Christmas sweater! (Wish I’d thought of that!)

I hadn’t thought to “soup up” my sweater with Christmas lights, believing that it could stand on its own merit. After all, it had gained me several “You’ve come to the right place in that” nods at the party. Yet someone had given me the sweater, which once belonged to her mother-in-law. It’s not the kind of sweater I usually wear, except to events like this. Consequently, it resides at the back of my closet until the next party rolls around.

When I arrived home, intending to take a photo of the sweater to show my sister-in-law, I took a closer look at it. It’s very neatly stitched—not a thread out of place. Granted, it has snowmen and birdhouses. But the snowmen are smiling at least. Perhaps it isn’t quite so bad. Still, I can’t help thinking of this old adage:

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And of course, this one:

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The flipside—ugliness—is likewise subjective.

Someone put love and attention into designing that sweater. Someone else liked it enough to buy it. One woman’s treasure . . .

As I thought about the sweater and my response to it, I thought about the characters in my novel. Will someone else besides me treasure them? Or will they be roundly dismissed and labeled as “ugly” or “ludicrous” by others as cavalierly as I judged that sweater?

It gives you something to think about, doesn’t it? If you’ve spent time on Goodreads, you know how subjective and cruel some reviewers can be. Some take pleasure in being vicious, under the mistaken belief that they’ll be perceived as smarter than the author. But a person who really is smarter doesn’t have to put someone else down to prove that.

Someone wise once told me that worrying about what someone may or may not think is a waste of time. A better use of my time is to spend it in a more enjoyable way: continuing to create stories I love about characters I love. That’s the only outcome I can control.

You’ve been patient long enough, so let’s move on to the winners of A Gift of Shadows by Stephanie Stamm and Curse of the Dark Wind by Charles Yallowitz. (See interviews here and here.)

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Thanks to the random number generator, which has earned my love . . .

The winner of a paperback of A Gift of Shadows is . . .

Sue Archer!

The winner of an e-book of A Gift of Shadows is . . .

Celine!

The winner of another e-book of A Gift of Shadows is . . .

Laura Sibson!

The winner of an e-book of Curse of the Dark Wind is . . .

Andra Watkins!

Winners please comment to confirm below. Celine, please provide an email address. E-book winners, please specify which format you need. Thanks again for commenting!

Check This Out: A Gift of Shadows

Welcome back to the blog where my guest today is the très fabuleuse Stephanie Stamm. She’s here to talk about A Gift of Shadows, book 2 of her Light-Bringer trilogy, which launches today!

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Woot! Here’s a synopsis:

shadows_promoSome Gifts come in Dark packages.

The Making gave her wings, but two months later, Lucky’s Gift has yet to appear. When it finally does, she’s in Lilith’s Dark world, and the Gift comes as a deadly power that causes Lucky to question everything she thinks she knows about herself. Her only support is her boyfriend’s brother. While Lucky struggles with her Gift and her feelings for Kev, tensions escalate between Dark and Light, and the barriers between worlds start to fail. Can Lucky and the Fallen find their way through the deepening shadows?

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Jordie received a dark package and wonders if his Gift is in it. Or is this just a gift?

Um, moving on, isn’t that cover très cool? But wait. There’s more. You can have this very book, thanks to a giveaway I’ll mention after I talk with Stephanie.

Happy-Release-DayEl Space: Happy Release Day! Though you’ve been on the blog before, I still have to ask you to supply four quick facts about yourself.
Stephanie: I can pretty much live on different kinds of soup during the winter.
I’ve never been able to write a fast first draft without editing as I go.
I’m fascinated with psychology, spirituality, and the inner journey.
I get cranky when I’m too busy to have time to read fiction.

El Space: Tell us about this next part of Lucky’s journey. Nonspoilery of course. 🙂 How has Lucky grown?
Stephanie: Lucky has gotten stronger, tougher. She’s impatient to learn more. She has more agency. In the first book, she was more reactive, doing what she had to in response to what happened around her and to her. In A Gift of Shadows, she acts as well as reacts and makes more independent choices, some of which cause problems for her.

El Space: How has your world expanded in this book?
Stephanie: Lucky spends some time in Lilith’s world in this book. There, she learns more about Lilith and Luil and makes some friends and some enemies. Kev gets to explore more of the Dark and Light Realms. Some events still take place in Chicago, but the larger world Lucky now knows she’s a part of starts impacting the city as well.

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El Space: This is the middle book of your trilogy. What did you find challenging about writing a bridge book?
Stephanie: Recapping enough of the first book to refresh the reader’s memory without restating too much, and at the same time setting up for problems to come in the third book, while still wrapping up enough to give a sense of an ending. It really was a challenge. Whenever I found myself struggling, I took comfort in the comments I’ve read or heard from other trilogy authors about the difficulty of writing that middle book.

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El Space: In an interview with urban fantasy authors Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Vaughn here, the interviewer asked them to respond to the accusation that women are destroying science fiction and fantasy. How would you respond to that allegation? Remarks like that make my blood boil, by the way.
Stephanie: I’m picturing a “No Girls Allowed” sign tacked on a tree house.

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I’m not sure what it even means to “destroy” a genre. I would assume the people who make those accusations are referring to the growth of paranormal romance novels. I would call that an expansion of the urban fantasy genre, not a destruction of it. And the popular novelists in both urban fantasy and paranormal romance have both male and female fans.

men-vs-womenSome male writers have long complained that women can’t write science fiction—leading to the distinction between “hard” and “soft” SF, a not-so-subtle gendering through adjectives. The claim that women are destroying science fiction and fantasy is just a continuation of that argument, and it rests on an unquestioned evaluation of the “male” or “hard” version of SF as somehow better than so-called “soft” SF. The supporters of that claim seem to me to be fearfully clinging to their particular idea of what the genres can or should be, instead of allowing those genres to encompass whatever authors can bring to them. Frankly, I don’t even understand how one genre—or sub-genre—can be threatened by another. Each sub-genre will have its own readers and fans, some of which may cross over to the other. Seems like a win-win to me.

Incidentally, I loved Kelley Armstrong’s YA Darkness Rising series.

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Dont Stereotype MeEl Space: I agree with you! What stereotypes, if any, bother you in sci-fi/fantasy? How does your series challenge those stereotypes?
Stephanie: I’m bothered by the helpless or over-sexualized female. That’s changed in a lot of contemporary writing, with the kickass heroine becoming more of a norm. While the strength of that kickass heroine is a move forward, she can become a female version of the male idea of toughness, where any show of vulnerability is “feminine” or “weak.” The willingness to be vulnerable actually exhibits a different kind of strength. I tried to write female characters who are both tough and vulnerable. And I tried to write male characters who are both as well.

I’m also troubled by female characters who see other females as rivals instead of friends. I wanted to show strong female friendships in this book too. Romance is more central in Shadows than it was in Wings, but those female friendships are also very important.

El Space: What’s next after this series for you?
Stephanie: I’m incubating the seeds of a standalone fantasy novel based on figures from two different ancient religious traditions. I’ve got some research to do to figure out exactly where that book could go and how it will be shaped.

I also want to spend some time working on poetry, polishing some existing poems for submission and writing new ones.

Thanks, Stephanie, for visiting! You’re always welcome.

And thank you to all who dropped by. Since you’re here, check out this book trailer for A Gift of Shadows:

Looking for Stephanie? Look for her at her website and on Facebook. A Gift of Shadows is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. Also, the eBook for A Gift of Wings is on sale for $0.99 to celebrate the holidays and the release of Shadows. You can get A Gift of Wings at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

You can be entered in the drawing to win one of two prizes Stephanie is offering—a paperback or an eBook of A Gift of Shadows—just by commenting below. And just because Christmas is around the corner, I’m offering a second eBook of A Gift of Shadows to a commenter. If you like, share with us your favorite female science fiction or fantasy author. I’ll start with some of my favorites: Lois McMaster Bujold, Juliet Marillier, Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, and Robin McKinley. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, December 16.

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A Gift of Shadows has the Supervillain Seal of Approval.

A Gift of Shadows cover courtesy of Stephanie Stamm. The Rising cover from Goodreads. Book release image from mywrittenromance.com. Books from bellschool.org. No girls sign from whispermumstheword.com. Men vs. women sign from diniprathivi.wordpress.com. Christmas ornaments from ezdecorating.blogspot.com.