NEW POEM: Sapphics and Werewolves and Yearning, oh my!

I’ve got a hot-off-the-press publishing update for you all today! The marvelous Star*Line recently published “Darker Urges Still”, a piece about feral women, monstrous appetites, and desires so tender they feel like violence. I affectionately refer to this one as my “lesbian werewolf poem”, and it’s a good, medicinal tonic of wildness for us while we’re all cooped up indoors.

I spent much of last winter and fall working on poems, most of which you can spy over on my instagram, but this one was special. I excavated a long of tender, tangled feelings for this one and put a lot of myself into it. This one deserved a more formal home.

Grab your copy to read the whole piece, along with other great S/FF poems! I’ve included a little teaser below for your hungry eyes. Enjoy!

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Worldbuilding with Tarot!

So pleased to share this essay I wrote for The Stellar Beacon: “Forging Fortunes: Tarot as a Woldbuilding and Storytelling Tool”! I was able to dig my fingers into two of my favorite subjects, tarot and writing, and discuss how I used the tarot to plot the character arcs of the newest book in my Odd Spirits universe.

I discuss the cultural trend towards alternative spirituality, break down how I use tarot in my character builds and outlining work, and share tarot exercises that can benefit any worldbuilder; no experience or woo-woo streak necessary.

Enjoy this tasty little teaser, and then head on over to The Stellar Beacon to get your copy!

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VIRTUAL Q&A: Romancing the Gothic

I’m happy to announce that I’m going to be dropping into the amazing (and free!) Romancing the Gothic literature course as a guest speaker next Thursday April 30th at 7pm London time!

Dr. Sam is an amazing wellspring of spooky book knowledge and I’m so excited to chat about queering fairytales, writing ROBBERGIRL, and the modern gothic movement with her class. There will also be a Q&A for me at the end, so bring any burning questions or meandering musings.

Robbergirl Class Spot

Interested parties can DM the professor on Twitter directly so get looped into the private Zoom room, or you cansign up using this interest form for the course! Just specify that you’ll be attending for the Robbergirl Thursday book group! You’re free to participate in class discussion or just sit back and enjoy the chat.

Virtual events have been such a wonderful  way to connect with readers since my in-person events have been cancelled for the year. All are welcome in the class; it’s a very low-pressure supportive environment. Looking forward to meeting you!

The UNSPEAKABLE Queer Gothic Anthology is Here! (And FREE in ebook!)

I’m so thrilled to announce the publication of this amazing anthology of spooky, swoony, and spine-tingling stories, collected by the wonderful Celine Frohn of Nyx Publishing.

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“Unspeakable contains eighteen Gothic tales with uncanny twists and characters that creep under your skin. Its stories feature sapphic ghosts, terrifying creatures of the sea, and haunted houses concealing their own secrets. Whether you’re looking for your non-binary knight in shining armour or a poly family to murder with, Unspeakable showcases the best contemporary Gothic queer short fiction.”

My contribution is a tri-narrated, historical Dracula’s Brides retelling about running away to join an immortal poly murderfamily. It sprung directly from my love for B-rate action fantasy movies like Van Helsing and Dracula Untold, and my burning desire to make them gayer, more sapphic, more trans inclusive, and of course, sexier. I talked about why I identify with vampires and how to write a great short fiction piece over on The Gothic Bookworm’s blog, which you should definitely check out!

It’s a pleasure to be featured among so many talented writers, and to be edited by someone who is so enthusiastic about broadening access to queer literature (if you know of any schools who may want a copy, get in touch!). In a characteristically generous gesture, Celine is offering FREE copies of the ebook through the Nyx shop with the code BOOKY100. A lot of people are feeling the financial pinch or stuck in quarantine right now, so let us hook you up with some free queer short fiction! A review on Goodreads or Amazon is a wonderful thank you, if you feel so inclined. There are also paperbacks and hardcovers for sale on Nyx’s website for those who prefer physical copies.

Feel free to pass the deal on to your friends, and happy reading! Stay spooky out there.

NYX PUBLISHING (code BOOKY100) // AMAZON // GOODREADS

 

ARC REVIEW: Mexican Gothic

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MEXICAN GOTHIC has my heart racing and my mind reeling, and I was absolutely spoiled to get an arc for review from author Silvia Moreno-Garcia at Boskone this year. It was one of my most anticipated books of 2020, and it did not disappoint.

Think Crimson Peak meets Get Out in the 1950’s Mexican countryside and you’re coming close to what makes this book so special. This book both loves and subverts classical Gothic tropes, infusing the familiar crumbling English manor home and looming handsome predator and whispers of family curses with a strong tonic of post-colonialist sensibilities. The writing is heady and lyrical, but the taut plot doesn’t get lost in the lovely, gloomy atmosphere.

This book will weave mystery and malice around you before you even know you’re in dancer, and the dark enchantment of manor High Place will get in your blood and never let you go. I loved heroine Noemi terribly, from her will to survive to her couture gowns to her double-edged wit. There’s a romance in here to root for as well, and women wrenching agency away from horrible men with bloody hands. The book won’t be widely available until June 30th, but you can pre-order right this second. So what are you waiting for?

CW: There’s a pervasive threat of sexual violence and attempted sexual assaults in this book, but they’re handled with an appropriate amount of both rage and grace, and I found the heroine and the ending to be a really satisfying kick in the teeth of patriarchy and sexual violence. But if it’s a delicate topic for you, proceed with discretion!

 

Nourished in Darkness: Tolerating Advent

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This article is re-posted from it’s original home on the Fratres Dei website! A big thank you to Fratres Dei for hosting my words onoce again and being my home base for spiritual direction for the last year.

Historically, I’ve chafed against Advent. As much as I love Christmas, It’s hard for me to observe a season devoted to light when darkness has so much to teach us, and gathering to celebrate prophecies fulfilled can feel hollow when there is still so much broken in the world. My memories of my two Decembers spent away at seminary are shadowy and fraught, despite punctuating moments of joy. Whether I was cramming for exams, trudging through the slush to chapel services, welcoming friends into my dorm room for tarot readings, or riding the train to my chaplaincy internship, I was followed by a creeping sense of isolation.

Did I really have a place at the Advent feast when my eyes and heart were so drawn to everything wild and magic outside the walls of the church? Was this the year I would realize I had wandered too far from tradition to call Christianity home anymore? And how could we celebrate God coming into the world in flesh when we know the story ends with Him leaving again?

My winters are no longer quite so fraught. I’ve given up worrying over whether or not I’m orthodox enough for the label “Christian”, and I’ve worked hard to let go of anxiety around what other people think of my and my spirituality. My understanding of sacred time is no longer shackled to my understanding of linear time, which has eased my anxiety around the Christmas story and allowed me to see it as part of an eternal, cyclical narrative. But as the air gets colder and the veil gets thinner, the angst of being a creature forever caught between the sacred and the profane, the esoteric and the ecclesial, can resurface. I often end up feeling like a guest in my own faith tradition, like an eccentric aunt welcome at Christmas dinner so long as she doesn’t give the children any strange ideas.

But this year, Advent arrived at my door like an old friend, eyes soft with the sadness of going so long between visits, arms bearing brandy and blessings. It found me weary from an emotional month moving house, starting a new job, and holding onto relationships by threads, and something inside me knew intuitively to open the door wide. Or maybe not something inside me, maybe it was all of me. Maybe my body knew that Advent promises rest and reflection in the comforting glow of Christmas lights, and my body knew how badly she needs that right now.

I’m finding God everywhere lately; in candles and dark nights and snowstorms and tarot cards and the heart-bruising work of loving other people. The unifying factor between all those little revelations is the way in which I have let my body lead. I draw near to what nourishes and take a few steps back from what makes me feel tense, tight, panicked, or disoriented. In seeking a sense of holistic balance in my life, I’m seeking balance in a very physical way as well; putting myself into surroundings and interacting with people that make me feel steady on my own two feet. In previous Decembers, my mind had plenty to keep it occupied and worried and whirring. This December, I let my body follow the contours of the Advent season at her own pace, without cross-examining her motives or beliefs. There’s no difference between listening to the little twinge in my chest that tells me to hand a couple of dollars to the carolers on the corner or savor my tea and the tugging sensation of being drawn to sit in front of the Christmas tree as a little girl and think on Jesus. The end result is a much gentler, reflective, and enchanted Advent experience.

For the first time in years, I feel secure enough in my spiritual path to simply experience the season. I don’t crave the acceptance of others because I have done my shadow work, followed my signs, and built my own home where loved ones can find spiritual healing and rest.

This year, I toast the ancient darkness of Yule and the illumination that bursts forth in the here-but-not-yet of Christ’s coming. The wheel turns, the cards fall, magic stirs beneath the earth thick as a river of blood, and the fire at the heart of Christmas burns and burns but is not consumed. And I, for my part, am at peace.

Where will listening to the impulses of your body and spirit lead you this Advent season? Here are some ideas.

Personal Branding as an Act of Authenticity

As an author on social media, a content creator, brand consultant, and a digital marketing specialist, I get asked the same question pretty frequently: “how do you brand yourself?” This broad, sweeping question usually has some other smaller questions nestled within, like “how exactly did you decide how to present yourself online”, “how do you stick to such a strong aesthetic sense across platforms”, or “how do I do what you do without feeling fake about it?”

I’ve condensed my varied responses down into one article based on my own experiences that I hope will help people integrate their own values and sense of self into a dynamic, authentic personal brand that others can connect to. This isn’t so much of a quick-and-dirty-social-media-hacks guide as it is a philosophy of personal branding in the internet age, and a discussion of my own strategy for content creation.

Cultural Context

Let me start by saying that “personal brand” is a concept that is being pushed hard right now on people, even very young ones. We live in a society where its not only possible but encouraged to curate your online presence into a recognizable essence, often with the unspoken aim of getting people to like and trust you so that someday they can invest in you financially or pick you out of the crowd for a job or project. This is not an inherently bad thing, and can be very fun and useful if leveraged in a healthy way! But it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you need to brand yourself to exist and that you need to live up to the color-coded, curated, narratively unified version of yourself that exists online.

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Suggested Reading

Before I continue I want to direct you to two amazing video essays about this issue, Lindsay Ellis’ essay on the way creators manufacture authenticity, and Natalie Wynn’s Ted Talk on how performing a hyper-stylized versions of different philosophical opinions on her Youtube channel have helped her protect herself from as much harm as possible. They’ve both been really helpful to me in A.) branding myself and B.) learning to see myself as separate from my “brand”. Let’s continue.

Creator Identity

I am a creator in the age of the internet. To be specific, I am an author and a poet and occasionally a public theologian. For me, my ~aesthetic~ is yes, a way to express myself, but it’s also the way I let potential readers get to know me, my vibe, and my writing. All of this serves a purpose, so that when I announce I have a new book out, my audience already like and trust me enough to buy it, and they already have a sense, however nebulous, of what they’re getting into. I hope this doesn’t sound callous; I have a very meaningful intimate relationship with my readers that I see as having spiritual value, but I also know what I’m doing when I post selfies or chat posts that go with the witch-saint-loving aunt thing I have going on Twitter of Instagram. And I think that people who aren’t trying to connect the right people with what they have to sell, artistically or in terms of services or otherwise, have to worry about branding a lot less.

I’ve been maintaining a social media presence as a writer for almost ten years now, and my brand has become more streamlined as I have grown into myself as an adult woman. I love this woman and respect her enough to know that she may change tastes and change her voice as she ages, and that’s fine too, but one thing that I’ve been moving towards in my mid-twenties is having what I call a “partially opaque” brand.

Opacity

A non-opaque brand is one of total messy off-the-cuff realness with almost no boundaries between creator and fan (Amanda Palmer does this well) and a totally opaque brand is put forward by a person who seems so unified, so separate, so enigmatic, that the lines between creator and fans are quite stark (think Donna Tartt). I used to have pretty much the same aesthetic that I have now but a brand that was almost entirely non-opaque; I posted my feelings and opinions on everything, talked openly about every single update to my religious, mental health, sex, and social life, and was 100% accessible at all times to readers. In an effort to protect my time, energy, privacy, and art as I’ve grown, I’ve learned to have more boundaries, but I still post selfies and life updates (generally with a bit of an ~aesthetic~ veneer but not always) and encourage people to ask me  questions because being warm and accessible and loving is important to me. It is, additionally, part of my brand. 100% opacity is not right for me because I want to be able to show up at book cons and hug fans and answer life advice asks and be honest about things like burnout or spiritual doubt or personal branding (how’s that for meta). I think if you are a creator on the internet it is very important to decide from the get go how opaque you want your brand to be.

For me, adding more opacity helped me distinguish my own life and value from what people on the internet thought of my work or my opinions, and it helped me to stop giving an excess of energy to places where I wasn’t getting it back. Being a bit more of a mystery at times has opened up space in my life for leisure and getting back in touch with who I am when the lights go down and I am no longer on a virtual stage.

The Fragmented Self

No one out here, not even the most deliriously aesthetic dark academia blogger with a watertight color scheme, is just one thing. When we brand ourselves (and yes it can be an intimate act of connection and self-revelation when done right) we bring forward things about ourselves that are important to us and have narrative cohesion. When I do branding consultations for small businesses like Fratres Dei spiritual direction, we do long self-exploratory sessions to determine which facets to bring into the light. But all of us contain multitudes and oftetimes our lives don’t have the sense of narrative cohesion the internet thrives on. Sometimes we can leverage that (I learned early on that there was no hiding my love of traditional religion and of experimental esoterica, my heavily spiritual life and my wildly doubtful faith. They were already so present in my writing that I stopped trying to hide it and Lo and behold I found the right readers) and sometimes we can’t, and that’s okay.

I suggest locking on to the things about yourself that you feel are most essential and have the most vitality, and then putting them into conversation with each other and trying to find connections. If there are ones that don’t connect to the others, that’s lovely, that’s a holy thing, but it may not belong in your online personal branding. Maybe that’s a private thing for now to be enjoyed between you and loved ones, to germinate until it can find a place in your public life, or to stay blessedly secret.

My advice? Always leave a part of yourself at the end of the day for yourself. You don’t own this internet hellscape every ounce of you.

In summary, a successful brand is an authentic version of yourself, just a little bit more tailored, and part of that success is deciding up front how much of yourself you want to share with others.

FICTION REVIEW: A Choir of Lies

Welcome to September, goblins! Yesterday was publication day for one of the prettiest books of 2019, Alexandra Rowland’s A CHOIR OF LIES, which I was so happy to get my hands on an arc copy of. To celebrate, I’m bringing you all my review. Trust me, you’re going to want this one on your TBR.

Three years ago, Ylfing watched his master-Chant tear a nation apart with nothing but the words on his tongue. Now Ylfing is all alone in a new realm, brokenhearted and grieving—but a Chant in his own right, employed as a translator to a wealthy merchant of luxury goods, Sterre de Waeyer. But Ylfing has been struggling to come to terms with what his master did, with the audiences he’s been alienated from, and with the stories he can no longer trust himself to tell.

That is, until Ylfing’s employer finds out what he is, what he does, and what he knows. At Sterre’s command, Ylfing begins telling stories once more, fanning the city into a mania for a few shipments of an exotic flower. The prices skyrocket, but when disaster looms, Ylfing must face what he has done and decide who he wants to be: a man who walks away and lets the city shatter, as his master did? Or will he embrace the power of story to save ten thousand lives?

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This is a gem of a book full of grit-teeth, open-eyed hope in humans’ ability to pull themselves up off the ground and do the right thing, even when the chips are down. It’s also full of snarky storytelling rap battles, tulip mania, whirling auction houses, lies that catch fire and almost take the teller down with them, and some grade A flirting. I’m so pleased to have gotten an ARC for review.

I loved so much about this book. I loved the slow unraveling of half-forgotten myths, the stories from faraway places dispersed throughout, the crowded canal city where our sweet, sensitive protagonist Ylfing finds himself living. Tender, introspection male protagonists are in short supply in any genre, but Ylfing is so wonderful and richly drawn. The strong, vibrant, morally complex middle aged women he finds himself surrounded by gave me life, and I fell in love with his problematic, smooth-talking, hedonist beau.

I’m not usually a fan of second world fantasy; one look at a string of fantasy place names and proper nouns and my eyes start to glaze over. But Rowland has pulled off a very clever magic trick here in making a complex, detailed fantasy world feel cozy and folkloric. They do this by feeding the audience world-building in tiny, tasty bites, like they’re guiding us through a cheese plate. A lot of people have already talked about the metatextual elements of this book (we have footnotes from an annotator reading the memoir of our protagonist about events they both experienced! your faves could NEVER!) but even those clever moments of commentary insertion feel naturalistic, effortless. Hell, Rowland can even make economic commentary RIVETING. Want to see how bubble economies are hatched, nurtured, and then grow big enough to threaten the safety of entire merchant city-states? Yes, you do. Trust me.

This is a book that takes you by the hand and spins you a yarn that grows bigger and wilder than you can ever imagine, but you don’t want to pull your hand away, not even for a second, because you trust somehow that you want to end up on the other side of wherever it’s going. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

AMAZON: tinyurl.com/yxpwgemo

BARNES AND NOBLE: tinyurl.com/y2hqzv34

INDIEBOUND: tinyurl.com/y6pxw6jd

GOODREADS: tinyurl.com/yxfjjptq

Lamentation of Mary Magdalene (from the Aramaic: they have taken away my lord)

In honor of the feast day of Mary Magdalene, I wanted to share a poem I wrote honoring her sacrifices, strengths, and doubts,. This is from my long-in-progress Lamentations series, which imagines Biblical characters in their darkest moments. 

I’ve scraped my palms bloody
trying to roll away that stone, teacher mine,
but it appears the Romans can keep their word after all.

Does my visitation surprise you, Son of Man?
Did you really expect me to wash away your memory like
lamb’s blood from a doorway simply because
I can no longer kiss your calloused hands,
hear the Galilee in your Aramaic,
doze off to the lulling rhythm of your breath?
I thought you better acquainted with my stubbornness, lord.
You are my Sabbath and I will observe you
regardless of how many drink to your death.

Where shall I begin?
Your mother’s been very kind to me;
she makes sure I eat and I ensure she sleeps.
We are bound by blood, she says, bound by
the communion wine which stained us up to the elbows
when we washed and anointed your broken body.
I wonder if she realizes adopting a crossroads-girl from Magdala
will never fill the hole left by a martyr-boy born under the Eastern star.

Peter cannot breathe for missing you,
and John weeps like a woman in labor.
The rest have retreated, drawn themselves into hiding
like sightless creatures blinded by the light of a new day.
It’s as though everything we could have been
gave up the ghost on that tree with you
and now all that’s left are girls with ruined reputations
and boys with scarred fishermen’s hands
staring back at us from cups of bitter wine.

What do you want me to say, teacher?
That your people drink deep from the well of doubt,
that something dark and empty roams the streets at night,
crowing it’s bloody triumph from the temple walls?
That every gulp of air in a world without the promise of you
is like filling my lungs with poison, like drowning alive?
I came to give you word of your people, Yeshua, so here it is.

If ever you loved us,
do not abandon us now when all we have left
are riddles and parables and the hope of a third day.
Do not inflict us with Sheol,
with the absence of you.