New story! “Sun-Touched” up at Kaleidotrope

I have a new story up! You can now read "Sun-Touched" for free over at Kaleidotrope.

You can thank Neil Gaiman for this one. In 2010, I was invited to attend “The Gathering of American Gods” at the House on the Rock. I was trying to think of a cool costume to wear and, well, okay, I was looking for an excuse to dye my wedding dress with tea. I came up with going as the Moth Queen, because I had a pin shaped like a butterfly, but this party would be at night, so moths fit better.

Well, the costume idea petered out, (I wound up going as a vaguely steampunk lady). But the idea of a Moth Queen stuck with me, and I began to play with the idea. How I went from a Queen to a Princess, Queen and Dowager, I don’t remember. but when I came up with the idea of butterfly people (papilion) being enemies of the moth people (doptera), and how the moth people are attracted to light, I knew I had a story.

I will confess, coming up with the backstory and history of the world was somewhat difficult. After I finished it, I shopped it around. One of the rejections I got mentioned that it was a very good story, but the editor wished the doptera and papilion were more insect-like. And this is true. But I had no clue how to make them more insect-like without making them relatable. And besides, I had a selfish wish to keep the figurines as is, which play a part in the story.

Hmm. Writing that though makes me wonder. Can I make a lead character that’s not human, completely alien, and yet make them relatable? At the time I wrote Sun-Touched, I didn’t think I could. Now? I might be able.

In the meantime, enjoy "Sun-Touched", and let me know what you think!

Review: Bodies in Motion: Stories

Bodies in Motion: Stories
Bodies in Motion: Stories by Mary Anne Mohanraj
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautiful sensuous read. We get small tastes of life of several generations of Tamil families. They are small, but intense tastes: love, passion, heartache and drama revealed in the burning taste of curries. Also, I loved that there were several settings in Hyde Park, one of my favorite places in the world.

There were times when I had to refer to the genealogy chart in the front of the book, because the names and people blurred together and I couldn’t tell who was the daughter of who. But I loved the stories, and loved to see who sought saftey in the marrying/baby culture, who broke out, who married outside their race, who did not married at all. My favorite were both of Mangai’s stories.

Now I’m hungry for curry.

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New short story! “21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus 1)” up at Strange Horizons

It’s now up! “21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus 1)” is up now at Strange Horizons! It has an illustration! It has a podcast! It is so cool!

The inspiration for this story came one day when I was on Google Plus (why yes…I do go there from time to time). Someone had posted an album of different spiral staircase pictures, and when I clicked on the album, it posted all the staircases at once. Seeing all those staircases and spirals got me wondering: what if spiral staircases appeared at random, with no reason whatsoever. What would be at the top? And then I wondered…if spiral staircases could appear out of nowhere, who to say it’s just a normal staircase? What other materials could it be made out of? How fanciful could I make these staircases?

Oh, I had a fun time coming up with the different kinds of staircases. But I didn’t have much of a plot until I came up with the idea that the staircase was a metaphor for epiphanies and enlightenment. Around this time, I had visited my folks back in Chicago, and wound up watching the Help with the womenfolk of my family, including my grandmother, who is awesomely badass. Talking with her and my own mother about growing up and raising kids, made me want to commemorate their strength, while at the same time showing how opportunities seem to open up more for each generation. So I decided to make the spiral story more personal.

The Momma in the story is a mash-up of my mom and grandmother. There are other true parts too; if you know me, you’ll figure it out. I never snuck out of my house, for instance. But the boyfriend part? That’s mostly true. So was the feeling of optimism. My dad never wanted to join the circus though.

Anyway, check it out and let me know what you think. What would your spiral staircase look like?

Book Review: God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church

God's Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church
God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church by Gerald R. McDermott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting read. The bulk of the book was McDermott examining the question through how the Israelites, the early church, and early theologians saw it. I appreciated the history because most of it I never heard of before. But the book raised more questions for me than answers.

I had a hard time believing the early church view that the different gods, who they considered real, were originally angels who rebelled against God. In fact these angels were supposed to be ambassadors to the other nations for God. But they got corrupted by power and took all of God’s worship for themselves. So let me get this straight: not one god stayed on God’s side? Not even one? Either we’re not getting the whole story, or God (excuse the blasphemy) is not a good creator.

(And here’s a third thought: who says the gods can’t come back God? One of the earlier theologians Origen, thought this might be possible. Then again, he was already considered a little wacky for castrating himself for God, when he was a teenager.)

What did strike me was how perception the spirit world changed throughout the Bible and early church history. In the Old Testament, there were other gods; God was considered the highest among them, and God used them to be ambassadors to other cultures. When we get to the new Testament, those gods are now angels who had become corrupted by their power; come early church history, those angels have been demons all along, and finally, we get to today’s mindset that there never were any gods to begin with–only God himself.

So which view is right? All of the above? None of the above? Was it just our understanding of the gods that changed, not the gods themselves?

Which leads to my second question “How did myth and culture influence the shaping of the gods in culture?” Anything to do with myth was completely missing from the book, which isn’t surprising, considering this book takes the spirit world very seriously. I think I’ll have to look for that answer elsewhere.

Despite my questions, the book did argue against treating other religions as taboo or something to fear. We can even use other religions to deepen our understanding of God. McDermott says other religions are not our enemies (although the spiritual beings behind them are, whatever they are). The reason why God allows other religions is to give a glimpse of Himself to him, and that we should use that glimpse as an invitation to open dialogue about Truth. But if that’s the case, why only glimpses? Why not fully? Why just reveal himself to just the Israelites? The only way I can see this working is if God revealed himself to earlier people in the beginning, and then each people group began to see God their own way, and then that became other gods and…

Gahhhh…now I’m thinking in circles. And as you can see, my questions are not answered.

I guess this book is good for getting the history of how other religions are seen in the church, and I deeply appreciate that. It did also give me a new way to look at other religions. But ultimately, I don’t think the book provides an answer to its own question.

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Two Guest Posts, Story coming up, and Month of Letters 2014

I’ve been busy the past few weeks, and I’m about to get even busier. I’ll do another post about that, but real quick, here’s what I’ve been up to:

I did a guest post over at Bill Bodden’s blog about keeping yourself going when you’re in Revision Hell. Warning: I make a confession about Digimon.

I also knitted a Totoro hat, which I blogged about at Nerds of Color . I talked about cosplay, anime and connecting with other black geeks. It also got a mention over at GeekMom, so yay!

On February 3, I have a short story, "21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus 1)" appearing on Strange Horizons, and it will be illustrated!

Finally, in February, I’m planning to participate in the 2014 Month of Letters Challenge. You may remember I attempted the challenge a couple of years ago, but barely got into it before quitting. Well, I’m going to try it again, and this time, I’m going to be tracking my progress over at HabitRPG . If you’re interested in joining me, I have a challenge all set up at the Tavern. (Did I mention that you should check out HabitRPG anyway? They’ve really changed it the last time I posted about it, adding quests, checklists, pets, cool armor. Making a task list has never been so much fun!). nd if you’re not on HabitRPG, check out the Month of Letters Challenge anyway. It’s a fun way to get back into the habit of sending snail mail. And if you’re interested in getting a letter from me, leave a comment below and I’ll connect with you to get your address. I’d love to write to you!

LaShawn’s 2013 Year in Review

Looking back on 2013, it feels like I didn’t have much to say.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t busy. I’ve been chugging along on Willow and, for the first time, I’ve had alpha readers chime in on how things fit together. Sometimes it felt like one step forward, two steps back, and there have been other times when I wonder if it’s all worth it, but the story is getting more and more streamlined. As of this writing, I’m 60% done.

I think this whole year, writing-wise, was learning how to write more productively and more quickly. I’m also learning the hard way to get the words on the page and not worry about making them perfect. Spending less time being stuck on things and more on using placeholders to get an idea of what I want, then coming back to it at another time.

Publishing-wise, I only had two items published in 2013, my flash story “Ebb and Flow” at Daily Science Fiction and my short story, "There Are No Wrong Answers" in the anthology What Fates Impose. The former I’ve been shopping around for a couple of years, the latter I wrote in a month and was immediately accepted. I had fun with both. 2014 will have more publishing news from me, the most notable being my short story, "21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus 1)" appearing in Strange Horizons on February 3. Strange Horizons, y’all!!!! It’s going to be awesome. Another short story, "Sun-Touched" will appear in Kaleidotrope sometime next year. This would be my second time published in this magazine, but online this time. There will also be some new poetry from me showing up next year. Details will be forthcoming.

The biggest news I had this year, though, was becoming Associate Editor at Podcastle. I’ve been listening to Podcastle ever since they debuted in April 2008, but I never thought that one day I’d be slushing stories and narrating for them. And thanks to all the generous donations from the Metacast they did in October, looks like we’ll be continuing into 2014. We could still use your support, though, so definitely contribute what you can.

What does 2014 hold? I don’t know. What I do know is I want to communicate more. Well, yeah, yeah, there’s this whole writing thing. But it’s not about that. I want to get in touch with people more. Talk to them more. Have conversations more. Heck, I want to write on this blog more. Make myself a little more vulnerable.

As I’m writing this, Neil Gaiman’s latest blog post popped up on my newsfeed about him taking a social media hiatus and doing more writing and blogging. I’m pondering that. It feels that I’ve grown too dependent on social media. I pass along links and memes I like, but I don’t do much speaking.

It feels like I don’t have much to say.

I think I’ll use 2014 to find my words again.

Guess who’s joined PodCastle’s Editorial Team? (Hint: it’s me!)

Sometimes I keep forgetting that not everyone has Facebook or Twitter, so I forget to update things here at the Cafe. But I wanted to announce that I am now part of the editorial staff at PodCastle, the fantasy audio magazine that’s part of the Escape Artists family of podcasts (which includes EscapePod and PseudoPod, stories for science fiction and horror, respectively). Along with Ann Leckie, I serve as associate editor in reading slush and doing other duties for co-editors Anna Schwind and Dave Thompson (another Viable Paradise alum!).

Part of my new duties is that I get to narrate stories. And you can now hear my very first narration, "Georgina and the Basilisk" written by Leslianne Wilder. She was the third place winner of this past year’s flash fiction contest at Podcastle. This along with the other winners, "The Bear" by Taven Moore (2nd place) and "Wuffle" by Chantal Beaulne (1st place), can be heard in Episode 288: Flash Fiction Contest Strikes Back!

Go over and have a listen. If you like what you hear, let PodCastle know in its forum, or donate, or even become a subscriber (to do so, to go PodCastle’s page and click on the DONATE or SUBSCRIBE buttons on the right hand side).. It doesn’t cost much, and you get some awesome stories, some that might even be picked by yours truly.

I’m honored to be part of an awesome podcast, and I’m looking forward to this new adventure!

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