Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What's a writer who's not writing to do?

Hey everyone! I know it's been a while since I blogged properly. I figured it's the end of the month, so it's as good a time as any to catch up on some blogginess. It's also my cat, Dorian's, birthday! He's three whole years old! I remember when he was a little kitten... *sniff*

A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on
Anyway, this is usually the time when I go "holy SHIT it's September!", unable to believe how fast the summer (and the year) has gone by. But this year's different. This year, I'm ready for fall on so many levels. Summer didn't fly by as it usually does, and for once, I'm actually ready for the whole "back to school" feeling.

Part of it, I think, is that I haven't written properly since... forever. I finished my first draft of my most recent full-length WIP at the end of last November. The two things I've written since then have been shorts--LET ME FLY FREE (my fire nymph novella) and THE ADVENTURE OF THE SILICON BEECHES (the little Sherlock short I wrote in June just for fun). While that's definitely something, working on shorts just don't feel the same as working on a BOOK book. BOOK books are all consuming... I dive in, and the next thing I know, a month has flown by and I don't know what I did other than go to work and write. That does happen with shorts too, but shorts are, well, shorter. So I only lose a few days instead of entire swaths of time.

Don't ask why I haven't written properly in so long, because I have no good answer. Part of it's because seasonal affective disorder hit me like falling airplane last winter. That coupled with the crushing of my dreams meant I spent months depressed as all hell (Yeah, yeah, I know. Vague-blogging). Part of it's because the next project I have planned--one I've been thinking about and telling people about for well over a year now--is different from what I've written before on so many levels, and I'm completely terrified of it. So of course, I've been procrastinating like all hell.

What have I been doing these past few months if not writing, then? Watching TV, for one. I gorged myself on episodes of The Flash and Make It Or Break It. Hanging out with people, for another. The one upside of not writing is that my social life has improved. And reading, of course.

And traveling! I kicked off the summer with a trip to Lake Tahoe with some college friends, doing all kinds of awesome outdoorsy stuff (hiking, fishing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding... we did it all!). At that point, I'd already been in a writing slump for several weeks and was hoping the trip would hit the reset button on my life. It did motivate me to knock out that Sherlock short, at least.

Then, mid-June, was my annual pilgrimage to Firefly Festival, which I've attended every year since it began in 2012. God, I felt old next to all those teenagers. But also there was my friend's 60-something-year-old mom, who was rocking harder than all those whippersnappers and proving that age really is just a number.

A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on

A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on
With July came Shore Leave and all its awesomeness. Cons are exhausting, but loads of fun. I've been pretty con light this year, and I'm feeling it! Thought it'd give me more time to write if I wasn't traveling all the time, but obviously that didn't work.

A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on
Also, all those depressing news stories hit me weirdly hard in July, and I avoided the real world by inviting Twitter to flood me with fiction (as part of the #WordsForChange campaign, I offered to review or critique the books or manuscripts of anyone who donated to certain civil rights causes).

And then came my August travels. The month started off with my road trip to Indianapolis for Gen Con. Even though the novelty had worn off (since it was my second year), it was still completely amazing and totally worth the 11 hour drive. Will definitely be going back next year...

A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on

A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on

Then I went to Greece! Man, that was fun. Lots of old stuff, lots of sun and sea. And it was HOT! Another reason I'm ready for fall... I'm so sick of being overheated (running around Manhattan in a black interview suit while it was 95 degrees out was especially fun).

Anyway, I'm still slightly jetlagged and my brain's all askew adjusting to a new job, new coworkers, new commute, new sleep schedule... a whole new routine. But I've decided that this weekend is the weekend of NO MORE EXCUSES. I've got lots of background reading to do still for my next project, and so far I'm mostly on track with my reading schedule, but I aim to at least get some writerly brainstorming done.

WHEW that was a therapeutic review of where things are. I'll admit, all this not-writing has been giving me a weird existential crisis... especially since the not-writing was all my own fault and not because other obligations ate up my time. Am I still a writer if I'm not writing?
Don't know what this expression was supposed to be but it fits this post

Yes. Yes I am. Because I'm still active in the writerly community and still plotting the next thing. And while it sucks being in this rut, waiting waiting waiting for dreams that'll probably never come true to materialize while others seem to get twice as much for a fraction of the effort... this isn't a competition. I have to keep reminding myself of that. Each day, it gets harder to congratulate people who are doing awesome... with their new book deals, their new releases, their new bestseller status... while I feel like I'm languishing. And I gotta keep reminding myself... this isn't a competition. Then I think about what the me of five years ago would have thought of the me of today, and I realize that she would have had a hard time being happy for me while her first manuscript got rejected over and over in a seemingly endless whirlpool of despair. So yeah, this isn't a competition.

Also, I got to go to Lake Tahoe and Firefly and Shore Leave and Gen Con and Greece.

Anyway. Back to work.

Also, my hair is purple now. Just like Jane's on the cover of what that first manuscript became... ARTIFICIAL ABSOLUTES :-)

Monday, August 29, 2016

SPOTLIGHT: Escape from Palmar / Joseph J. Miccolis

Many consider Dagmarth to be the center of all galaxies. It is the world where the greatest minds come together to pave the future with unprecedented technologies. Dagmarth is led by King Asmoph and Queen Jessa who assumed its throne in recent years. But prosperity and freedom can never live in peace, at least not for long. Asmoph and Jessa will soon be forced into refuge after a savage enemy leads a surprise attack on Dagmarth in the quiet of night with unsurmountable defeat. They will find safety on Palmar, far away in a galaxy that resembles their own. But everything about their life will change on Palmar. Their only source of hope to regain their world and familiar future will depend on a new prophecy. A prophecy that a young boy named Kodus will acquire a diamond cursed with ancient powers that can help restore the peace among the galaxies, or use it for the quest of rule. Dagmarth will soon discover that the hard part is not finding Kodus, but convincing him to fight for peace.


Joseph J. Miccolis is a Florida-based author. Dagmarth: Escape from Palmar is his debut novel and the first novel of the Dagmarth series. While he enjoys writing a fresh approach to fantasy and magic, his storytelling is not limited to one genre. Joseph is also passionate about fitness and law. He enjoys body building and power building. He is educated in English Writing and Legal Studies with professional experience as a Paralegal. In his spare time, he can be found somewhere under the Florida sun enjoying the fresh air and finding inspiration for a new story.

Friday, August 19, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Unnatural Souls (A Realm of the Claimed Prequel) / Linda Foster

TITLE: Unnatural Souls (A Realm of the Claimed Prequel)
AUTHOR: Linda Foster
PUBLISHER: Glass House Press

Young Adult--Paranormal

A year ago, Grace was in an accident that should have killed her. In fact it did--her soul left her body, and she saw her own lifeless self as she began ascending to Heaven. But then her brother, Ash, sold his soul to a demon to save her life, and suddenly, she found herself back on Earth. Now, the clock is counting down to the day when the demon returns to collect Ash's soul. Not only is Grace devastated over her brother's impending doom, but since returning to life, she's discovered that she possesses a number of supernatural powers--teleportation, telekenesis, the ability to see dead people... and she can't control any of them. So when the Archangel Michael offers to help her learn how to wield her powers and give her a way to save Ash in exchange for her agreeing to help in the inevitable war brewing between Heaven and Hell, she sees little choice but to agree. But Michael won't be the one teaching her... that task falls to Kali, a demon seeking redemption. And furthermore, demons are hunting Grace because of her powers.

Holy wow, this is an amazing little book! I'm a huge fan of stories about angels and demons, and so this story really hit the spot to me. UNNATURAL SOULS a follow-up to Linda Foster's previous Realm of the Claimed novella, FALLEN SOULS, which told the stories of how Ash sold his soul and how Kali fell from Heaven, but it does fine as a standalone. Knowing Ash and Kali's backstories certainly made UNNATURAL SOULS a richer read (and I highly recommend you pick it up too!). But if you just walked into UNNATURAL SOULS without knowing it's a follow-up, you'd be totally fine. Foster does a fantastic job of orienting the reader to the world, the stakes, and the situation right away.

Pause for disclosure: Linda and I are both published with Glass House Press. However, neither Linda nor Glass House requested that I write this review, and everything I'm saying reflects my honest opinion as a reader. 

Anyway, back to the fangirling. Can I just say, I love love love Grace, a character who goes from a terrified girl facing confusing and devastating circumstances to a kickass supernatural warrior. Her voice rings from the page--her anguish, her frustration, her anger, her confusion... She really comes to life, and you really get to know all her nuances and complexities through Foster's gorgeous writing. She's also one of those characters who feels honest, like a real person holding nothing back as you follow her thoughts and actions through the story. I also loved Kali, who makes a huge splash even though she's a supporting character. She's not entirely likable--in fact, sometimes, she's downright mean to Grace--but that's what makes her so interesting. She's a fallen angel who's spent an eternity in Hell, and yet you soon realize why Michael has faith in her and believes the core of her to be ultimately good.

The fast-paced action scenes--supernatural battles with the demons hunting Grace and Ash--in UNNATURAL SOULS were a real thrill to read. The book had me on the edge of my seat as it barreled toward its dramatic conclusion, which is satisfying enough for the time being but promises more awesome things to come (Foster has two more Realm of the Claimed novellas coming out soon, all leading up to the first full-length book in the series, SOUL BOUND). 

I made the mistake of picking up this book super late at night, thinking I'd just read a chapter and go to sleep. Well... let's just say I had one heckuva book hangover the next day from staying up far, far, far too late. So you have been warned: UNNATURAL SOULS will suck you in, and you'll probably read it all in one sitting (it's only 100 pages or so long). I'm still reeling over how Foster managed to pack so much richness--worldbuilding! character development! action! drama! twists!--into such a little book, which is both a great read in its own right and a tantalizing teaser for more awesomeness to come.

Linda Foster was born and raised in Colorado, where she still lives with her (very patient) husband and four (very spoiled) ferrets. Linda became an avid reading enthusiast the moment she picked up her first book, and has grown steadily worse with time. By the time she was 15 years old, her library had become too big for her shelves, and she was forced to donate all of her books to the local school, just to make room for new ones. She started writing short novellas for her friends in middle school, and expanded into full-length novels several years later. Soul Bound will be her first published novel.

BOOK REVIEW: Fallen Souls (A Realm of the Claimed Novella) / Linda Foster

TITLE: Fallen Souls (A Realm of the Claimed Novella)
AUTHOR: Linda Foster
PUBLISHER: Glass House Press

Young Adult--Paranormal

[Note: I actually reviewed this book on Goodreads when it was published in 2014, but apparently forgot to copy it over to my blog... something I just noticed when reviewing its sequel, UNNATURAL SOULS, and found myself scratching my head when I couldn't find a link to this review!]

Full disclosure: Linda Foster and I share a publisher, and I received an early copy of this novella for an honest review. The below represent no one's opinions but my own.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let the gushing begin!

Fallen Souls comprises two short stories: Condemnation and Fallen, which set the stage for Linda Foster's "Realm of the Claimed" series. Condemnation reveals how Ash, a good-hearted teenage boy, found himself face-to-face with a wrenching decision: sell his soul to a demon or let his sister die, and Fallen takes the reader back to the very beginning, telling of the day Kali, an avenging angel, learned of the rebellion brewing in Heaven and tried to stop it.

After reading both stories, I'm finding it hard to actually write a review because the only word on my mind is "WOW." Just like that - in all caps. Because man, does Linda know how to bring the drama! Tension fills every single sentence, driving you forward to find out what happens next even though you know things can only end badly. Reading this novella is like watching a tragic opera - you know the direction the story is heading in but read on with dread out of the irrational need to see it happen anyway. And then when the ending does happen, you're left with a heaving heart and the word "NOOO!" echoing through your head.

Ash and Kali are both instantly likable characters, and realizing from the very first sentence that they're doomed gives everything that follows a dark aura of tragedy. The only consolation is knowing that because there's a series of books around the bend, their stories can't be over - they're just beginning.

So if you like stories with tension, drama, paranormal dangers, and vividly drawn characters, do yourself a favor and read "Fallen Souls." The language is riveting, and the plots set up a story you won't be able to resist returning to.

Linda Foster was born and raised in Colorado, where she still lives with her (very patient)

husband and four (very spoiled) ferrets. Linda became an avid reading enthusiast the moment she picked up her first book, and has grown steadily worse with time. By the time she was 15 years old, her library had become too big for her shelves, and she was forced to donate all of her books to the local school, just to make room for new ones. She started writing short novellas for her friends in middle school, and expanded into full-length novels several years later. Soul Bound will be her first published novel.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Entanglement (A Hollywood Lights Novel) / Katie Rose Guest Pryal

TITLE: Entanglement (A Hollywood Lights Novel)
AUTHOR: Katie Rose Guest Pryal
PUBLISHER: Velvet Morning Press

Contemporary Fiction--Women's Fiction

Recent college grads Greta, an awkward nerd, and Daphne, a charismatic glamor girl, couldn't be more different on the surface, but have been close friends since university. After Greta's philandering father kicks her out of the house, she moves across the country to LA to live with Daphne, who helps her navigate the world of 1990s Hollywood. Soon, she finds an unlikely job at a lighting production company and finds herself drawn to her handsome new boss.

Daphne, meanwhile, aspires to be a screenwriter and presently works a day job as the assistant to a producer best known for yesteryear's hits. She soon finds herself losing Greta to a budding romance and resorts to desperate measures to win back her friend. But her actions have dire consequences... ones that could cause her to lose Greta forever.

ENTANGLEMENT, Katie Rose Guest Pryal's novel about friendship, Hollywood, and finding your way in your early twenties, opens with Greta in the hospital in December 1999, having been attacked by someone she knows. The book then goes back to the beginning of 1999 and follows Greta and Daphne as they settle into their new lives as roommates, leaving you to wonder which of the interesting new characters in Greta's life will ultimately try to kill her--and why. But though the book opens with danger and mystery, it's not a thriller. It's a complex, finely wrought, richly human story about two young women.

Can I just say--I love love loved that a female friendship was at the heart of this book. There's a romance too, but the story's really about Greta and Daphne's relationship. The story is told in a nonlinear fashion, with "present day" chapters alternating with flashback chapters that reveal details about how the girls met, how they became such close friends, and their relationships with their families. What I enjoyed most about this book is how well developed the two central characters are. Greta: the physic major who takes things too literally and relates to facts better than to people. Daphne: the fabulous popular girl who you'd never guess came from an abusive and underprivileged childhood.

I really enjoyed the way Pryal used the flashback chapters to add complexity and color bit-by-bit to the characters--to show how they became the way they are, sometimes in unexpected ways. Both Daphne and Greta really came alive on the page, and I quickly became invested in them and their intense friendship. 

ENTANGLEMENT is a character-driven story of friendship, dysfunction, Hollywood glitz, and obsession, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's got so many elements--finding your way in the world after college, discovering that people aren't who they seem, what Hollywood in the late '90s was like, how two people who seem so different connect on such visceral levels... I started reading it while getting my hair dyed, and the book made the whole three hour process fly by (in fact, I probably should have been paying more attention when the stylist asked if my hair was the right color, instead of just nodding so I could get back to reading!). And then I went home and kept reading reading reading, staying up till 3AM because I didn't want to stop until I was finished.

Katie enjoys her three professions—novelist, freelance journalist, and lawyer—for one reason: her love of the written word. Fiction or nonfiction, Katie thrives on putting thoughts to paper and sharing them with the world. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where the energy of the campus and cafes inspires her writing. She is the author of the Entanglement Series, which includes ENTANGLEMENT (Velvet Morning Press 2015), LOVE AND ENTROPY (VMP 2015), and the forthcoming CHASING CHAOS (VMP 2016). She is also a contributor to the anthology CHRISTMAS, ACTUALLY (VMP 2015).

You can grab free copies of Katie's novella, NICE WHEELS, and her writing guide, WRITING ISN'T SEXY, by subscribing to her monthly email letter:

As a journalist, Katie contributes to QUARTZ, THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, THE TOAST, DAME MAGAZINE and other national venues, including THE HUFFINGTON POST, where she writes a monthly column on writing. She earned her master’s degree in creative writing from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, where she attended on a fellowship.

Katie has published many books on writing, the most recent with Oxford University Press. A professor of writing for more than a decade, she now leads writing workshops and works as a writing coach and developmental editor when she's not writing her next book.

Katie is a member of the Tall Poppy Writers (, a community of writing professionals committed to connecting authors with each other and with readers.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


An interview with Diana Strenka, author of BLACKBEARD'S DAUGHTER.


Hi! Welcome to Zigzag Timeline. Can you tell us about your background as an author?

Thanks for having me!  I've written several short stories on Amazon and Smashwords centered during different eras in history (such as Tudor).  I have also authored many nonfiction articles on Hubpages, so feel free to look me up if you like!  My first novel, Blackbeard's Daughter, was published this past February.

What got you into writing?

I have always had a passion for writing!  When I was in grade school, I published my first novel.  It was entitled The Missing Diamond Necklace, and it was very much related to Carmen Sandiego.  When my third grade teacher read my book, she was extremely impressed.  I was so proud of myself for what I had accomplished!

What was the first idea you had for your book, and how did the story grow from there?

I always had an interest in Blackbeard, and I wanted to explore the man behind the legend.  What was he really like? We know that Blackbeard was originally of aristocratic origins, as he was capable of both reading and writing.  Through the eyes of his daughter, we get to view beyond the veneer that is Blackbeard the pirate.  The story really evolved from there, as the sheer brutality that was life in the colonial era emerged.  I wanted my story to be historically honest, and not a sugarcoated version of what people experienced back then.  I will allow you all to be the judge of whether or not it is true to the period of which he lived!

Among your characters, who's your favorite? Could you please describe him/her?

My favorite character is Margaret.  She is a strong young woman who overcomes the incredible hardships of the era and rises above them.  Margaret is very independent, much like her father, and very unlike the women of the time.  That's what I admire about her the most; she's very much a modern woman.  I think she gets her free-thinking streak from her father, who always taught her to think for herself.  He's very egalitarian in a time when the man ruled over the family, and this freedom allows Margaret to find herself.  Deep in her heart, she just wants to give and receive love.  This desire manifests in her wish to have a family of her own.

What's your favorite scene from your novel? Could you please describe it?

My favorite scene from Blackbeard's Daughter is when Margaret loses her child.  The reason why I chose this scene is that we finally get to see Margaret give in to her rage.  Prior to this, she holds back from expressing this side of herself.  She has  control over her emotions, even in situations where she experiences inexplicable helplessness (such as when she is held for ransom).  However, in that moment of unspeakable pain, Margaret unleashes everything.  She lets all her feelings go, no judgment, no holding her cards close to her chest.  She allows it all to flow freely, losing her sense of morality and conscience which has for so long held her back.

What's your favorite part of writing? Plotting? Describing scenes? Dialogue?

My favorite part of writing is becoming one with my story.  There is no separation, in my mind and heart; I am the story, and the story is me.  The fun of writing in this manner is that you can really experience it firsthand, and put your own authentic self into it.  You can really give it your all!

How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have a writing process, or do you wing it?

It really depends on the book.  For example, I am currently writing a science-fiction dystopian that is requiring much more thought and outlining in order to maintain cohesiveness.  However, typically, I wing it.  I go with the flow of the story, and let the characters (and my heart) lead the way!  Stories can take a few months to several months, depending on if I am also doing promotions and marketing at that time!

What is it about the genre you chose that appeals to you?

I love historical fiction because history has been a passion of mine for quite some time!  History is interesting and different; it's fun to put yourself into another time and place.  I think there is so much we can learn about our past!

Are there any books or writers that have had particular influence on you?

I love Carolyn Meyer's historical fiction collection.  She writes about the Tudor period, which is very much of interest to me!  I love King Henry VIII, and the drama that seems to follow his reign and that of his children!  Each of her stories (all first person point-of-view) allowed me to crawl inside the character's head and live her world.  I got to be Queen Anne Boleyn, Queen Catherine of Aragon, and Queen Mary I!  It was so fun!

Did you ever surprise yourself when you were writing your book? Characters who took on lives of their own? Plot elements that took unexpected turns?

The biggest shock for me was how many of my characters came to perish due to the natural elements.  I never foresaw this much death when I first began writing Blackbeard's Daughter, but it evolved in this manner.  It makes sense for characters to die from something as common as illness, but it makes Margaret's world even more vulnerable and tenuous.  She can't even trust nature, so what (and who) can she really and truly trust?

Thanks for stopping by!


Diana has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology, and a Master's Degree in Education.  In addition to Blackbeard's Daughter, she has authored and self-published several short stories on Smashwords and Amazon.   One such title is Rescuing the Titanic, an account of the Californian's arrival prior to the sinking of the Titanic. In the nonfiction realm, she has published several articles for HubPages on medieval and renaissance historical figures. She enjoys spending time with her cat, Moe, and drinking tea.

Book Description:

Colonial dreams have become piratical nightmares. Margaret takes one disastrous turn after the other as she confronts the perils of murder, war, and revenge. When her father decides to pursue criminal mischief aboard a pirate's vessel, Margaret joins him in an effort to save his life. Will she weather the storms ahead, or will they destroy her?