2018 Roundup: The Inside-Out Shit-Sandwich

If I had to sum up 2018 in one GIF, this would probably be it:

Ryan Reynolds Holy Fucking Shit! GIF by tenor

Ryan Reynolds Holy Fucking Shit! GIF by tenor

And yes, that covers pretty much both the good and the bad. Still, you’re still here, and so am I, and that’s definitely something to celebrate, given how this year went. I was thinking about what the best way to do a roundup of the wild rollercoaster that 2018 has been would be, and after much deliberation settled on the Shit Sandwich. You know, the idea that when giving feedback, you layer the bad between slices of good, so that you don’t come across as a totally pretentious asshole who is out to ruin nice things for everybody (seriously, don’t be that person.)

Anyway, 2018 was a bit more like an Inside-Out Shit-Sandwich, or, as one of my best friends likes to call it…kind of yummy-yucky. Here’s your rundown:

This is me pre-morphine, which MAY have been my first ever experience with strong pain killers. I could SMELL the color red. And yes, I did text the whole experience to my CPs, because RESEARCH!

This is me pre-morphine, which MAY have been my first ever experience with strong pain killers. I could SMELL the color red. And yes, I did text the whole experience to my CPs, because RESEARCH!

Health-wise, 2018 tried to kill me. Unfortunately, it did take that one a little too literally, because what started out with my first-ever stint at a U.S. emergency room (thank the gods for health insurance, I could actually afford it) with suspected chronic gallbladder malfunction. This—surprise!—actually turned out to be the most massive of massive blood clots in my lower right abdomen, stretching from my major abdominal vein into my leg, and into my renal vein, where it most likely killed off my right kidney (which we named Aqualad, the Shitty Kidney as a result). Bonus shitty points for not figuring this out until 7 MONTHS LATER after my back was killing me and I thought I’d literally broken myself chasing editing deadlines. Spoiler: if you have intense lower back pain AND THEN your right leg swells up and feels like a balloon about to pop, you MIGHT just have a massive blood clot at your hands. And no, Alex, you won’t be able to drive yourself to the doctor’s office, because you’re not fine. Not even a little bit. Thanks to my lovely wife, Tori, my good friend and critique partner extraordinaire, Kendra, who did the driving that day, and everyone else who’s stuck with me through this ordeal, which resulted in my doctor making this face O_O, then rushing me to the ER, followed by an overnight hospital stay where surgery was a very definite option that we fortunately didn’t have to resort to (it would have been major and super scary). It took me the next three months to be able to move and walk without pain again, and I have to say, this shit definitely changed my perspective (and served as accidental research for my MC in Empire of Light, who becomes a cane-user, so I guess there’s always that.)

Anyway, I made it through that, will definitely be on medication for the rest of my life, and am rocking some super stylish compression socks (I want them to make some with unicorns, but in the meantime, I’m partial to argyle and rainbow stripes).

Of course, while I was recuperating physically, my mental health decided to have its “Hold my Beer!” moment and send me into one of the worst depressive spirals I’ve had since 2012. Fortunately we figured out a way to get things back on track with meds and self-care. Oh, and then there was the bit where I got SHINGLES. Yeah…2018 was A Year in terms of health. Let’s not keep going with this, shall we? Anyway, let this be your reminder to hydrate, take your meds, and move as much as you can, lovelies, because this shit is scary.


Okay, time for some GOOD, yeah?

Well, actually, it started with some bad, since 2018 also was the year I parted ways with my now former agent, due to her health making her unable to continue agenting. I’m not going to go super into detail here, but let it be said that one of the things all those blog posts and Twitter threads about agenting often don’t cover is what to do when you have to take that painful step of leaving your agent because things aren’t working out. It’s hard. And definitely took me some time to adjust. And yes, I’m going to query again in 2019. It’s cool, I have a battle plan and am super grateful for all of my publishing and author friends who continuously cheer me on and didn’t let me wallow too much, because onward!

These lovely rainbow roses were sent to me by my lovely Speculator CPs!

These lovely rainbow roses were sent to me by my lovely Speculator CPs!

Speaking of onward, I signed not one, but TWO publishing contracts in 2018, and I couldn’t be happier. In April, I signed my publishing contract for my debut queer science fiction novel, Empire of Light, with NineStar Press. It’s been one hell of a journey to get there. Definitely a rollercoaster worth of ups and downs, and tight twists, but 2019 will be my debut year as a queer SFF author and I couldn’t be more grateful to Rae, Sam, and the rest of the NineStar Team, who have since introduced me to so many fantastic authors I am happy to call friends.

And that’s not all! I also signed a contract to contribute to BEHIND THE SUN, ABOVE THE MOON, a queer anthology full of stories featuring trans and nonbinary characters written by trans and nonbinary creators, which will release with NineStar Press in 2020. I am beyond thrilled to be included in this and so happy this is happening. Watch this space, and subscribe to my newsletter for updates on all the shiny queer story-shaped things!


Hi! Same name, new pronouns! Thanks to everyone who uses them and corrects others when they don’t. I couldn’t do this without you all!

Hi! Same name, new pronouns! Thanks to everyone who uses them and corrects others when they don’t. I couldn’t do this without you all!

The biggest personal change in 2018 was definitely coming out as nonbinary in March of this year. Frankly, it was probably one of the most terrifying things I have ever done, especially as someone who constantly questions their own value and validity. But it’s also been incredibly empowering and just so liberating to finally get this off my chest and no longer keep my gender identity to myself like it’s something to hide and pretend doesn’t exist.

I cannot thank everyone enough for their support along my journey, especially those of you who remind others that yes, my pronouns are they/them, and to use them, especially when I’m too tired to constantly remind others. My enby journey and figuring out what exactly all of this meant to me, definitely shaped a large part of this year and still continues doing so, because guess what? I might be in my 30s, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t figured it all out yet. Far from it, really.

Coming out to my principal was absolutely terrifying, because I generally kept my queerness very much under wraps when I first started teaching. Only in recent years, I’ve started to feel comfortable enough to be “me” more and more in the classroom. Being a queer teacher, never mind a nonbinary one in a super conservative state where still so many honestly don’t even know what to do with you, is…a lot. It’s still a lot, and probably will continue being a lot, because things change glacially, but they are changing. Also, yes, my students adapted to my “new” title of Mx. without much issue. They are still working on the they/them, along with many others, but its the ones who do get it—and correct others when they overhear them misgendering me—that make my heart so incredibly full and make doing this over and over again easier. Thank you.


Yay for Goodreads keeping track of all of my reading! Over 47k pages across 158 books! Not bad!

Yay for Goodreads keeping track of all of my reading! Over 47k pages across 158 books! Not bad!

Finally, my year in books. Honestly, it’s been a GOOD year for reading, and I’m beyond thrilled with how many queer books I read in 2018. Honestly, a majority of the 158 books I read were queer, many by queer authors of color. I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many talented and hard-working authors who tell the kinds of queer stories I’ve always wanted to read. Thank you. All of you. Especially on the hard days. They’re worth it. Your stories are worth it.

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention some of my favorite books of 2018, so here you go:

Favorite Science Fiction: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

I adored this book so much. Lady astronauts. Alternate history that asks so many questions that make this such a fantastic genre. Also, the audiobooks are narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal herself and are outstanding.

Favorite Graphic Novel: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

I’ve talked about this one before, but seriously, if you need a happy read that subtly explores queerness for kids of all ages, READ THIS BOOK. You won’t regret it. Thank you to Ren, who sent this to me when I was really struggling with depression. This book meant a lot to me.

Favorite Romance: His Cocky Cellist by Cole McCade

This was originally recommended to me because I wanted to learn more about well-written content warnings, but Cole McCade’s work quickly hooked me (also, he’s a generally awesome human to boot). I loved how this book explored D/s dynamics in conjunction with sex work, and definitely want to read more like this.

Favorite Series: Port Lewis Witches by Brooklyn Ray

This series focuses on a coven of queer witches in the Pacific Northwest and I simply adore the characters. The first in the series, Darkling, hooked me with a trans main character, who wants to kiss his best friend, incredibly well-written sex scenes, and all the dark magic. I’m so excited that there will be more of this!

Favorite Fantasy: The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

I got to JY Yang’s Tensorate series kind of late, but ever since I dove into their intricately-built universe full of nonbinary characters, political intrigue, and self-discovery, I couldn’t get enough of it. Another recommendation for the audio format since it includes the first three novellas in the series and is so very well done.

Favorite YA: Dreadnought by April Daniels

Two words: Trans Superheroes. This book hooked me from page one and I found it both incredibly relatable and it also kicked me right in the feels (CWs for transphobia though since there is a LOT of heavy content in this book that is much more than a superhero story).


Anyway, that’s it for the bookish and health-related updates of 2018. It’s definitely been a messy, but also incredibly important year for me. I’ve learned a lot, last but not least, to listen to my body a little more and be kinder to myself (it’s harder than it should be), but most of all I’m just really, really grateful for everyone who’s been along for this wild ride.

Thank you to each and every one of you. You made this shit-sandwich of a year actually really fucking awesome in the end. <3

My #DiverseAThon TBR January 22-29, 2017

I love reading challenges and #DiverseAThon has been one of my favorites. This upcoming DiverseAThon goes from January 22 - 29, 2017 and is aimed at reading a wider range of diverse authors. Because I clearly like to commit to these things last minute, and my goal is to read at least 150 books this year, here is my TBR for the next week. Apparently my theme for this #DiverseAThon is queer and blue. I am not complaining.

HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME by Adam Silvera

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When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

I can't wait to read this book. MORE HAPPY THAN NOT broke me in the best of ways and I am anticipating many tears with Adam Silvera's second book, but that doesn't put a dampener on my enthusiasm--quite the opposite.

WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS by Anna-Marie McLemore

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To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

I have been excited to read this ever since mentions of it first came up in my Twitter feeds. The prose of this looks gorgeous and I finally was able to pick it up during last year's Siren's conference. I'm looking forward to lots of magical realism and even more magical prose.

OF FIRE AND STARS by Audrey Coulthurst

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Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile kingdoms. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a land where magic is forbidden.

Now Denna has to learn the ways of her new kingdom while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine, sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two work together, they discover there is more to one another than they thought—and soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

A subversively queer take on a princess story? Fighting princesses and girl kissing? Sign me up. I received this in last month's Owl Crate and have been looking forward to read this ever since. We need more epic fantasy for teens and adults alike that feature trope subversion and girl-kissing, so I'm ridiculously anticipating this one!

THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K. Le Guin

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A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world,The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.

This will be a re-read for me, but since Penguin released this lovely hardcover edition I figured the time is now. THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS was first recommended to me when I first started to ask about queer science fiction and fantasy recommendations. I picked up my first raggedy and well-loved copy at a used bookstore and it has been one of my favorite books of all time ever since. THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS taught me so much about gender and how to write it, not just in science fiction and fantasy, but in general, and it will always have that special place in my heart filled with that kind of sense of wonder you feel when you realize, "Wait, people write like this? Does that mean can write like this?" It certainly was educational and empowering for me. I can't wait to revisit it. If you haven't read it yet, what are you still waiting for?

So, that's my TBR for this week's #DiverseAThon. All blue and all queer. Only one of these things is a coincidence. I'll be sure to keep you updated on my thoughts both on Twitter and on Goodreads. If you are joining #DiverseAThon, please let me know, so we can exchange thoughts and book recs! That's the point of it after all.

Happy Reading!

Alex

Accountability Roundup: What I Wrote and Read in August

So, August. The end of summer. The beginning of a new school year and a new semester of my master's degree. And yet, I set out with the ambitious goal of writing 25,000 words this month to bring my current draft of Mental Note to 40,000 words. Here are my stats: 2016-08-31 21.25.01

Writing:

  • Goal: 800 words a day or at least one hour of editing a day
  • Total word goal for August: 25,000
  • Total Words written: 24,571
  • Total writing (and editing) days: 14 (+3 pure editing days)
  • Average words/writing day: 1,755
  • Best writing day: August 24 (3,872 words)

Okay, so, even though I'm 429 words short of my goal, I am considering this month a huge success. Yes, that includes the fact that I am finding that I totally have to go back and edit the shit out of the first 40,000 words of this new draft, but that's okay. Thanks to writing group feedback I've pinpointed some of the underlying issues with this draft that I really need to fix before moving on and that's a good things.

Another pattern that's apparent is that my writing and editing momentum tapered off dramatically once school started. Seriously, my writing to nap ratio basically grew in the inverse. I am fixing that. As a matter of fact, today was the first day where I felt my old stamina and energy come back. With the beginning of the new school year and getting used to 240-ish new students that much was to be expected. As I'm facing September, I aim to do better. Also, huge shoutout to #AugWritingChallenge and the awesome people who have helped keep me accountable. Looking forward to September already! Plus, fall! My favorite writing season!

Reading:

  • Goal: 8 books/month toward a total of 100 this year
  • Total books read in August: 15

Holy writing and reading month Batman. I guess writing begets reading. I do love when the two go hand in hand. I completed the fun Pokemon-inspired #ReadThemAllThon challenge, which was an added boost. Here's what I read in August:

  • Kiersten White - AND I DARKEN: I seriously cannot rave enough about this book! Just go read it!
  • J.K. Rowling et. al - HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD: What can I say? I am a sucker for HP fanfic and probably always will be.
  • Dahlia Adler - UNDER THE LIGHTS: Not my usual, but I enjoyed it. Vanessa was awesome.
  • Kameron Hurley - THE GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION: This book incensed and inspired me. So much yes.
  • Stacey Lee - UNDER A PAINTED SKY: I loved the prose and tense action in this one. Again, I don't usually read Western, but this YA was just a lot of fun.
  • Tanya Huff - THE HEART OF VALOR (Confederation, #3): This series just keeps getting voicer and more and more character-driven. Love the audio.
  • Sarah Kuhn - HEROINE COMPLEX: Yes, I'm a sucker for subversions of comic book tropes. This was lots of fun.
  • Sabaa Tahir - AN EMBER IN THE ASHES: I positively devoured this in one sitting. Could not put down.
  • Sara Farizan - TELL ME AGAIN HOW A CRUSH SHOULD FEEL: I really liked how this book played with some tropes and twisted it into something that both made me happy and was totally unexpected.
  • Kekla Magoon - HOW IT WENT DOWN: I mostly read this for my students. I think this fictionalized Trayvon Martin-esque story is important and I'm glad to have it in my classroom.
  • Kate Elliott - COURT OF FIVES - I loved the nuanced way this book treated classism and family ties. More, please!
  • Roshani Chokshi - THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN: The prose in this is gorgeous. I just wanted more plot to go along with it.
  • Matthew Quick - FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK: Yeah, have to say,  this book wasn't for me. I thought that the treatment of mental illness and gay relationships was highly problematic, so, not for me.
  • Heidi Heilig - THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE: This was such a cool, diverse twist on the pirate YA genre. I loved the world building and the writing. Also, Kashmir!
  • Pat Schmatz - LIZARD RADIO: This read like dystopian conversion camps with lizards! Fast-paced and fun!

Okay, wow, that's quite a list for this month. Anyway, I'm going to try something new for September and try to track my time edited instead of words written, because that's basically where I am at with this WIP. Also, I upped my reading goal from 100 books in 2016 to 150. This might be as lofty as my TBR, but we'll see. Challenges abound!

Until then, happy writing!

I Brake For Indie Bookstores: Mysterious Galaxy

20150807_092020-1 I want to use this space to write about some of my favorite indie bookstores, starting with Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego. This one has been on my list of bookstores to check out for years and when a work conference brought me to San Diego, I finally had my chance. It definitely lived up to my expectations.

Mysterious Galaxy specializes in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mysteries and Horror. This not only means a huge selections of titles that often don't find room in bigger stores with smaller SFF sections, it also means a great array of signed editions that are available, both on the shelves and for pre-order with the option to personalize.

Tucked away in a strip mall on San Diego's Balboa Avenue, Mysterious Galaxy has lots of room to spotlight local authors like the amazing Cindy Pon and Lisa Brackmann, but also opens their doors to a constant flow of national SFF authors who hold signings and events. The store's rolling bookshelves make it possible to hold big crowds as needed, which is a cool feature and makes the space flexible and open. Coincidentally I was able to attend Mary Kubica's Q&A and signing when I visited as Mysterious Galaxy as part of her book tour for her new release Pretty Baby, which was a cool bonus.

The store's open layout features YA, science fiction and fantasy, horror, and mystery & thriller sections as well as additional new release displays. Many titles feature personal staff recommendations. Apart from their huge selection of speculative fiction, I personally liked MG's collection of bookish shirts and collectibles to supplement any nerd space.

For those of us not close to San Diego, the Mysterious Galaxy website is a great extension of the store as it offers pre-orders of signed first editions, a book club offering a monthly selection of titles, as well as a very up to date calendar of events including a regular writing group, author signings and other bookish events. You can sign up for their news letter here.

This store definitely lived up to the hype and was well worth the trip because it's basically nerd nirvana. I left with a respectable stack of new science fiction and fantasy as well as some nerdy goodies. I'll definitely be back and hope to catch one of my favorite authors at a signing there sometime soon.