Friday Wrap-Up: PPWC Success!

A few weeks ago (April 24-27), I was lucky to attend the Pikes Peak Writers Conference (PPWC).

When I began looking for writing conferences around the holidays last year, PPWC kept sticking out for me. It was nearbyish in Colorado Springs, they had Chuck Wendig as a keynote speaker (duh, I was there), and they promised to host the friendliest writers conference for beginning writers.

The day before I went, I totally had those palm sweaty, shaky, “what the hell am I doing here?” moments. I watched Cosmos. I ordered a pizza from room service and bought a six-pack of beer (don’t worry, I only drank two). These were tricks, yes, but they kept me from obsessively thinking about that big, awful, scary, and oh-so-professional writers conference that for some reason I thought I would be allowed to go to the next day.

I’m sure you’re already way ahead of me here, but it wasn’t scary.

It wasn’t awful.

It was kind of big, which was cool.

Oh and those oh-so-professional writers? They were definitely there. But we talked about the books we loved and made Speedracer references and gushed over wine together. And once the bar opened up and the sessions were over, they turned out to be regular people. Shocker, huh?

It turned out that PPWC was the friendliest writer’s conference.

(For me, at least. I mean, maybe there were people who hated it and cried in their room the whole time, IDK.)

I could gush about the whole weekend for ages–about how I got to hang out with Chuck Wendig, or was introduced to Gail Carriger, or talked sci-fi with Carol Berg, or made up fake eroticas with agents. (Oops, the gushing came out just a bit.)

wendig2Overall, though, my weekend was made by the amazing other newbie writers I found. Because there’s something about finding a group of people who understand just how damned frustrating that third draft can be. I think some people call it a tribe. I prefer to call them my people now. Even though they are kind of spread out all over this wide country.

To keep this shortish, I have some posts that other people wrote up after the conference linked below so you can get a better sense of the whole thing. But, from me? If you’re a writer and you’re intrigued, go. Just go.


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The Martian, Chronicled

the_martianYou guys. You GUYS.

This one was just way too easy, but it was also perfect. Ace. Stellar. All the superlatives.

Of course Andy Weir’s stand-out novel The Martian should be paired with The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, because they have the same name in their title!

No. No dear friend. It’s that easy, but it’s also not. 

You’re hopefully already well-acquainted with Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. It’s a set of loosely connected short stories that tip-toe around the edges of madness, uncover the frustrations of a new planet, and master the line between suspense and silence. It’s a small book that’s written in Bradbury’s characteristic dreamscape where ordinary things are enough to give you the shivers, or nightmares.

Weir’s The Martian, on the other hand, deals with these same issues, but in a hyper-realistic way. Where Bradbury uses fantasy, Weir uses top-notch research and scientific theories to slip us onto Mars. In the novel, we watch as astronaut Mark Watney is accidentally left behind on the red planet and forced to use his ingenuity to stay alive. Worse, NASA realizes he’s still out there and has to watch, hoping they can help him escape. Somehow.

It’s a fast-paced book that’s balanced by hilarious journal reports from our adventurer. Watney has to motherf-n create water on the planet and uses his supplies to do so, but he’s also forced to watch corny 70s sitcoms because they’re the only ones that have been left behind. He throws tantrums. He gets lazy. He has strokes of genius. He outruns storms.

It’s a book that I had to inhale in one sitting and then recommend to everybody. 


But, see, where these books really shine together in a pairing is in how they approach their subject. Both use the quiet of the pages to draw us nearer to Mars. Both hold us there–in that silence–just before we slip over the edge of suspense into the stories themselves. Both help us wrestle with the ideas of who we are as humans and what we become when we leave earth. Perhaps neither of them give us answers at the end of our reading, but they do teach us how to ask better questions.

As the good man himself put it in The Martian Chronicles, “Science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.”

If Cosmos rocks your world or if you stayed up way past your bedtime to see the blood moon a few days ago, dive into The Martian and The Martian Chronicles. You’ll soon be shouting out superlatives too.

Have you read The Martian or Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles


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Friday Wrap-Up: Where Do You Find New Authors?

I wrote a little while ago about the value of spontaneous book browsing and found out that many of you already have a very specific to-read list in hand when you go to the bookstore or library.

But, where does that list come from? The ether? GoodReads recommendations? Amazon reviews? Friends? Blogs? 


More specifically, how do you find new authors that you just can’t wait to read? Once you already love an author, it’s easy to traipse through back-list land. But, a new one? A good new one? That’s a rare thing indeed.

This has been on my mind because I realized that a lot of my new authors I read are found at literary events like the Tucson Festival of Books. Attending panels with a mix of different authors allows me to kind of get to know an author directly and can turn me onto his or her books without ever having read a review.

Otherwise, I get a lot of my recommendations through other book blogs and friends. I can also be swayed to read something if it will lend itself to a work assignment (i.e., food or nutrition) or if it’s recommended by multiple people. Bonus points if a new author recommended is also in the Wendig/Sykes/Bear/Hearne/Rothfuss author party happening over on Twitter, also known as the “Taco Guild”… maybe… (but, this is another reason why I have my sights on Scott Lynch).

What I also find interesting is that I rarely take up recommendations from Amazon or GoodReads. It’s just not a point on my radar.

Anyways, rambly and such. Where do YOU go to find new authors? 

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Need a Beer With Gaiman’s Sandman?

sandman_1Approaching Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series is always kind of intimidating. On one hand, it’s this break-through work of one of our best writers. It’s moody and dark and sets the tone for so much of Gaiman’s later pieces.

But, see, it’s also a comic that so many people have gravitated towards for their first comic book experience. It absolutely smashes apart comic book virginities, if you will. Enough so that many people have elevated it to a higher level than a mere comic book. It’s obviously a graphic novel note some readers or award committees.

Of course, there’s also the need to discuss the art that twists and turns across the pages. Art that shocks and disgusts. Art that is firmly a part of the comic book world, but then again, not quite.

Perhaps it’s how we always think of exceptional things. It is of this thing, but it’s more and better than the sum of those parts. Or maybe it’s only how we think of great things that come from more seedy backgrounds. (Please stab me in the eye for the next person who says that an amazing sci-fi or horror novel can’t really be considered genre, because it’s actually Literature. As if both things exist entirely separate.)

Maybe that’s how I’ll think of Sandman then–a Comic Book, with a capital C.

It was my first comic. The art scared the hell out of me, but at the same time, taught me how to chase words across a page. The characters moaned. The mythologies mixed and mingled as they are wont to do when Gaiman gets a hold of them. In it, I journeyed to Shakespeare’s time, to the 1980s, to mythic Africa, to hell. In all, Gaiman’s words kept pulling me along, the somber face of Morpheus, the Dream Lord, leading the way.

I’m re-reading it now as part of Insatiable Booksluts’ Morpheus Monday read-along and am just about half-way through it again. While I zipped through it the first time, eager to figure out what happened next (or merely to get past the “cereal” convention), I’m now trying to take my time. Hopefully now that I have some more comics under my belt, I can better appreciate exactly what the author and illustrators of Sandman were doing here.

If you’re planning on reading ityou’ll likely need a drink that has a bit more of a disreputable past as well.

Beer, of course, is now more than the sum of its Coors Light and Bud Light parts as you well know if you’re reading this blog. For Sandman, I recommend a beer that’s as dark and rich as the series–Atwater Brewery’s Decadent Dark Chocolate Ale to be exact.

The beer is almost black. It smells deeply of dark chocolate, though the taste is more balanced and approachable. It goes down smooth, with just a bit of sweetness from the chocolate and a hint of coffee at the end. It’s an immensely drinkable ale that will hopefully delight you as much as Sandman does.

Go on. Enjoy. 

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Friday Wrap-Up: Get Your Write On

Ahoy there! It seems there’s more than the normal frenetic writing energy going around right now. I chalk it up to the whole birds and bees and rebirth and spring-time sextravaganzas that always gets us writers rarin’ to go.

You a writer? Have you heard about…

  • The Pikes Peak Writers Conference? It’s end of April in Colorado Springs. It’s my first writing conference and I’m equal parts crap my pants excited and aforementioned crapping scared. These things happen. Thankfully, good ol’ Chuck will be a keynote speaker there, which leads me to…
  • The newest book out by Chuck Wendig, The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, & Earn Your AudienceBold promises there folks, but I’m stoked to read it, even if I only manage to incorporate 50 or 235 of those ways.
  • The Writing Sidekick from Amanda Shofner? Shofner’s our lead for a writing accountability group that I’m a part of and I’ve been loving it. You can catch some of her enthusiasm and cheerleading for writing by signing up for her free Camp NaNoWriMo program. (Even if we are already into it a bit.)
  • BookRiot’s latest open call for writers? You’ve got until Sunday to apply for the Riot and they’re specifically looking for people who want to talk about African American fiction, Latin American fiction, romance & erotica, sci-fi/fantasy, Christian, romance, and mysteries/thrillers/suspense.

What other writerly things are going on that I’ve missed? 

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Friday Wrap-Up: Best of March

the_martianIn terms of reading, March can be wrapped up in one short sentence: Go out and read The Martian by Andy Weir right now.

Glad we could do that.

*drops mic and leaves*

*shuffles back onstage apologetically and dusts off mic*

But, seriously, if you have any hankering for space or sci-fi or what it means to be human or just want a damn good suspense novel, I highly suggest it.

This month I also read:

  • Spontaneous Healing by Dr. Andrew Weil
  • The Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon
  • Sandman: Seasons of Mist by Neil Gaiman
  • Saga: Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Soooo cooking and comics. Those go together, right? Yes. Yes, I think so.

There have also been a few reviews on BookPairing, most notably, Margaret Atwood’s stunning MaddAddam paired with some lavender, lemon, and honey biscuits. There was also some fan girling about Call the MidwifeJoseph Campbell, olive oil, and Angela Liddon over at Oh She Glows.

OH. And there was the Tucson Festival of Books which was a major book party where Chuck and I became BFFs.

I’ve been doing lots over at Food Riot. Some of my favorites this month were:

I also hope you’ve been following along over at Insatiable Booksluts with our Morpheus Mondays Sandman readalong! It’s good stuff folks. And there’s a redesign up over at Insatiable, so MOAR good things. (I just want to pet it a bit.) I also should note that the redesign was released at the same time we announced Sex Month over at IB, or as we’re calling it, Literary Friction: Insatiable Booksluts Talk Sex (For Once). *cackles*

What did you read in March? 

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Food Riot Rewind: Oh She Glows Cookbook Review

oh_she_glows[I thought about turning this into two posts, one for Food Riot and one here, but couldn’t think of too much else to say beyond what I wrote here. I’m still loving the cookbook, having made the Orange Miso Noodle Bowls, Citrus Tea multiple times, Banana Bites, as well as the Indian Cauliflower Soup and Cookie Dough Balls. The Cookie Dough Balls were as good as everybody was raving about!]

I think I’ve made it pretty clear around here that I’m a bit of a fan-girl when it comes to Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows. Voted “Most likely to be read on Monday morning when I’m committing to be healthy for the week” in last year’s food bloggers wrap-up post, Liddon continues to provide carnivore-friendly vegan meals that have now been incorporated into my everyday routine.

She’s also all sunshiney and happy. So much so that I feel like I want to hang out with her and do yoga and drink green tea and talk about the beauty of life.

A bit too far?

Annnnyways. There is now an Oh She Glows Cookbook that is absolutely marvelous. It contains over 100 vegan recipes that promise both flavor and ease. They’re approachable in ways that most vegan recipes aren’t, while still pushing us all beyond our comfort zones a bit. There’s tons of sunshiney and happy photos (I just. I can’t do cookbooks unless there’s tons of photos).

More importantly, there are NOT tons of recipes that are just iterations of non-vegan recipes with pseudo food products thrown in as replacements. She makes her cheese sauces with cashew cream, not fake cheez. She makes recipes that are mostly *gasp* vegetables, and not buffalo chicken (NOT REALLY CHICKEN) tenders.

osg_bananasI got the Oh She Glows Cookbook in the mail less than a week ago and have already made three recipes: Metabolism-Boosting Green Citrus Tea, Orange-Maple Miso Empowered Noodle Bowl, and Almond Butter-Banana Bites. That’s a whole meal, folks, that was super tasty and easy to put together. Hubz was a bit apprehensive about an “empowered noodle bowl” but, um, he scarfed it down. And got seconds.

I love that Angela Liddon has made me a better cook with the use of whole grains, vegetables, and beans. Now I’m looking forward to using her pantry section to help fill out my own kitchen. I may not be quite a vegan yet, but I’m getting a few steps closer every time I fall in love with another of Liddon’s recipes.

If you want to follow along with others out there making these recipes, make sure to watch #osgcookbook on Twitter and Instagram. It’s fun watching different people experimenting with the same recipes. (True life: The Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Bites are definitely winning over on social. It’s like watching a fast-paced food popularity contest.)

Do you read the Oh She Glows blog? Have you picked up the cookbook yet? 

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Friday Wrap-Up: Top Five from the Tucson Festival of Books!

Hoo-boy, ready to jump right into the Tucson Festival of Books recap love-fest?? Here’s my top five.

1. Meeting authors and stuff, but also watching my great bloggy friends meet authors (and stuff) 

Jessica at Quirky Bookworm got to drive around Deborah Crombie and interview Cara Black. Ric and Jami at The Lonely D12 dished over penis drawings and RPGs with Chuck Wendig and Sam Sykes. Also I made new friends, like Aly F-in Summers, an awesome local author. And Chuck Wendig. Because I call him Chuck now. Like, first name basis. Because we talked for 15 minutes and are now BFFs obvs.


2. Everything Kevin Hearne

Let’s just get it out of the way–Kevin Hearne, author of the Iron Druid Chronicles, is god-damned adorable. They had this great author banter hour at the Tucson Festival of Books that Hearne, Sykes, and Bear participated in. One person in the audience asked about hate mail. All the authors took their turn and then turned to Hearne. He just mumbled sheepishly that he never received hate mail. OF COURSE NOT. Hearne is adorable.

3. Gettin’ my nerd on over in the “Are We in the Future?” session with Elizabeth Bear, Ben Bova, Chris Impey… 

The list goes on people. It was a damn good session that made this not-so-sciencey-savvy girl think more deeply about wormholes and cryogenic freezing and space exploration. I can’t say that I really understood more than half of it, but the part that I did. Woah.


4. Shedding an extreme tear or two during the “Magical Realism” session with Tim Tingle and Daniel Olivas

Every year I leave the festival with another few names of authors in my pocket. This year it was Tingle and Olivas. They held a fascinating discussion about the role of magic in fiction and their lives as authors. Also, Tingle told this story about a fox on the road that, I mean, it was classic, heartrending story-telling. I’m in love.

5. Seeing the awesome of Arizona 

I know this sounds kinda squirmy cute and all, but like, I’m really excited to see that there are huge reading events in Arizona and new bloggers and authors out there doing THINGS. There are also really great organizations making mushrooms, growing desert edible plants, and raising honey bees over (as seen in the Science section). Like good on you Arizona. We’re becoming a force to be reckoned with (and not just in the awkward Facebook way, where you see relatives in other states freaking out about Janet Brewer or Joe Arpaio).

What was your favorite part about the Tucson Festival of Books? 

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Happy Birthday Joseph Campbell!

9781577315933_p0_v1_s260x420Joseph Campbell–mythologist and writer–would be celebrating his birthday today if he were still alive. His thoughts on mythology though continue to influence all of us, whether we’re watching a movie, reading a book, or diving into the theory that supports or refutes his original thoughts.

At the core, Campbell suggested that 1) all mythological stories followed the same narrative structure regardless of origin and 2) myths serve a very real purpose in our lives and society.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces explored how shared stories could be seen in the myths of Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and other religious figures. This work ended up influencing Star Wars, The Lion King, Watership Down, and countless other movies and books.

The Masks of God went beyond this, studying cultural and historical variations among myths. Finally, of his more popular books, The Power of Myth is perhaps the most well-known as it contains extended transcripts of the PBS series Campbell did with Bill Moyers shortly before his death.

All of this, of course, to give you a primer to start with and a gateway to further pairings. If you haven’t read Campbell, I certainly recommend you do. If you have, you may enjoy:

  • When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone for an in-depth, academic look at the mythology of the female goddess
  • Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World by Kathleen Ragan for an extended look at the strong female characters so often missing from Western mythology (and, admittedly, Cambell’s studies)
  • Sandman by Neil Gaiman and Hounded by Kevin Hearne to read about different myths frolicking freely together
  • Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis and Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin to watch as two classic authors take on their own retellings of popular myths

Anybody else ready to geek out in the comments? Do you love Joseph Campbell? Do you have FEELINGS about some of the stuff he wrote? Have any more suggestions for mythological readings?

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Goin’ to the Tucson Festival of Books!

tfobIf you’re in Arizona, I hope you’re packing up your book bags as well and making your way down to Tucson for the weekend. It promises to be a fan-fuckin-tastic weekend of reading.

I’ve been writing over at the festival’s website about a few of the sessions I’ll be hitting up, including the “Are We Living in the Future” panel (featuring Elizabeth Bear, Ben Bova, and Kim Stanley Robinson) and the culinary series.

My printed calendar for the weekend (oh yeah, I’m totally ready for this) also features some talks with Chuck Wendig, Kevin Hearne, Jared Diamond, and Dr. Andrew Weil. Oh and there’s also a “Beer Down Arizona” session. You know I’m all about that one.

I’ll be tweeting all weekend while I’m at the festival @bookpairing, or you can find my Instagram photos @nkksteele. Other local bloggers, including Quirky Bookworm and The Lonely D12, will also be out and about so make sure to find us and say hi if you’re at the festival!

What sessions are you planning to hit up during the Tucson Festival of Books? 

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