Cuppa Fate: The Dubious Art of Reading Tea Leaves

Anyone who knows me know I’m a tea-fiend. When I’m writing, I mainline a variety of teas just to keep going. My husband and I bought ourselves an electric kettle for Christmas and then treated ourselves to a variety of loose-leaf Adagio teas. (Yes, in Lord of the Rings fan-blends… I’m a special breed of nerd.) If you want to attract a wild Kristin out in the world, coffee won’t do the trick, but waft the steam from your finest Earl Grey, and soon she’ll be eating out of your hand.

So when my birthday rolled around, my best friend gave me as a sort of birthday stocking-stuffer a copy of Little Giant Encylopedia: Tea Leaf Reading. I was thrilled. My experience with tea leaf reading extends only to reading about it with Harry Potter, and now I have a pocket guide to help me get started.

Since I’m a novice tasseomancer, just like Harry and Ron, and I’m assuming you are too, I thought we could all walk through this process together. You’ll need a cuppa tea, of course, but not just any cup: try to find a wide-bottom cup, preferably white or at least pale in color. And you’ll need loose-leaf tea—correctly brewed, of course.

Go ahead, make your cup. I’ll wait. *sips tea*

According to the book, once you have your tea you should drink it until there’s about a teaspoon left. Hold the cup in your left hand, swirl the dregs three times in a clockwise direction, and then very carefully upend the cup on a saucer to let it drain. Pick it up with your right hand (without disturbing the pattern the leaves have made), open your mind, and see what you can see.

Now, if you’re like me, you’ll make a huge mess the first time you try this. Don’t leave a teaspoon of liquid in the cup: drink until you have nothing but sludge, or you will find yourself hastily mopping up tea with a bunch of Kleenex and wind up with most of your tea leaves in the saucer.

Perhaps I should have just read my saucer... though it seems ill-omened to read the future in one's giant mess.
Perhaps I should have just read my saucer… though it seems ill-omened to read the future in one’s giant mess.

Assuming you do in fact have some tea leaves left in your cup, rotate the image until it makes sense and you see something. Consider what you see, and think of it fairly abstractly, like finding shapes in the clouds. You’re not going to see the tea-equivalent of Da Vinci’s sketches in your cup (probably), so, erm, try to clear your third eye and look into the beyond.

It may help to do this in silence, and it will certainly NOT help if a friend asks if your reading foretells forthcoming dog poop. Excessive noise and poo-related questions may (*ahem*) block your ability to read the leaves. So give it a go, and try to concentrate.

In my case, I saw pyramids and flying birds.

tea leaf reading
Pyramids and flying birds. Hey, it’s my cup, I’ll see what I see!

The book tells me pyramids indicate “attainment to fame, honor, and wealth.” Sweet. And birds generally foreshadow happiness and joyful tidings, while a single bird flying means speedy news or emails. So I will soon be receiving good news that may lead to fame, honor, and/or wealth. Very nice!

Tea-soaked Kleenex and poop-questions aside, that’s not a bad first reading, if I do say so myself.

 So, are you reading to get started reading your own leaves? Here are a few basic shapes to get you started:

Square: may indicate perplexity and dismay, or some forthcoming embarrassing situation

Circle: money, presents, an engagement, faithful friends

Flowers: good fortune, happiness, love, marriage, spending time with a large circle of friends

Initials: may indicate initials of someone you know, or a place you may visit

Book: an open book may indicate a desire for information and an inquisitive mind, while a closed book may indicate expectancy

Good luck to you, friends! I’m going to go stare at my inbox now and wait for my forthcoming wealth and fame. (That’s how wealth and fame is acquired, right? By sitting and waiting?) Cheers!

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A Wager Between Friends

Last week I blogged about my wager with fellow writer, Brian O’Conor, on completing the many seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As of the early writing I wasn’t through season 1 yet, but now I am and on to season two. I will win this bet. See my thoughts so far and share your own!

The Musings of an Author in Progress

Many of you know that I participate in an online RPG called #MageTech. It’s pretty awesome and often quite silly. Over Halloween our illustrious DM, Kristin McFarland, mapped out a one-off special episode that deviated from our normal play. It was so much fun and successful, she’s decided we could try to do these more often. But one of the cool things is that there are many RPGs based on beloved TV shows and movies.

So we were all deciding what RPGs we’d like to do and of course the standards came up, D&D spinoffs, Supernatural, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At that last, a few of our gammers went on a happy little tangent about the show and characters, while I just sat there, smiling awkwardly.

Why was this my reaction? Because, gentle viewers, I have never watched BtVS. That’s right, now you know my big…

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The Numbers Game: Quality vs. Quantity

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been reading more and more stories lately lauding prolific writers as though that is the sole measure of how good their books are. For example, a self-published writer just made headlines for publishing 25 books in the last 30 months. Another author, who is only 40 yet has nearly 30 books to her name, was just given a mind blowing sum for two books.

My concern is that is this kind of publicity for writers who used to be considered phenoms is that they are setting unrealistic expectations for the rest of us. Writing books is hard work. It takes time. And there are a million reasons why some writers are faster than others:

  • Do they write full time? (Obviously full time writers would write faster.)
  • What is the word count expectation for their genre? (YA can be as few as 50K, where as fantasy is usually over 100K)
  • Do they have families or other responsibilities that cut into their writing time?
  • What are the demands of their genre? (For example, historical fiction is very research intensive, which takes time. Also, romance tends to require that you write several books a year.)
  • What is their natural speed? (Some people are naturally fast writers. I am not. I’m maybe average to slow.)

Are we all supposed to try to live up to these insane examples now if we want success? That almost seems to be what the media (and perhaps even the industry) is saying. And I hear it’s even worse among self-publishers than in the traditional publishing realm. Where does that leave young/debut writers who need day jobs to pay the bills? Are we to give up in the face of such expectations? Will these kinds of examples keep some exceptional writers from even trying to enter the business at all? For all of our sakes, I hope not.

I get that our world is speeding up. I get that readers want the next book yesterday (I’m as guilty of that as anyone else). I get that we all have developed ADD. But is writing faster necessarily the solution? I don’t think so. I’m not saying we should all adopt the snail’s pace of writers like George R. R. Martin or Margaret George, but we need to look at what kinds of books we’re getting with all this speed. It’s absolutely possible for a high-quality book to be written quickly, but it’s rare. Writing the story takes time. Then there is revision. Rounds and rounds of it. If you rush that, you end up with dreck.

If you want a good story, let writers take their time, whether that means they put out two books a year or a book every two years. (And if the writer is traditionally published, keep in mind that the publishing process is notoriously slow and is out of the author’s control.)

There is a forgotten virtue called patience that we all need to relearn, writers and readers alike. Readers, it won’t kill you to wait a bit for the next book. There are plenty of stories to keep you entertained in the meantime.  Writers, we need to be patient with ourselves and support one another rather than competing for the highest number of books on our list. I know more books usually equals more sales, but is that really why we got into this business, or was it about the story?

I, for one, will always be a quality over quantity writer and reader. It’s just in my nature. As I was thinking about writing this, I heard these lines from the Katy Perry song, “This Moment,”

“Do you ever think that, we’re just chasing our tails?
Like life is one big fast treadmill
And we pop what is prescribed
If it gets us first prize
But you know who I, who I think will win…
Are the ones that take the time.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. So write on my friends, whatever your natural pace may be. And do your best to ignore the media. I’ll try if you will.

What are your thoughts on quality vs. quantity? Do you think the media pays too much attention to prolific writers? Why or why not? How would you suggest we, as writers and readers, deal with the growing trend toward speed?

Busting Out the Spellbound Scribes Confetti Canon

Monday’s as good a time as any to lay down some happy news, right?

I thought it might be, but I called in some help in the form of Merida from Brave. Who else would be so handy in this situation?

Because a lot of our readers are also writers at varying stages of the life, I’ll intersperse this news with some of my experience getting from Point A to say, N.

There are heaps of articles and websites out there to help writers through the slog of the Query Trenches to find an agent, but there’s not a ton out in the turgid wilds of the interwebz that talks about what happens next. My journey’s not the same as everyone’s obviously, but it’s one that could lend some insight into the process for those who are wondering about life after agent. With, of course, some Brave GIFs, because funsies.

When you first hear about the submission process, it can seem daunting and a little bewildering. I mean, you just got done querying. Now you get to do it again!

Brave, Merida, red hair

Of course, it’s super exciting. If a wee bit overwhelming.

Merida, baby Merida, brave, gif, bow, archery

Your agent will put together a list of editors she thinks would be interested in seeing your book. This means she has to research different houses’ imprints, who works there, who’s actively acquiring (and in your genre), who has a hankering for stories like yours, and who’s been yammering for exactly what you have.

LilDudeFacePat

I know it’s a lot to take in.

My agent and I agreed to a weekly digest style of communication. She’d send me an email on Fridays to let me know who’d requested the full manuscript based on her proposal, who’d referred us to someone else, who’d passed, etc. She also sends me a color coded spreadsheet, because she’s an absolute boss. Every agent works a bit differently, and it’s up to you to discuss this bit with whoever represents you to make sure you’re on the same page. Agents ought to be forthcoming with this information when asked. And if you’re still querying, any agent offering you representation should have at least an idea of where your work is to be submitted!

Once all the groundwork’s in place, your agent will take aim.

Merida, Brave, archery, aim, bow, arrow

Then comes the all-too-familiar waiting bit.

Some days you’ll sit quietly in the peace of knowing you’ve achieved this awesome next step.

Brave, Merida, DisneyOther days you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of a slap fight and losing.

slap fight, brave

Some days you’ll be afraid to poke your head out of bed.

Merida, baby Merida, Brave

And the painful truth is that that first book might not sell. You’ll be sitting on Twitter someday (it is the Writer Way, methinks), and you’ll hear about somebody signing with an agent and somehow having a six-figure major deal fall on top of their head two seconds later. It’ll make you feel elated and jealous and terrified and encouraged and excited and bummed and horribly confused about the welter of emotions in your brain-room.

Merida, Brave, exasperated

But. That’s the thing about going the traditional route. You gotta keep trying. Just this week, a fellow writer I’ve known around from query websites and Twitter for a couple years got an offer of representation. She’s queried a couple (or few) different manuscripts with no luck. Then suddenly with this one she had 13-odd full requests, got an offer from a rockstar agent, and now is fielding about 5 offers of representation. A writer Kristin and I met at Capclave this year told us his book was on submission for two years before it sold. You just have to keep at it. Whatever path you take for publishing, make it your own and own its trials and triumphs.

Because one day, something will pop up.

Brave, Merida, baby merida, will o wisp, scotland, celtic

You’ll get an offer of publication. Which feels something like this…

Merida, Brave, archery, Scotland, bullseyeWhich brings us back to my own personal news for this subject.

Right around my birthday, my awesome agent Jessica Negrón received an offer of publication for SHRIKE, my Bridget Jones-meets-Spiderman superhero novel, which is set against the backdrop of the upcoming Scottish referendum for independence. And just this weekend, I signed my first ever publishing contract.

I’m absolutely chuffed to announce that SHRIKE was acquired by Executive Editor Mary-Theresa Hussey of Harlequin in a two book deal, negotiated by Jessica Negrón of Talcott Notch Literary Services in her first deal as an agent.

And yeah, I feel a bit like this…

Merida, excited, gif, BraveAnd this…

Merida, Brave

SHRIKE will be coming out in August in digital first distribution, which is super fast. Which is very exciting and overwhelming and awesome!

So…erm…that’s uh….mah news. 😀 I hope you enjoyed the show, or at least adorable baby Merida. Thank you to all the Spellbound Scribes for giving me a place to blab today and all the other days since I joined!

Top Ten Favorite Steampunk Reads: An utterly biased perspective

A friend and I are talking about a joint writing venture. She writes contemporary romance and historicals, mostly set in the first part of the 20th century. I write…a little of everything. Usually with vampires. The one thing we have in common, though, is a flirty, funny approach, and I’m kind of excited to dive into the project.

Neither of us has done the co-author thing before. And neither of us has written Steampunk.

So why Steampunk? There are a couple reasons, the first being I’ve always wanted to explore the genre from the writing side. I’m a huge fan – as you can see from the rest of the post – but  have never tried to create a Steampunk world of my own. The second is I think the basic idea for our setting – a premature baby incubator display on a carnival midway in about 1910 – would lend itself to all kinds of gadgets and gizmos.

Most important, I think layering on the fantasy elements will free us from having to take a strict approach to historical behaviors and attitudes, particularly for our female characters. Creating women who don’t make modern readers cringe is one of the trickier parts of writing historical romance, but calling it Steampunk lets us do an end run around that particular obstacle.

And did I mention I really love the genre?

As part of my research (ow, ow, twist my arm, make me read more Steampunk) I came up with a list of my favorites and shared them with my writing partner. It was a surprisingly long list, and I decided to organize it as a top ten for you, the readers of this blog. Give her a go, and let me know in the comments if there’s anything I missed. (Oh, and you’ll notice I skew towards romance. So shoot me.)

10. The Native Star by MK Hobson – There are a couple different styles of Steampunk – there’s the futuristic variety (think Joss Whedon’s Firefly or books by HG Wells), and the Victorian style (almost everything else). On the third branch of the Steampunk tree, you find stories set in a reinvisioned American West. That’s where Native Star falls. It’s the first of a series involving a lively witch and a cantankerous warlock who might be rather heroic if he’d get over himself. It was a fun read, and though I haven’t picked up the sequel yet, I likely will…

9. A Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin – I read this a bazillion years ago, before I knew Steampunk was a thing, but it came up on a Goodreads list so I’m including it here. Though I don’t remember many details, I know it’s a magical story set in turn-of-the-century New York. Hmm…might have to pick this one up again.

8. The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger – There’s a whole bunch of books in this series, and I think of them as kind of a starter drug. I loved the first few, then moved on to other Steampunk series. Many people might put them higher on the list, and I might have if she’d stopped at three. IMHO the energy dwindled a bit after that.

7. The Seduction of Phaeton Black by Jillian Stone – Okay, so the hero is a mash-up of Robert Downey Junior’s Sherlock & Jack Sparrow, and the heroine’s got brass…buckles, but there’s a naughty scene quite near the opening that scored so many points with me it overcame the messy plot edges toward the end. Lots of fun if you like a sexy anti-hero.

6. Kiss Of Steel by Bec McMaster – This one’s also the first of a series, and I really should read more of them. Gritty Victorian London setting, compelling set-up, and tons of sexual tension. Fun read.

5. Flash Gold by Lindsey Buroker – Ms. Buroker is a self-published author who has a couple different Steampunk series going. I linked to Flash Gold because it’s free (and free is good). This is the first in a series set in the Yukon, with a strong heroine and a solid take on the genre. Her novel Encrypted is from a set of three similar novels (although I couldn’t find a name for the series). It’s more of a fantasy take on Steampunk, and it’s a fresh, enjoyable read.

4. The Darkest London books by Kristen Callihan – These books are currently on my auto-buy list. Pretty much I’m reading them as fast as the author can write them. There’s werewolves and magic and some really hot writing. I started with Moonglow. You should too.

Okay, now for my top three…

3. Dead Iron by Devon Monk – This is the first in her series called The Age Of Steam, which are also pretty much auto-buys for me. Strong, strong writing and wordbuilding and compelling characters. Her language is so beautiful it’s worth reading even if you don’t give a hoot about airships and shapeshifters and witches.

And, well, there are two #1s, because I love both these series so, so much, and they’re both so different and marvelous

1. The Iron Duke by Meljean Brooks – Okay, just because I’m listing this one here does not mean it’s in any way second to any other book. It was the kind of book where I read compulsively, in borderline inappropriate places (the bar at a pricy eastside restaurant surrounded by lawyers and salesgeeks while waiting for a friend), and then as soon as I finished, I went back to page one and started again. Amazing world building. Incredible romance. Hot sex. *gulp* This series isn’t just an auto-buy – it’s a ‘check the author’s website regularly to see if there’s a new one coming out’.

1. Wicked As They Come by Delilah Dawson – This. This. Just as imaginative as the world building in Iron Duke, but in a more playful, creepy carnival kind of way. And there’s vampires. Sort of. And a nurse (which comes very close to my heart). And hot sex. And the best use of a door in any novel anywhere.

And finally, here are a couple on my TBR pile…

Godspeed by February Grace and anything by Cherie Priest and the Bannon and Clare books by Lilith Saintcrow and Gossamer Wings by Delphine Dryden. There might be a few more, especially after I see what you put in the comments here.  🙂

So…what’s your favorite Steampunk story? Have you tried writing in the genre? Are there any tips you’d like to share?

Peace, Liv

How to Cure a Book Hangover

book hangover n, colloquial Being unable to start a new book because you are still living in the last book’s world; when the real world feels incomplete or surreal because you can’t stop thinking about the last book you read.

I read a lot. And to be honest, I’m pretty easy to please as a reader. I enjoy most genres, and it takes a lot to ruin a book for me. But the opposite is also true. I don’t love every book I read; it takes a lot to blow me away. There are a certain definable set of qualities that must be present in a book for me to love it, but even those qualities are necessary but not sufficient to win my adoration. In short, I never know whether or not I’ll love a book until I crack open that first page.

But when I find a book I love…ho boy. I fall hard. We’re talking my nose crammed in that book for hours and hours on end. I stay up way past my bedtime. I forget about unimportant things like showers and meals. When a book grabs me, it grabs me body, mind, and soul, hauling me so deep into the fictional world that I feel like I am part of the story. I know the characters; their pain is my pain, their joy is my joy. I can see the landscape; smell the air and touch the buildings.

But when the book ends…GUH. I don’t want it to be over! I want to crawl inside it and live forever with my new best friends the characters! I wander around in a daze, not quite sure what I’m supposed to do in the so-called “real world.” I get bad book hangovers. So if you’re like me, and you can’t quite get that book out of your head, here are some tips to cure that hangover.

1. Hair of the dog. Yeah, I’m talking about rereading. Sometimes you just need to revel in that wonderful world a little longer. You don’t have to reread the entire book (unless you want to, of course). Personally, I like to reread my favorite descriptions, relive the climactic action scenes, and re-suffer through the angsty romantic scenes. My motto is: you can’t dog-ear enough! (The highlight function on Kindle is pretty handy, too).

2. Spread the love. If you haven’t already, force your friends, your relatives, your acquaintances, and possibly even that nice lady at the bank to read the book. Then you can all obsess together, which nine out of ten bibliophiles agree is much healthier than obsessing alone, in your room, under the covers with a flashlight.

3. Rebound. Find a book. Any old book. Give that book the old college try. Chances are, you’ll hate it, because compared to your gilded Book o’ Wonderfullness it won’t hold the tiniest candle. Your unresolved feelings for the old book will make it impossible to form a new relationship with another book, and it will all end in tears. But emotional catharsis is good. It means you’re moving on!

Eventually, time cures all ills, and you will fall in love with another book again. And then it begins all over again…

Do you get bad book hangovers? How do you cure a book hangover? Share you thoughts in the comment section below!

New Year New Idea

Hello! I hope your 2014 is starting out right. I know mine is. Busy as ever, but that’s the fun part…most of the time.

As the new year dawned I sat down and made a list of all the stories I needed to write. Like the new year, new ideas make me giddy, frustrated, and exhausted by the end. How can a new idea (supposed to be exciting) make me feel all those things? Well, let me tell you.

In the beginning I’m thinking NEW. SHINY. FUN. This is my motto Then I get this fabulous plot twist (at least I think it’s fabulous twist) . The planning really takes off and I look a lot like this

So I sit down and start writing. After about a third of the way through this happens…

Then after a pep talk, or ten, I get back to the shiny new idea and finish writing the story. When I type those lovely final two words THE END my excitement becomes this

And then I start the process all over again with another story. Rinse and repeat!

Please tell me I’m not the only one who goes through this craziness. What’s your process when  you start something new?