More freaky coincidences, and the meaning of art

Either I’m the master of dumb luck, or my subconscious is a much more thoughtful artist than I am.

Maybe someday my subconscious will be revered as a great painter. Perhaps, years from now, the seemingly nonsensical system that decides which paintings are “great” will somehow latch onto my acrylic-on-canvas dabblings and the meanings that my subconscious inserted so insidiously into them.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

Jeopardy and mountain bears: Coincidences are everywhere!

In all the years since that happened, we’ve never figured out a connection that could explain why David and I thought of Alex Trebek at the same moment. Most likely, it’s because the whole thing was a freaky, weird, one-in-a-million coincidence.

And freaky, weird, one-in-a-million coincidences happen all the time. You have millions and millions of experiences every day, tiny ones, big ones, overlapping with each other, noticed and unnoticed. Statistically, one-in-a-million events should be occurring multiple times daily. In fact, if you think about it, everything that ever happens to you has a vanishingly tiny chance of happening exactly the way it happens. And yet it does.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

Cybermoths and phallic Daleks: My complex love of puns

What I mean is that I’m not an indiscriminate pun-lover. I am a pun connoisseur, a pun gourmet. I love puns passionately, but I have standards.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

I am not the archetypal author: Why “in character” has no meaning

I realized that, if I had written about this experience and included it as a scene in one of my works of fiction, many readers would accuse me of “inconsistency” and “not staying in character.”

As a real, non-fictional person, of course, I don’t have the concept of “in character.” I’m not any of the fictional archetypes– not even the more complex archetypes, since none of them are as complex as a human being. Whatever rules I come up with to describe my behavior, there are always exceptions, and even I can’t always define where and what those exceptions are going to be.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

New blogging schedule: let’s see how long I can keep this up!

Lately I’ve been getting lots of inspiration to write about my insights and thoughts.

So much, in fact, that I’m going to try and update my blog every week, on Sunday, with some new and profound exploration of life.

So if you’re going to start following this blog, now is the time. There’s an RSS link in the tabs at the top.


I helped write one of the best books of the year, apparently

This is How You Die, the collection that published one of my stories, has been listed on the AV Club’s best books list! I’ll try not to let it go to my head.

Last Christmas

Last year, I was killed in a tragic car crash on Christmas Day. Thanks to my organ donor card, you received a life-saving heart transplant… only to die in another crash on December 26th. Luckily for another heart patient, you also had a donor card. #ParaphrasedSongLyrics

The Second Mango, by Shira Glassman: A Book Review

Full disclosure: I didn’t receive any gifts in exchange for writing this review. However, the author is a dear friend of mine, and she and I were sharing and proofreading each other’s writing back when we were college kids, so I can’t promise a purely objective review. I will do my best to be honest, though, and I wouldn’t write this if I didn’t like the book!

“The Second Mango,” by Shira Glassman, is a fantasy story about (as the author says) “a gay woman, a straight woman, and a dragon.” The gay woman, Shulamit, is the young queen of Perach. The straight woman, Rivka, is a warrior from another nation. The dragon is a shape-shifter that can be either dragon or horse, and provides transportation as the two women travel together, seeking a potential sweetheart for the lonely Shulamit.

The account of their journey is interspersed with flashbacks to the passions in each of their pasts: Rivka’s star-crossed love for her late mentor Isaac, whose vow of chastity prevented anything from happening even before she lost him… and Shulamit’s long-ago romance with the palace cook Aviva, who nursed her through sickness, won her heart, and then left. Despite their differences, Shula and Riv find they have an uncommon amount in common.

The story, however, steers clear of the expected tropes. This is not a tale of a lesbian convincing a straight woman to explore gay love; the plot goes in another direction, which I think turns out to be far more satisfying. Things work out in a way that I never saw coming, even though in retrospect it makes perfect sense.

There were some aspects of the surprise ending that seemed perhaps too convenient, but then, this is a world of magic and mysticism, where it’s easy to imagine a kindly personification of Fate smiling on the heroines. They certainly deserve it; I liked them both from the beginning.

I also loved the characters of Isaac and Aviva in the flashbacks. Rivka and Isaac have a very entertaining rapport, and Aviva’s voice is adorable, constantly finding weird and random ways to describe things. (I guess this is one more thing Shira Glassman and I have in common. I too have a weakness for bizarre speech patterns, although Draz’s speech in my book “Kea’s Flight” is a different brand of weirdness.)

The approach to social issues is also very fresh and original. Shulamit is wealthy and sheltered, Rivka is a skilled warrior who supports herself. Shulamit is a lesbian in a country where such things are barely talked about; Rivka belongs to the expected sexual orientation. Rivka grew up shamed for being born out of wedlock, and never got to know her father; Shulamit grew up with a loving father but then lost him in a tragic accident. Their struggles are different, but the story never implies that one struggles more than the other, or that one’s concerns are more valid.

It also breaks many rules about what character traits are “supposed” to go together. The lesbian loves pretty dresses and jewelry; the straight woman carries a sword and dresses in men’s armor. The seasoned warrior is a virgin; the sweet and sheltered princess has experience with physical intimacy. Both are far more complex than the archetypes of fairy tales.

Shulamit’s complexity contains a few more interesting factors. She is a bit of a geek and bookworm, with great talent for figuring out puzzles. And, unlike any other heroine I’ve seen in an adventure novel, she suffers from debilitating allergies: some foods are indigestible to her and make her violently ill.

Having a somewhat sensitive digestive system myself, I was initially concerned that the book would contain some distasteful scenes. Such issues hit close to home for me, and I can get very uncomfortable reading about them. But I needn’t have worried. By the time the story happens, Shulamit has gotten very good at managing her condition. Though her need to avoid certain foods becomes very relevant to the plot in some places, the worst events are all in the past, and are mentioned quite discreetly.

And I have to admit it’s wonderful to see a heroine with a disability, even one that’s considered “mild,” such as food sensitivities. As a girl who grew up diagnosed with various mild disorders, I had a shortage of relatable role models in popular culture.

No Disney princess even wears glasses, not even the book-loving Belle. Little girls with less-than-perfect vision learn early that they have to get contacts or eye surgery if they want to dress up convincingly as their fairy tale heroines. Girls with allergies must similarly feel that there’s no one in the world who has faced the same troubles and succeeded in life.

Shulamit breaks with tradition here, and unlike heroines “cursed” with a disability, like Disney’s mute Little Mermaid, Shulamit doesn’t need to break her curse to have a happy ending.

The title, “The Second Mango,” reminds me of the struggling author in Agatha Christie’s “Mystery of the Spanish Shawl,” who was writing a story titled “The Second Cucumber” just because he thought the words sounded interesting. I imagine Shira Glassman having similar inspiration. The title is certainly intriguing, and while it does tie in to a market-shopping scene that forms a significant point in the development of the heroines’ friendship, it feels as if the story was built more around the title than vice versa. But then, the book is partly about playful words and food metaphors, so it doesn’t seem so out of place.

Yes, this is the author’s first novel, and in some ways the writing shows this. But it also shows a creative and clever mind, and a skill for delicately beautiful descriptions of food, flowers and nature, which often have a charming old-fashioned feel that hearkens back to the prose of Jane Austen or Lucy Maud Montgomery. And, as someone who has been allowed a sneak preview of the sequel, I can say with certainty that this new author is getting better and better.

“The Second Mango” is available from Prizm Books.

Fall Extravaganza, more info

Here’s the latest info on the Fall Extravaganza. To enter to win copies of my books, sign in with Facebook at the bottom (or your email address), and follow the Facebook page for Kea’s Flight, my @earthtoerika Twitter account, or my Abby and Norma blog.

(I’m not yet quite sure if which page you follow affects which book you’ll be entered to win. I’ll look into that.)

Welcome to the 

Fall Book Extravaganza Giveaway!


We are excited to announce that this is our first year hosting the Fall Book Extravaganza Giveaway and we had 25 awesome authors and book bloggers sponsor over 55 prizes, including a Kindle Fire! Below you will find a Rafflecopter where you can enter to win one of these FABULOUS PRIZES! 

Plus, 55+ other great prizes!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can find more information about the great 
authors & bloggers who made this giveaway possible at: 

Fall Extravaganza!

Here’s a little post to tell you about my participation in the Beyond Words Fall Extravaganza Giveaway! Between October 21st and November 9th, you can enter to win any of several free copies of my books, as well as other cool prizes.

Prizes I’m contributing:

2 signed print copies of the science fiction novel Kea’s Flight (the special exclusive edition that you can only get directly from me, containing a lexicon of the made-up language described in the book)

2 signed print copies of the story collection If the World Ended, Would I Notice?

2 digital copies of Kea’s Flight in mobi, epub or pdf form

2 digital copies of If the World Ended, Would I Notice? in mobi, epub or pdf form

Recently added:

2 signed print copies of the Abby and Norma comic collection, “Everything Happens for a Reason (but nothing happens for a GOOD reason)”

Go on over and check it out!

Machine of Death sequel finally out!

The story anthology “This is How You Die” is out today!!! My story “Furnace” is in it, and so are lots of other great stories and illustrations.
My story is illustrated by Trudy Cooper of the webcomic Oglaf!

It’s already at like #143 on the Amazon bestsellers… let’s get it even higher!

And if you like my story, remember I also have a collection of my own short stories: If the World Ended, Would I Notice?

Review for Deltan Skies

Today I’m being a host for an online book tour for Deltan Skies, by Noah Murphy.

This is a very unique and complex science-fantasy novel in which humans, dragons, trolls, goblins, elves, and several other mythical species live in a high-tech world dominated by various warring corporations and mobs. A detective and his assistant struggle to face growing conflict with a parrot-like avian species that has built an enormous crime syndicate in the city of New Delta.

Murphy shows a remarkable grasp of the workings of politics and economics. I was also impressed by the amount of thought that went into this complex world of mythical creatures and their different psychologies and cultures. The book does have various editing and formatting errors, and sometimes the sections of expository narrative can seem out of place, but I still say this author has great potential.

Here’s my interview with him:

1. I’ve volunteered at a parrot rescue, and I also kept a very difficult rescued parrot for many years. I can see a lot of genuine parrot characteristics in your avian characters: affectionate but vengeful and misunderstood. How has your own experience with birds influenced your writing?

Before I begin it’s important to note that Deltan Skies grew out of a novella called a Clear and Feathered Danger I released 2 years ago, but decided to rewrite because I felt the story could’ve been done better.

Now, the entire idea for parrot gangsters can from my experiences volunteering at a parrot rescue myself. Despite the avians in the book are based on macaws, it was actually cockatoos that inspired me initially. The cockatoos at the rescue would escape their cages, steal your feed, stalk you around, and hold you hostage until you preened them. So I though what if they were a criminal empire meant to make you miserable? To get a plot out of the criminal parrots, I added them into the wider fantasy world of Terrall, a fantasy world that I had been toying around with for several years.

When I wrote A Clear and Feathered Danger, I found myself paralleling the misunderstood nature of parrots to a point. The avians were bad guys who wanted to blow up and destroy New Delta because they had been mistreated by society. When I turned the novella into Delta Skies, I emphasized their mistreatment to make them more sympathetic, and have other groups take the role of the big bad villains.

2. What education do you have in economics and politics? Your portrayal of this dysfunctional city seems very true to life in many places. 

I have a BA in Philosophy and Religion. Originally I was going to go to philosophy grad school, but decided that it wasn’t for me so I left and went into accounting for a few years, working while taking courses at a community college. Had the requisite course work to take the CPA exam, but again, it wasn’t for me. Therefore, while I have no formal education in politics, studying accounting gave me a very good understanding of business and economics.

When I set out to create the city of New Delta and other societies in my world, I speculated how they might end up functioning based on a set of parameters, in many ways like a science-fiction author would. By doing this, Terrall becomes a living world as complex as our own.

For example, let’s take New Delta’s legislature, the City Senate. Because New Delta is an ultra-dense city with two hundred million citizens packed into sixteen hundred mile-high towers, elections based on location didn’t make sense. Trying to make districts like they are in the real world, based on population would be a nightmare in a three-dimensional space, especially with gerrymandering. To simplify things in New Delta, senators would be elected in a glorified popularity contest, only needing a minimum number of votes to get elected. This creates its own set of unique problems and circumstances, which also get addressed in the same manner.

3. How do you choose the characters’ names? Do any of them have meanings to you?

Names don’t have meanings to me since I use a variety of different naming patterns. Humans have a Hispanic name with a random last name. This came from Alfonso Deegan, the first human character I named. While I made Alfonso’s name up, I decided to have it fit into a larger pattern of human naming. For some fantasy races including elves and orcs, meanwhile, I use online name generators to make it simpler. For others, I make them up using a general idea. Ogres and trolls, for example, have short one-or-two syllable first names with a descriptive surname, like Trogg the Genius or Borga the Rocket.

4. As a language lover, I was interested by the wide variety of dialects and speech patterns you used for the different species. People who grew up speaking different languages bring different distortions to English when they learn it, based on the grammar of their own languages. Have you thought a lot about the structure of the native languages spoken by the non-human characters?

Have I come with up entire fantasy languages like Klingon or Elvish in Lord of the Rings? No. You’ll never “hear” Goblin Energongnan or Teolian Elvish. I’m incredibly poor at foreign languages. However, language reflects culture and identity, and I sought to emphasize that. Goblin dialect reflects their learned, but aloof nature. They can say very profound things, but their syntax is just different enough to justify dismissing them. It’s not even human languages I do this with. The clicking of the dolphin-like Mer translates into childlike speech. While Mer don’t have the minds of children, they can often act like children in terms of how they approach the world and it’s reflected in their speech.

Full disclosure: I was given a free copy of Deltan Skies so I could do this review. I don’t say anything untrue in my reviews, but I am Minnesota Nice, so I can’t guarantee my statements are unbiased.

Short Story Collection is Out!

My birthday is coming up– on June 1, I’ll be 32 (100,000 in binary)! Here’s what I’m doing to celebrate… a little early, but hey, it’s my birthday, I can do what I want.

My short story collection, If the World Ended, Would I Notice?, is published and available for purchase.

Ever since my story “Furnace” was accepted to the second Machine of Death collection, I’ve been thinking about publishing more short stories. They say the short story is dying out, but that doesn’t make sense, does it? Our attention spans are shortening with every generation. We have less and less time to work reading into our schedules. If anything, modern people should be gobbling up short stories like crazy, and the success of the first Machine of Death collection certainly suggests they are, or at least can be induced to.

If the World Ended, Would I Notice? is a collage of extremely varied short fiction, collected from various temporal and psychological parts of my life as an author. It’s a grab bag that should appeal to the same sort of audience that loves Machine of Death: some stories are fluffy and silly, some dark and violent, some sexy, some just plain over-the-top weird and creative.

There are 14 stories in total, including one novella of 94 pages. Some are fantasy, some are science fiction, some can’t figure out what they are. All have elements of otherworldliness, born of my alien mind.

The cover art is an adaptation of the phase-one painting of my “Earth to Erika” triptych: the painting in which I portray myself disconnected from Earth, having not yet begun to make contact with it. Several of these stories had their roots in my earlier, lonelier life, before John, before the whole author-artist-and-speaker gig. This doesn’t mean they’re all depressing, but it does mean their view of the world is perhaps more alien than anything else I’ve published.

If books had movie-style ratings, this one wouldn’t be G. There’s a fair quantity of swearing, violence and sexual themes, but I wouldn’t say they dominate the book. I’d say the overriding theme of the book is curiosity, and the exploration of the strange. It’s not for children, but it may be for adults who have retained some of the drives of childhood.

Read the beginning of one of the stories



Kindle Nook

Paperback PDF