Guest Interview: Lisa Jenn Bigelow on Hazel’s Theory of Evolution

Posted September 12, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Guest Posts / 0 Comments

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Today I’m interviewing Lisa Jenn Bigelow about her upcoming middle-grade novel, Hazel’s Theory of Evolution, a delightful and heartwrenching story about friends, family and growing up. Also, to the best of my knowledge, the very first middle-grade novel with an a-spec protagonist. I’ve been lucky enough to get a review copy (thank you, Lisa!) and the review will go up next Monday. Hazel’s Theory of Evolution releases on October 8th, 2019. That’s a little under a month from now, so you still have time to preorder this charming story! It’s so sweet. Definitely also get it if you (or your child) love animals. You’ll have a goat time! (Yes, I occasionally pun. Badly. Sorry not sorry?)

For now, though, let me give you the blurb of the book and pass the blog on to Lisa Jenn Bigelow! We talk about asexuality and labels, balancing laughter and tears, and friendship.

Cover for Hazel's Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow: Features a young red-headed girl with glasses, holding a small dog.Hazel knows all about life on Earth. She could tell you anything from what earthworms eat to how fast a turkey can run. That’s because when she’s not hanging out with her best friend, Becca, or helping care for the goats on her family’s farm, she loves reading through dusty old encyclopedias. But even Hazel doesn’t have answers for the questions awaiting her as she enters eighth grade.

Due to redistricting, she has to attend a new school where she worries no one will understand her. And at home things get worse when she discovers one of her moms is pregnant. Hazel can’t wait to be a big sister, but her mom has already miscarried twice. Hazel fears it might happen again.

As Hazel struggles through the next few months, she’ll grow to realize that if the answers to life’s most important questions can’t be found in a book, she’ll have to find them within herself.

LEO: Hazel’s Theory of Evolution is one of the most heart-warming, queer books I’ve ever read, yet it deals with some extremely heavy topics such as bullying and the fear of her mother’s pregnancy going wrong. Did you find it difficult to balance between the two?

LJB: Pregnancy loss and infant death can tear families apart, but that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell in Hazel. I wanted to tell the story of a family that stays together, no matter what. That meant giving Hazel’s family (and friends) a lot of love and a lot of laughter because, at the risk of sounding corny, love and laughter are how we all get through the tough times in our lives. I took inspiration from Beverly Cleary’s Quimby family, Lois Lowry’s Krupnik family, and Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin family: funny, frank, and not without drama, but always loving to the core.

Plus, I’m only half-kidding when I say my personal rule is that every book I write has to make me laugh out loud and also has to make me cry. The most memorable rejection I got for my first novel, Starting from Here, complained that the book either needed to be happier or sadder. I guess my heart is balanced on that bittersweet cusp.

LEO: You’ve said in other interviews that you don’t really get along with labels, so how did this affect the writing of Hazel? You mention that Hazel is aroace in a lovely author’s note, but how did you balance people’s dislike of labels with people’s need for them in the story itself?

LJB: Labels are tricky. There are the labels other people give us and the labels we claim for ourselves, and sometimes the two don’t mesh. I describe Hazel as aromantic and asexual for the sake of readers who may not be familiar with those concepts or terms. Whether Hazel herself would claim those labels, or different labels, or any at all, would be a personal choice beyond this story’s scope. In contrast, Hazel’s friend Carina firmly claims the label transgender.

Beyond that, I minimize the use of labels. For example, Hazel’s moms have been married for over a decade, but I don’t delve into their dating histories or label their identities, because it didn’t seem relevant to the story. Instead, they are defined by their relationship to Hazel and to each other.

LEO: When the book starts, Hazel decides that she’s going to hibernate for a whole year. Obviously, this doesn’t work and the whole book calls out the stereotype that aros and aces are cold and unfeeling, but was busting stereotypes on your mind while drafting the book?

LJB: If my guiding image while writing Hazel was Darwin’s Tree of Life, my mantra was “Only connect!” from Howards End, by E. M. Forster. I wanted to explore the idea of all life, and all lives, being interconnected, whether we like it or not. You can’t opt out, you don’t exist in a vacuum. And you can’t disconnect from your own feelings, either, however appealing the idea might be. Love makes you vulnerable. Connection makes you vulnerable. But it’s also key to survival.

I hadn’t originally conceived Hazel as aroace—more on that later—so stereotype busting was not on my mind. I just had this idea of Hazel being a bit of a misanthrope and desperate to insulate herself against further pain. But I’m very glad the story worked out the way it did, with the theme that there are many ways to forge connections with other people, many different types of love out there, and that they don’t have to fit a certain mold to be valuable and valid.

Side note: I recently rewatched Ghostbusters (2016) and realized that, just possibly, Holtzmann’s toast to her friends at the end of the movie subconsciously inspired Hazel’s declaration of love to her friends in the school cafeteria.

LEO: Over the course of the book, Hazel and her best friend start to grow more apart. I’ve heard a lot of aces and aros talk about wishing that more books dealt with friendship break-ups. Though Hazel and Becca stay friends, can you tell us a little more about the importance of friendship in the book?

LJB: I wanted to show that a strong friendship can survive change. People change, and it follows that their friendships will, too. These changes may be painful, but they don’t have to be intentional or cruel or even necessarily harmful. Sometimes we seem to think friendships have to be all or nothing. They don’t. They wane and wax according to circumstances.

Too many stories villainize girls especially for “becoming popular” and ditching their old friends. I know this sometimes happens in real life, but I think it’s usually more complicated, as in Hazel and Becca’s situation. Once they were each other’s lifeline, but now that they’re at separate schools, they have to explore new options.

And they flourish. Their relationship loses its codependent aspect. So maybe it’s not just that strong friendships survive change. Friendships need to change to survive.

LEO: Hazel is going to be, to my knowledge, the first middle grade novel with a deliberately aroace protagonist published. Did that impact how you wrote the book at all? I’d imagine that can cause a lot of pressure during the publishing journey.

LJB: I hadn’t set out to create an aroace character in Hazel (though writing an ace character had been vaguely on my to-do list since I began considering myself on the ace spectrum a few years ago). So there wasn’t any special pressure at first.

But once it became apparent this was the direction Hazel’s orientation was taking, the questions began. How much of a discussion point did I want it to be? How should I explain terminology? Since I myself felt relatively new to the concepts, and at the fringes of the community, what if I accidentally wrote something hurtful?

Ultimately, I just wrote from the heart, drawing from my own experiences and emotions, though my journey toward self-understanding has been very different from Hazel’s. I read a-spec fora and think pieces to try to fill in the gaps. And as with any character I write, I asked myself, “What if I was a reader who feels the way Hazel feels—would I feel validated and supported?” Any answer less than 100% would have been unacceptable.

Lisa Jenn Bigelow grew up in Kalamazoo and still considers the Mitten State home. Lisa’s young adult novel, Starting from Here, was named a Rainbow List Top Ten Book by the American Library Association. Drum Roll, Please is her middle grade debut. When she isn’t writing, she serves as a youth librarian in the Chicago suburbs. Visit her online at www.lisajennbigelow.com.

And that concludes the interview. Hazel’s Theory of Evolution comes out October 8th, 2019, so you still have time to preorder from your favourite retailers such as Amazon and Indiebound.

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Review: Tarnished Are the Stars by Rosiee Thor

Posted September 9, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books / 0 Comments

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Review: Tarnished Are the Stars by Rosiee ThorTarnished Are the Stars by Rosiee Thor
Pages: 384

The Lunar Chronicles meets Rook in this queer #OwnVoices science-fantasy novel, perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer and Sharon Cameron.

A secret beats inside Anna Thatcher's chest: an illegal clockwork heart. Anna works cog by cog -- donning the moniker Technician -- to supply black market medical technology to the sick and injured, against the Commissioner's tyrannical laws.

Nathaniel Fremont, the Commissioner's son, has never had to fear the law. Determined to earn his father's respect, Nathaniel sets out to capture the Technician. But the more he learns about the outlaw, the more he questions whether his father's elusive affection is worth chasing at all.

Their game of cat and mouse takes an abrupt turn when Eliza, a skilled assassin and spy, arrives. Her mission is to learn the Commissioner's secrets at any cost -- even if it means betraying her own heart.

When these uneasy allies discover the most dangerous secret of all, they must work together despite their differences and put an end to a deadly epidemic -- before the Commissioner ends them first.

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Week 36 Update

Posted September 6, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Weekly Accountability

Hi, everyone! It’s that time again! Weekly updates delivered every Friday!

Completed Projects

None!

Goal Updates

  • 2/12 books
  • 0/1 completed proper paper
  • 0/5,000 words of fiction written

Writing Updates

This Week’s Fiction Wordcount: 0

This Week’s Non-Fiction Wordcount: 4,676

Life And Other Such Important Matters

Aaaaaaaah! Birthday season is upon us! Well, upon me, anyway. Expect this month to be nothing but flailing as I try frantically to stay on top of everything. Aaaaaaaah!

In more cheerful news, I may manage to take the dogs out on a nice, long walk tomorrow if the weather plays nice. Mmmm… walks. Also did I manage this month is the month of flailing at everything and it’s already started this week? I know, intellectually, that I’m not terribly behind on everything, but it feels like I’m terribly behind on everything. Thanks, brain!

Stand-out Positive Moment

[whispers] I don’t even know what all happened this week. Does The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance came out and I binged it still count for this week? ’cause that’s the last thing I remember. It was really good, though.

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August Wrap-up

Posted August 30, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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August Newsletter

Hi, everyone! It’s that time again! Monthly news and accountability!

Life And Other Such Important Matters

August has been… Well, I’m not going to lie. It hasn’t been pretty with family drama taking centre stage. I started the month off, bummed that I couldn’t make it to Worldcon, before settling into vicariously living through the tweets of my friends who did (Hope you all had a good time!) and watching the livestream of the awards only minorly annoyed at the lag involved causing publication livetweets to announce the winners before my stream was done reading out the nominees occasionally.

I finished a short story! That promptly got rejected, but I was expecting that. And then the UK set itself on fire on top of everything else and. Just. Well, I was very glad of the rejection then because apparently one of my coping mechanisms for “the world is on fire” is “share the softest, nicest, kindest, gentlest piece of SFF you can write” and I had that ready to be shared.

Anyway, we keep going on and into September where I will, hopefully finally, get some kind of good news partway through.

Featured Post

Let’s Read: Myra T. Johnson’s “Asexual and Autoerotic Women: Two Invisible Groups”

Lesbian radical feminists… have done exactly this. We can see in the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas, for example. We can see it in the way aphobes try to gatekeep heteroromantic asexuals and heterosexual aromantics out of the queer community, the way that bisexual people feel unhappy and unwelcome at Pride events especially if they’re in a perceived m/f relationship, the way that people who are perfectly happy to use ‘gay’ (or even ‘lesbian’) as an umbrella term for the entire community push back against non-homosexual members doing exactly that. We can see it in the way terfs attack and discuss transgender people in general: the way they insist that gender is biological and those who transition are mentally ill.

Completed Projects

  • The March on Heartful

September Goals

  • 0/12 books
  • 1 completed proper paper
  • 5,000 words of fiction written

August Goals

  • 13,275/10,000 words of fiction written
  • 12/12 books read
  • 1/3 proper paper section
  • 0/1 intro Miss Fisher draft

Writing Updates

This Month’s Fiction Wordcount: 13,275

This Month’s Non-Fiction Wordcount: 11,891

DemiPrincess2: I hate this story. I really do. (I really don’t.) I juuuuuust want to continue writing it without it feeling like I’m pulling teeth.

Stand-out Positive Moment

Look at those lovely and marvellous Hugo wins and nominations this year! My stand-out moment is hands-down the Award livestream and those utterly, utterly amazing speeches!

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Week 34 Update

Posted August 23, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Weekly Accountability

Hi, everyone! It’s that time again! Weekly updates delivered every Friday!

Completed Projects

  • Reworking a Social SF story. And it’s off to submission.

Goal Updates

  • 13,275/10,000 words of fiction written
  • 6/12 books read
  • 1/3 proper paper section
  • 0/1 intro Miss Fisher draft

Writing Updates

This Week’s Fiction Wordcount: 3,665

This Week’s Non-Fiction Wordcount: 2,938

DemiPrincess2: Wheels have continued to turn. Cogs are moving. Just. The short story had a deadline.

SocialSF: It is done! It is finished! It is… very unlike what 99% of (Western?) SFF publishing likes, so who knows what, if anything, it’ll end up doing, but hey Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series just won a Hugo, so clearly there is room for soft, quiet SFF and this is some of the softest, quietest SFF I have ever written. (Seriously. The Wayfarers books all have background Standard Storyline plot, if nothing else. This… does not.)

Life And Other Such Important Matters

I want to say that life is going apace because, in a sense, this is true. And in another sense everything is a mess I cannot step out of (it’s not even my mess) and I just want to crawl into a hole and pretend like nothing at all is happening. Also I have cupcakes! Nothing in the world can be as dire as all that when I have cupcakes.

To give you a general sense of the week, though. It wasn’t until TODAY that I realised that the Good Omens essay has not, in fact, been cross-posted to Patreon or that I’ve only had two whole posts this week. Wow, I knew this past week was a bust and honestly particularly flakey, but that is terrible even for me. Guess that’s my weekend activities sorted then because this will not stand!

Stand-out Positive Moment

I think the love you’ve all shown for my Good Omens essay, really. I was feeling very dejected about it when I scheduled to post it on my website, but wow. You all really enjoyed its release, it seems. I’m… honestly I find nonfiction essays so hard to find any confidence in and just hearing people I don’t even know linking or QTing it saying it’s good? Wow, I’m floored.

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Week 33 Update

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Let’s Criticise: Valerie Solanas’s “The SCUM Manifesto”

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We’re on Our Side: Aziraphale and Crowley’s Thoroughly Queer Relationship in Good Omens

Posted August 22, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Ace & Aro Studies / 0 Comments

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It’s been a long, long time coming in internet terms. By now, you may be forgiven if you’ve moved on to the next big thing in (SFF) fiction, especially with the Hugo Awards so newly concluded (and congratulations to all nominees and winners again!) because the internet moves infinitely faster than we’d ever have dreamed possible.

But I promised you back in June that I had a whole essay’s worth of writing on Good Omens and here it is! Over 7,000 words of aromantic and asexual (but mostly aromantic) essayage on Good Omens. With many, many thanks to Jenny from Reading the End for basically handholding me through the flaily first draft of this piece. (It was over 10,000 words.) This would be a hundred times less awesome without Jenny’s comments on the first draft when I was an anxiously flaily pile of “I cannot do this” and “But no one will care”.

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Week 33 Update

Posted August 16, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Weekly Accountability

Hi, everyone! It’s that time again! Weekly updates delivered every Friday! It is Worldcon this week, so to those of you attending: I hope you’re having an absolute blast!

Completed Projects

None yet! :O

Goal Updates

  • 9,610/10,000 words of fiction written
  • 4/12 books read
  • 1/3 proper paper section
  • 0/1 intro Miss Fisher draft

Writing Updates

This Week’s Fiction Wordcount: 5,236

This Week’s Non-Fiction Wordcount: 3,625

SF Piece: I really need a proper codename for this short. I rewrote it last week. This week I’m trying something new and rewriting it based on first reading it on an ereader. That’s proving very interesting and potentially extremely useful. This is something I already do with novels, but I’ve never tried it with short stories before.

Life And Other Such Important Matters

Life continues apace, as it does, and as usual I don’t have that much to say. Mostly I’ve been playing emotional aide to people and not enjoying it. What can you do, though. Sometimes life is like that.

Stand-out Positive Moment

I got to meet one of my new cousins for the first time! Sleepy baby is very sleepy.

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Discord Book Club

Posted August 10, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in News / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone!

Today I have a special announcement regarding Patreon: I’m starting a book club! It’ll be run on Discord, so it’s only open to Patrons who’ve pledged at the $5 tier or higher as well as to anyone at the $1 tier who’s supported me up to now as a special way to say thank you for your support. Before I explain the Patreon logistics, though, let’s talk about the book club and what to expect!

Obviously, being a book club, we’ll be tackling the same book together and discussing it. Though the book club isn’t restricted to books about asexuality or aromanticism, there’s a good chance it will have a higher focus on that. It’ll depend on what people vote for when it’s time to select the new read. The book club will predominantly focus on older releases and indie books as well as the SFF genre, but I’m sure new releases and other genres will come up occasionally as well. The book club aims to read about 100 pages per week, though since I’m usually reading ebooks actual numbers may vary somewhat. I’ll come up with discussion questions for everyone.

I’ve selected a book for us to start reading next week because wow why would I ever do anything not last minute. And that book is The Oathbound by Mercedes LackeyThis book is the first in her Vows and Honor series and was published in 1988. This is one of the earliest known SFF books with an ace-coded protagonist and since this trilogy is next up in my series of Ace Lit discussions, I figured it would make the perfect start to the book club.

After that, we’ll vote on books. If you’ve got suggestions for what you’d like to read, let me know! I’ll be working off my TBR pile to start us off, but I’m hoping to incorporate more options that you wanted to see as we go along.

Schedule:

  • Aug 12-18: Chapters 1-4
  • Aug 19-25: Chapters 5-8
  • Aug 26-Sep 1: Chapters 9-11

So how do you join? Well, anyone who’s a patron at $5 or more has access to the full Discord server. Just head on over to the book-club channel and you’re good! If you’ve pledged at $1 and want to join the book club, DM me through Patreon and I’ll make sure you get an invite link to the book-club channel. It won’t be a temporary invite, so you won’t have to worry about Discord kicking you out for inactivity or anything.

I think that about covers it. I’m really excited about this! I’ve always enjoyed readalongs, but I’ve tended to chicken out of hosting ones for books I don’t know well. No more! Let’s all just read books together and have a good time! 😀

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Week 32 Update

Posted August 9, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Weekly Accountability

Hi, everyone! It’s that time again! Weekly updates delivered every Friday! I have an exciting official announcement on Saturday, but for now: I’ve added a book-club section to the Discord server! I’ve gone ahead and picked the first book for the club – The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey – but after that I’ll put things up to the vote! I’ll explain everything in detail tomorrow in its own shiny post, but I wanted to give you all a heads-up on the title! 😀

Completed Projects

None yet! Well, I have a very rough short story draft.

Goal Updates

  • 4,374/10,000 words of fiction written
  • 4/12 books read
  • 0/3 proper paper section
  • 0/1 intro Miss Fisher draft

Writing Updates

This Week’s Fiction Wordcount: 4,374

This Week’s Non-Fiction Wordcount: 4,446

Untitled SF Story: This is a slice-of-life SF story about, well, making friends and reaching goals together. It’s short and sweet and I like it a lot even if it’s currently a right mess that’s about 1,000 words longer than I wanted it to be.

DemiPrincess2: I have (finally) identified the issue I’m having with the current scene. All that remains is to fix it and convince my brain to stop being a jerk. THIS STORY SHOULD NOT BE TAKING THIS LONG, BRAIN. (But, also, I’d rather take the time and get a high quality first draft I can polish up than a useless mess.)

Life And Other Such Important Matters

You know when you have a time where your mental health just takes a nosedive? Yeah, that’s where I’m at right now. Which of course means I’m mostly digging in and avoiding people. This is not, I note, a good coping strategy, but it’s the best one I’ve got when “Get out of the overall situation” isn’t likely to happen any time soon. And, honestly, the issue is smaller things adding up. It’s seeing everyone get excited about Worldcon and knowing you can’t and won’t be attending even though you wanted to and held on to hope too long for sense; it’s seeing people say “I would like to read [thing you write!] and knowing that the sales just aren’t there for it unless it’s big names writing it”. (That’s a discoverability issue and an issue with disliking indies, but honestly it all amounts to the same thing: a vicious cycle that’s hard to break through.)

Anyway. Good things have also happened! I got a new laundry basket! Which I realise is super unexciting to hear, but small pleasures exist too. I enjoyed the weather. We attempted a new method to dog-proof the glorified shed. So far it appears to be dog proof. It may or may not be rabbit proof. I petted a rabbit!

They’re small and simple things, but they’re important. We forget how important sunshine on our face is or that kindness exists in the world, I think, because the bad things in our… entire existence are so much bigger and more pressing. But the good things exist too.

Stand-out Positive Moment

Kitty cuddles. If only I could convince Cat to actually stay put an entire night…

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July Wrap-up and Week 31 Update

Posted August 2, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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July Newsletter

Hi, everyone! It’s that time again! Monthly news and accountability!

Life And Other Such Important Matters

I’m sure you’ve gathered by now that I’m not particularly skilled at this. But this month it was literal hell as another heat wave swept across (Western) Europe and we all collectively melted into puddles of sweat because it was too hot. And, frankly, that’s all I remember about this month.

Oh. No. I have several new cousins. They were born just before the heatwave hit. Yay!

Featured Post

Subverting Stereotypes: A Look at Asexual and Aromantic Representation in RoAnna Sylver’s ‘Chameleon Moon’

Sylver also draws a direct comparison between the way that marginalised people stand against governments refusing to grant them basic rights and the way that many allies do. This is exemplified in a conversation that happens early on in the book. In this conversation, Evelyn is meeting with her white cousin, who is presented as an able-bodied cisgender man, and they discuss solutions to the fact that Parole is, quite literally, on fire. Liam’s plan is to put out the fire and assume that everything will be all right afterwards. As Evelyn points out, however, the isolation Parole is suffering was never about the fire lit underneath them.

Completed Projects

  • 16/16 discussions of papers in Asexualities

August Goals

  • 0/10,000 words of fiction written
  • 0/12 books read
  • 0/3 proper paper section
  • 0/1 intro Miss Fisher draft

July Goals

  • 17,963/10,000 words of fiction written
  • 12/12 books read
  • 0/1 proper paper section
  • 0/1 intro Miss Fisher draft

Writing Updates

This Month’s Fiction Wordcount: 19,307

This Month’s Non-Fiction Wordcount: 22,747

DemiPrincess2: Heatwave aside, I am back on track! In that I’m writing new material, that is. This was supposed to be an EASY story to write. Grah!

Via: This is a short SF story I’m keeping under wraps. I promise it’ll be quiet, hopeful SFF, though, and entirely On Brand apart from where it’s social science fiction to the very core instead of fantasy.

Stand-out Positive Moment

Honestly? The heat breaking at long last. There are other moments I could and should mention, such as being granted three ARCs with (ownvoices) acespec rep and one of those with ownvoices aro rep in quick succession and having a blast reading them. I can’t wait to write about them and share my thoughts with you all. I’ve currently just started on the third, but I can already highly recommend preordering Hazel’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow and Tarnished Are the Stars by Rosiee Thor. They’re amazing. Or succeeding in my Hugo Reading goals against all the odds. I could talk about the positive reception my latest ace rep essay had.

But honestly the stand-out positive moment is the day the heat wave finally broke because I was so miserable. I’m not made for heat at all and 40+ degrees is just. Too much.

But then it broke. And I danced in the rain and it was utterly glorious and in that moment there was nothing the world could do that could destroy happiness.

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