Tag Archives: Carolyn Hill

Meet the Member—Laura Of Lurking: Reviewer, Writer, and My Inspiration

By Jennifer L. Carson

I’m the only one in the group on the sane side of the pond—Go UK! I’ve had a penchant for telling stories as far back as I can remember. I always wanted to lead the “Let’s Pretend” games when I was a kid, which my mother documented on some horrifying cassette tapes of me around age three. I apparently gathered all my teddies around and told them stories and jokes and sang songs to them. If spontaneous combustion ever happens in my home, please let it be in those tapes!


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In the last three years, Leasspell has become an important part of my life. I had all but abandoned real efforts to finish my novel. Yesterday, I wrote the final chapter. Without this group, I wouldn’t have had the deadlines I needed. Without this group, I wouldn’t have made some fundamental changes that I knew the moment I wrote them were so much better. Without this group, I wouldn’t have found the support my mind and heart needed to be sitting here today, telling you that I finished the last chapter of my novel.

I’m not the only one whose life Leasspell has touched. Our newest member, Carolyn, is a longtime friend, but she stopped writing for a while. Since joining the group a couple of months ago, she’s gotten together with me twice for writers retreat weekends. I hope Leasspell does for her what it is doing for me: keeping me at the keyboard. Denise and Jax finished in first and second place in a publishing contest for Assent Publishing’s fantasy imprint, Phantasm Books. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that out of eighty-four submissions, first and second place went to members of our writers group. It is an outstanding group. And I know Jason is using the deadlines to spur his writing. I think everyone of us is learning more about the whirlwind changes in the formerly staid old publishing industry because of our pooling together and sharing our experiences, our research and knowledge, and our contacts.

This is all to say: Leasspell has changed my life.

So what does this have to do with Laura? Everything. Without her, Leasspell wouldn’t exist. I had been in writers groups at various times with Carolyn, Denise, and Jax. Jax had been prodding me to get our last group back together, but this time online since she had moved. I dragged my feet. Technology issues, time, lack of motivation on my own writing—all things in my head that kept me waving her off with a “yeah, yeah, good idea…sometime.”

Then I met Laura online. She was young when I met her, seventeen, I think. We met through a social media game. Must have been preordained ’cause I hate playing social media games. But my husband had an interview with this company and needed accounts to play with. So I started one and got a bit hooked for three months. But in that time, Laura helped me out with the game, which lead to us talking and some very long emails.

I found out she is a smart funny young lady who has a talent for writing. She was raw, but had splashes of crisp clear writing that really surprised me, and she had the passion to go with it. I saw some of myself in her. Then I found out Laura is disabled. Very, very disabled and sick much of the time, too. The world comes to her through books and her computer. She lives much of her life in the fantasy worlds in her head and she wanted to put them into books. I wanted to help her do that, and I wanted to help her do it well, as I knew she could with a little guidance and practice.

I called Jax, and I said let’s do this. Thus was Leasspell born—all thanks to a bright young woman I met through a video game.

Today, Laura’s illness and disability have progressed to the point that she cannot spend a lot of time at the keyboard, so she is no longer submitting her own manuscripts to our group. She reads more now than ever before—125 books last year! Blew my mind! Her voracious reading is likely the reason she was one of the best commenters on fantasy that I’ve met. I have lots of writer friends giving me writerly advice, but Laura has a reader’s eye and an amazing understanding of genre conventions. That is a rare and valuable thing to a writer. Now Laura has made that keen insight available to all on her reviewers Web site. This is what she has to say about choosing that path:

For a long time, I was just a lurker hidden in the shadows of online reviewing. I would read these great, often indie published, books and have opinions. I often disagreed with other reviewers but never stated my mind. Then I thought, “You know what? I’ve read voraciously since I was seven, I think I have the right to validate my points.”

And so she did. She started reviewing on Amazon and then last year started her own blog—a very busy one at that! When asked what she likes to read, she says:

Anything and everything really, including the contents of the bathroom cupboard on those days you, well… just get stuck there! My favourite genres are science fiction and fantasy. I enjoy a good biography of somebody who has overcome great obstacles. I also read historical fiction and horror. That’s pretty much my order of preference.

So if you have a small-press or indie-published book (or one about to be published) and are looking for a good reviewer, today is your lucky day. Hop on over to Laura’s Web site, Laura of Lurking, and check out the more detailed submission guidelines. If she’s not accepting books for review, you can always email her to find out what her timeframe is till she opens up again. Like I said, she reads fast! Or if you just want to know what’s good out there in the indie and small-press community, she’s put up quite a list of candidates this past year and so her reviews can help you find a good book that suits you.

Laura has been an inspiration to me. She has every reason to be down most of the time. Instead she always greets me with wit and humor and the same voraciousness for life that she has for her reading. I sometimes wonder how she does it, and one day I finally asked. I will leave you with her answer to that, for it is good advice for us all:

What the future holds—who knows? Who really wants to? If you study the future, you’ll miss those little gems passing by right now.

Appropriating Inspiration at BayCon 2014

Confession: I’ve let writing lapse lately and that feels BAD. Maybe that’s happened to you, too. Life gets in the way, and it’s hard enough to put one foot in front of the other, let alone put your fingers on the keyboard.

Seeking inspiration and writerly motivation, I spent this past Saturday and Sunday at Baycon 2014, one of the larger science fiction and fantasy conventions held annually in the San Francisco Bay Area. Along with Denise Tanaka and Jennifer Carson, I happily threw myself into the open arms of my fellow fen and found inspiration and motivation aplenty. Now here I am, writing, my fingers feeling fine as they tap the keys.

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I woke at 5:00 in the morning, and the first song of the day on shuffle was Laura Line’s “Dreams.” Good omen! Dreams inspire (several of my short stories have come from dreams that I’ve remembered upon waking), and the con would be filled with fellow dreamers.

Jennifer Carson looking at jewelry

Jennifer Carson looking at jewelry

By 10:00 a.m., I was in the dealer’s room with Jennifer, drooling over jewelry from Angelwear Creations. Jennifer (and, later, Denise) were drawn to the fantasy-inspired necklaces, but I was drawn to the science fiction pieces: silver rocket earrings, necklaces of silver shuttles in orbit around gemstones that look like planets, pins shaped like spiral-armed galaxies studded with pearls. Motivational? You bet. It’s often hard to find beautiful jewelry inspired by science fiction; at the typical SFF convention, jewelry inspired by fantasy—Celtic designs, dragons, and (lately) steampunk gears–far outnumbers science fiction pieces, a state of affairs that reflects the relative popularity of the two genres in ways that I find depressing, given that I primarily write science fiction. So I bought a spaceship-circling-a-darkling-moon necklace and wore it during the rest of the con! Wearing that necklace, I could defy the oft-repeated, demotivational claim that “most women don’t read science fiction.”

Kevin Andrew Murphy being inspired by the menu

Kevin Andrew Murphy being inspired by the menu

On Saturday, Denise, Jennifer, and I ate lunch alone. On Sunday, we were joined by several people from former writers groups whom I hadn’t seen in years, including Kevin Andrew Murphy and Wanda Kurtcu. (I had a chance to say howdy and thank you to Carrie Sessarego for her perceptive review of Skin Deep, my latest paranormal romance.) Sharing food and face-to-face conversations with these like-minded, long-lost friends, hearing how life and writing have treated them, helps put my own life and writing in perspective. Writing is a joy we can turn to when life isn’t.

Denise Tanaka giving her business card to Elanor Finster

Denise Tanaka giving her business card to Elanor Finster

Friends who aren’t long-lost can also inspire. Denise is shy, but at the con, she made a conscious effort to stand out and market her work. In her wizard’s robe and hat, staff in hand, she asked at least one question at every panel, handed out her business cards, struck dramatic poses, and furthered her brand. Her example inspires me, motivates me, to look for ways to make marketing what I write as enjoyable as the writing is itself.

Denise Tanaka in full wixzrd robes with staff

Denise Tanaka in full wixzrd robes with staff

Strangers, too, can inspire. Strangers in clever costumes. Strangers with smiles on their faces, complimenting my Firefly T-shirt or striking up a short conversation in line. Just being “of the Body” with the SFF community, being physically present in a place where so many others are, refreshes the spirit.

Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Jennifer Carson, and Kyle Aisteach speaking at the panel on "Listening to That Critique"

Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Jennifer Carson, and Kyle Aisteach speaking at the panel on “Listening to That Critique”

Certainly I was motivated by the topics for panel discussion (designing an effective book cover, marketing your work, using a pen name, making use of critiques, avoiding cultural appropriation, etc.) and by listening to what the panelists (authors, editors, artists, independent publishers) had to say about writing and creativity. But I found equal value in observing the panelists’ behavior. Watching how they made fans comfortable at signings, in the hallways, or in the Q&As after the panels gave me ideas about what to do and say (and not to do or say).

Random signs

Random signs

And the art: art in the dealers’ room, art in the artists’ room, random convention signage on the walls of the hotel–all inspirational. I wish I could show you images of the gorgeous, clever, thought-provoking artwork I saw, but I won’t infringe the copyrights. Looking at various paintings in the artists’ room, I thought about what would be inside a book if that painting were its cover, and although ideas for plot and characters came to mind, I found I was most inspired by the mood of the painting. I made a mental note to consider mood more consciously as I write.

Brad Lyau, Margaret McGaffrey Fisk, Leslie Anne Moore, and Wanda Kurtcu at the panel on "Cultural Appropriation in SFF Media and Costuming"

Brad Lyau, Margaret McGaffrey Fisk, Leslie Anne Moore, and Wanda Kurtcu at the panel on “Cultural Appropriation in SFF Media and Costuming”

When it was all over and I was back home, sitting on the couch in the dark while the cats roamed the room, I found myself pondering one panel in particular, the panel on cultural appropriation. The panel considered possible problems that can occur when a writer writes of a culture not his or her own, warning that such use can be offensive and harmful. In light of all the inspiration and motivation I’d been seeking at the con, I took this as a particularly apt caution.

Apt cautionary sign on convention wall

Apt cautionary sign on convention wall

As writers, we step outside ourselves to step inside ourselves. We take on the viewpoint of others in order to see ourselves more clearly. We create characters, we build worlds, we devise histories, we extrapolate or fantasize or faithfully recreate, all in words on a page outside of ourselves, all to better understand, explain, reflect, memorialize, realize something about ourselves. In writing about others, I come to know more about myself and am inevitably on some level writing about myself—myself among others, perhaps, but still myself. If I see others only from my own perspective, I see wrongly—not only those others, but also myself.

Hah! That’s rolling prose. I’m ready to write.

About Carolyn Hill

Carolyn received her doctorate in rhetoric from the University of California at Berkeley, studying the argumentative artistry of Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough. She has taught writing, both general and genre, for over thirty years. She is a gifted writer of short stories, which are available in her short story collection, Liminal Eyes. Those who like longer works should check out her two novels, Bead’s Pickle and Skin Deep. When Carolyn is not writing, she is hurling heavy objects into the air above her head.