Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Recently, I joined a book club run by one of my best friends which focuses on promoting critical thinking, especially in terms of the political and social issues of today. The book club is called Books for the Resistance.

We kicked-off the book club with a classic: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Published in 1985, this book continues to resonate with every new wave of readers. It’s a striking look at social issues including sexism, reproductive rights, classism, environmental issues, and the sometimes at-odds struggle to feel safe while also feeling free.

The book follows Offred, a so-called Handmaid, who is one of the few women in Gilead (formerly the United States) who is physically capable of bearing children. As a Handmaid, she is assigned to a family-of-sorts, where her sole role is to conceive a child from the Commander. There are few freedoms in Gilead, especially for a Handmaid. Communication with the outside world is controlled by the militant government, and may be entirely propaganda and lies. Societal roles are strict, inspired by Puritan values.

The details of the establishment of Gilead are scarce, told second-hand through Offred. Some details the reader is given include the fact that there was some sort of coup that overthrew the previous government; at one point, all bank accounts belonging to women were frozen, forcing them to depend on the men in their lives; and issues infiltrated society ranging from environmental disasters to a strong cultural shift against sexual and reproductive freedoms.

Is it any wonder this book continues to resonate with people? It takes these issues to the extreme, and forces the reader to take a good hard look at them. It’s not a pretty sight, but Atwood weaves hope throughout the story. There are whispers of dissent, rumors of an Underground Railroad-type system helping people escape to Canada. The tale ultimately seems to view society in an optimistic light: things can take a turn for the worse, but they will never stay that way. Society will find a way through, to move forward. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale? What did you think? Are you excited for the Hulu series?

Meet the Characters: Edmund Sokoll

(Image source: Sergey Samuilov)

For this series, I’m going to delve into the characters of Grigory’s Gadget in the style of those fun/silly surveys that pop-up on social media from time-to-time. I’ll also include name pronunciation, because I know a lot of people have been asking about that! (That being said, you can pronounce the names of my characters however you like, I’ll just be listing the “official” pronunciation) This post will be about Edmund Sokoll.

WARNING: Mild spoilers for Grigory’s Gadget contained in this post!

Name: Edmund Sokoll (ED-muhnd soh-KOHL)

Name Meaning: Edmund – From the Old English elements ead “wealth, fortune” and mund “protection”; Sokoll – Slavic word for “falcon”

Age: in his 50s

Physical Appearance: Light skin, short gray and brown hair, blue eyes, his right leg is a mechanical limb

Hometown: Unknown

Family: His sister is the pirate Captain Snezhana Krupina of the Hell’s Jewel; his son is Alexi Sokoll

Relationship Status: His wife, Alexi’s mother, died sometime before the story. It is implied that, somehow, Edmund was responsible for her death.

Education: unknown

Religion: None

Greatest Strengths: great fighter and leader, great at rallying people to his cause

Greatest Weaknesses: He is short-sighted and has an enlarged and fragile ego

Favorite Color: Purple

Hobbies: piracy

Biggest Goal in Life: Find the Bronnerush and harness its power to gain infamy as the most notorious pirate at sea

One Year After Publishing Grigory’s Gadget – What I’ve Learned

Sunday, March 12th, marks one year since Grigory’s Gadget was published!

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Since about a year has passed since publication (wow!), I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned in terms of writing, publishing, marketing, and more.

In terms of writing, I’ve discovered that it gets a lot harder after publishing a book! There’s an added pressure that simply doesn’t exist if you’re an unpublished author. Now I need to finish the next book – people are waiting! I can’t just push it aside for months or years, nor can I switch gears to work on a different project. Well, I could, I guess. But my personality won’t allow it!

One thing that surprised me about this process is which distribution channels sold the most books. Most information on the internet would suggest that eBooks are the way to go in this regard. However, as you can see on the chart below, I’ve sold almost a majority of my books through vending events and consignment.

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I have attended 8 vending events since publishing Grigory’s Gadget (and I have two more this month!). These events, combined with selling books by word-of-mouth, have proven to be the best way to get my book out there.

Smashwords was my second-most successful distribution channel, thanks in large part to their sale events they have multiples times per year. Amazon, via Kindle Direct Publishing for eBooks and CreateSpace for paperbacks, was also successful.  Books sold through Indiegogo and Amazon were pre-sale books. IngramSpark by far is the least successful distribution channel. I still suggest that self-publish authors utilize this channel, however, if you have any interest in getting your book into brick-and-mortar stores.

Another factor that contributes to the success, or lack-there-of, of each distribution channel is the fact that I haven’t done much in the way of advertising. I’ve dabbled a bit in Facebook and Amazon ads, but never saw an impressive return on either. I’ve done a couple interviews, and had my book reviewed on a few blogs. I’ve also started to utilize Newsletter Swap, which actually seems to have boosted my sales quite a bit. (By the way, if you haven’t already, you should join my email list!)

For now, I still won’t be putting a lot of money and effort into advertising, since writing is still a (passionate) hobby for me. For the time being, most of my writing-related efforts will be directed toward the actual act of writing. I need to finish the first draft of Serafima’s Stone!

Have you grabbed a copy of Grigory’s Gadget? In celebration of its anniversary, Grigory’s Gadget will be on sale throughout the month of March!

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Find the eBook on Amazon and Smashwords!

Get the discounted paperback through my CreateSpace eStore using the code 8CAZ5J8X!

Battling Aggressive Writer’s Block

Apologies for being silent on my blog lately! I meant to post this on Friday *oops*. I’ll be resuming my schedule of posting every Friday again starting this week!

Recently I’ve been fighting a new breed of writer’s block that I hadn’t really experienced before. Usually, when writer’s block hits, it’s more passive. It’s a lack of inspiration, or a lack of motivation. Lately, however, the writer’s block has been more aggressive. It’s been an active force insisting my writing isn’t good enough, that my plot doesn’t make sense, that my characters are horrible and not relatable.

I’ve determined that this now comes with the territory when writing as a published author.

Before I published Grigory’s Gadget, writing was purely a hobby. I did it for myself to exercise creativity. It was fun and amusing. I couldn’t have cared less if the plot would make sense to anyone else, or if the characters were well-written. That wasn’t the point, before.

Now that I published a book, however, those things do matter. As I write the first draft of Serafima’s Stone, I’m acutely aware that my goal is to publish it, and that the book therefore has to be worthy of publication. When I wrote the first draft of Grigory’s Gadget in 2010, I didn’t care if it was good. I allowed it to be bad. And allowing it to be bad meant that I allowed myself to keep writing. Fixing the bad parts comes with editing and rewrites. The first draft shouldn’t have to be good. The first draft won’t be good. It just won’t.

So here I am, struggling to believe the statements I just typed. I need to allow the first draft of Serafima’s Stone to be bad. That’s the only way I’ll finish the first draft. The only solution to this breed of writer’s block is to just keep writing, in spite of the critical voices in your head. Keep writing, even if you don’t particularly like what you’re writing. It can be fixed later.

#SteampunkHands Around the World 2017: Making Life Better -Perspective

*artwork by MrXpk*

Steampunk Hands Around the World 2017- Making Life Better is a month long event in February 2017 showing and sharing the great steampunk people, events, and things around the world that other people should know about. Through these means, we come together as a community to forge new connections and friendships, inspire and be inspired by each other, and create realities from the stuff of dreams.

This year, we will share and explore the ways in which steampunk can and has made life better, for ourselves and for others. How does steampunk make life more fun and enjoyable, how does it expand our horizons and help us define who we are, or who we want to be? How does steampunk inform us about ourselves, others, and the world around us? How does it help us find solutions for real life problems, and find ways to make changes for the better?

Airship Ambassador

This week’s discussion will take a look at how steampunk allows us to analyze the past to prepare for the present and future.

Steampunk is sometimes criticized for romanticizing a period of history that was wrought with troubling and problematic issues (colonialism, orientalism, the suppression of minorities and women, rampant disease, etc.). I say this is a fair criticism. I also say it’s a wonderful opportunity that is unique to steampunk.

Steampunk is not the same as historical fiction. Steampunk allows us to change things, fudge facts, rewrite history. We can use this to challenge the past, and the legacy we still feel today. That’s what the “punk” in “steampunk” is all about. Challenge the system. Turn it on its head.

Steampunk can become a excellent tool for social commentary if used correctly. Sure, we can write a pleasant story that simply ignores the problems in Victorian society. There’s nothing wrong with pleasant stories – we all need those from time to time! But steampunk also has the potential to be much deeper, to examine human nature and to face cultural issues we still come across today.

So go forth, my fellow steampunks! Take aim at the establishment and dismantle it in that gentlemanly/lady-like way like only you can! And don’t forget to break for tea and biscuits.

#SteampunkHands Around the World: Making Life Better – Maker Culture

*artwork by MrXpk*

Steampunk Hands Around the World 2017- Making Life Better is a month long event in February 2017 showing and sharing the great steampunk people, events, and things around the world that other people should know about. Through these means, we come together as a community to forge new connections and friendships, inspire and be inspired by each other, and create realities from the stuff of dreams.

This year, we will share and explore the ways in which steampunk can and has made life better, for ourselves and for others. How does steampunk make life more fun and enjoyable, how does it expand our horizons and help us define who we are, or who we want to be? How does steampunk inform us about ourselves, others, and the world around us? How does it help us find solutions for real life problems, and find ways to make changes for the better?

Airship Ambassador

Today’s contribution to Steampunk Hands Around the World focuses on the “maker culture” of steampunk. One of the primary draws of steampunk is the tangible nature of anachronistic technologies. You can see how the gears move, how pulling this lever activates motion here or there. It’s so entirely different from modern, “black box” technology.

“Maker culture” calls back to these tangible technologies. Makers create their inventions from scratch, with wood and brass and copper, or by re-purposing existing items. Makers work with their hands, get their hands dirty.

A lot of this is considered a “lost art” these days. Most people don’t build or fix things themselves anymore. You bring your car to the shop, you hire a plumber or an electrician. You bring your broken gizmo or gadget to a store where it’s simply replaced with a shiny new one. Maker culture is fighting this trend.

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Image from The Enchanted City

I attended a steampunk festival in Troy, New York this summer – The Enchanted City III: A Brave New World. This festival included events, such as the Inventor’s Challenge and the Mini Maker Fair, that encouraged participants to don their lab coats and goggles and get to work. The Mini Maker Fair, targeted toward kids, is especially important in my eyes. This is where steampunk goes beyond a whimsical genre of books or movies and becomes a force of real tangible good for young people. It encourages their creativity and challenges their problem solving skills. It builds a familiarity with mechanical and technical objects and ideas that will stay with them for years. Steampunk is helping to encourage the next generation of scientists and engineers.

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Image from The Enchanted City

#SteampunkHands Around the World 2017: Making Life Better – Aesthetics

*artwork by MrXpk*

Steampunk Hands Around the World 2017- Making Life Better is a month long event in February 2017 showing and sharing the great steampunk people, events, and things around the world that other people should know about. Through these means, we come together as a community to forge new connections and friendships, inspire and be inspired by each other, and create realities from the stuff of dreams.

This year, we will share and explore the ways in which steampunk can and has made life better, for ourselves and for others. How does steampunk make life more fun and enjoyable, how does it expand our horizons and help us define who we are, or who we want to be? How does steampunk inform us about ourselves, others, and the world around us? How does it help us find solutions for real life problems, and find ways to make changes for the better?

Airship Ambassador

To kick off my contribution to Steampunk Hands Around the World 2017, I’ll be discussing the aesthetic of Steampunk. Things like art, fashion, and architecture bring so much joy to people, it seemed like a good place to start!

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art by Vadim Voitekhovitch

Steampunk art and crafts often center around taking mundane, every-day items (a phone, a light switch, a table) and transforming them into steampunk gadgets. There are also brilliant examples of steampunk cityscapes. This often involves elements such as leather, brass, copper, gears, levers, and patina. The craft and maker aspect of steampunk has helped transform it from a genre to a subculture.

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Image from Artfire

Steampunk fashion is easily identifiable, as it combines Victorian fashion with gadgets and the “punk” aesthetic. Common elements of steampunk fashion include corsets, bustles, waistcoats, top hats, spats, goggles, parasols, mechanical limbs, and post-apocalyptic elements.

Steampunk architecture is often Victorian, or 1800s-style architecture from other parts of the world. What makes it steampunk is, like in steampunk art, the addition of elements such as leather, brass, copper, gears, levers, and patina. Take a grand, Victorian mansion and add some grime, some grit, and some whimsy.

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Image from Airship Flamel

(Note: the image above depicts a real Victorian house in Irvington, NY. On the one hand, that means it is not steampunk, but simply Victorian. However, because it is on the more whimsical end of the Victorian architecture spectrum, it is a great example of the type of historical architecture steampunk draws from.)

What’s your favorite part of the steampunk aesthetic?