Confessions of the Clueless, Part II: Think Outside of the Genre Box At Your Authorial Peril

[*Note: Confessions of the Clueless Part I was my #hashtag rant. Here comes Part II.]

Nothing like working on the cover design of a book to let you know how hard you’ve made life for yourself. I’ve been looking for an image that…

…captures the dark beauty of the Pacific Northwest, without being too beautiful

…suggests the ugliness of the American industrial underbelly, without being too ugly

…encompasses an aerial view, but not from too high

…orients the viewer toward the water, but still keeps the shoreline visible

…won’t involve me in complicated and expensive negotiations over copyright usage

…allows for the addition of text elements in line with the previous books in the series

Turns out I really could not have thought up a more difficult set of requirements. Starting with beautiful vs. ugly: waterfront pictures are generally taken for two purposes, a) to lure tourists, or b) to lure business. The first wants only beauty; the second, only utility. And don’t forget that je-ne-sais-quois whiff of Northwest! Gotta have some dark forest in there. I searched internet images from Oregon to British Columbia. These were a couple of the finalists:

Port Angeles, WA–good on ya!

Or maybe, further north:

Powell River, BC, anyone? Great town.

But the image dilemma is really a stand-in for the difficulty my books face in terms of categorizing. You see, the Flying Burgowski series 

…takes its time to drop its heroine into the action, and said action involves no combat, no werewolves, no vampires, and not a single zombie.

…is fantastical enough to involve flying humans, but otherwise very much real-world (sorry, no parallel universe lurking just behind Platform Nine and Three Quarters!)

…deals with political issues like religious extremism, homophobia, and human trafficking

…has a middle-grades heroine, but one who faces adult themes like divorce and addiction from a very early age

…follows said heroine into her mid-teen years where, guess what? sexual maturity is suddenly an issue.

Let me dwell on that last point a moment. Jocelyn Burgowski’s personal literary hero, Harry Potter, also ages in his series, has a crush, finds a girlfriend. But author J.K. Rowling managed to keep Harry’s physical responses to said girlfriend–his natural teenage lust–safely off the page. Author G.K. Wing was not that unrealistic, or smart, depending on your perspective.

So, bottom line? How would YOU characterize this series? Have I made these books difficult to advertise, or what?

I call the first two books of the Flying Burgowski trilogy Middle Grades Fantasy, and the last one YA Fantasy–because I have to call them SOMEthing. But you know what? I’d really just rather call it a damn good read. Can that be a thing?


North Carolina’s Bathroom Bill: Listen to Loretta

I don’t have too much to say about House Bill 2 of my home state, North Carolina–a.k.a. the “Bathroom Bill”. Because Attorney General and North Carolina native Loretta Lynch already said it for me:

“It was not so very long ago that states, including North Carolina, had signs above restrooms, water fountains and on public accommodations keeping people out based upon a distinction without a difference.” — Loretta Lynch

(image courtesy

(image courtesy

So what do I say? I say go, Tarheels. Keep fighting this stupid, mean law as you’ve been doing. Make me proud of my home state again.



“If The Music’s Too Annoying, You’re Too Old:” Musings on Rock ‘n’ Roll in a Man’s World

The Mate and I just attended our first rock concert together in…let’s just say a WHILE.  And this was not even Mark Knopfler, my guitar hero. This was The Arcs, the new band fronted by Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach.

Why the Wings at The Arcs? Well, Mr. Auerbach hired Mariachi Flor de Toloache as backup musicians. My buddy Beth’s daughter is a founding member of this AMAZING band–the first all-women Mariachi in New York City. So we got comp tickets.

Flor de Toloache opened with a 25-minute set that blew the doors off. There were only four of them (instead of the eight that play together in NYC), but the power of these women! They sounded like 20. Each one was a master of her instrument–guitaron, viajuela, violin, trumpet–and their blended voices sounded like a mixture of Valkyrie and angel.

Why don’t I quit describing and let you hear for yourself?

Yeah. And that’s an old video, poor quality. Now imagine that sound LIVE, from a few rows back.

After the warm-up act, there was the usual 30 minutes of rearranging mics and buying beers, and then The Arcs came on: two drummers, a bass, a rhythm guitar, an all-around synthesizer-keyboard-brass guy, and Mr. Auerbach on lead guitar. The lights went psychedelic, Auerbach went classic-guitar-lead-gonzo, the crowd went wild.

My mood went south.

NOT because the music was loud (which of course it was). NOT because the rest of the crowd made me feel old (which it did). I expected both those sensations. I was ready for ’em, tissue in the ears and all.

But watching Mr. Auerbach writhe and head-bob like lead guitarists do, I found myself thinking, “Why are you making such a fuss over yourself? You’re not THAT good of a musician.” Don’t get me wrong–he is good. But not great. He’s no Mark Knopfler (who does not writhe). Nor is he any members of Flor de Toloache, who simply stand still and sing and play their hearts out, displaying, to my jaded old ears, 150% of Auerbach’s talent at far less than half his pay.

The more I watched, the more annoyed I got. Why do we live in a world where a skinny white guy with a wife and kids earns more applause (and money) for whining and twitching like a teenager than do four hard-working, earnest, non-whiny women?

I know. I KNOW. It’s a man’s world. I just live in it. And usually I bypass that thought with other, happier thoughts. But the other night, that one soured the evening’s sweetness a bit. 

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to turn on some all-women mariachi right now, and lose myself back in that sweet vocal power. Might not make me feel any younger, but I know it’ll make me feel happier about the world I live in.

How Sweet (and Shameful) It Is To Be a Tarheel: The NCAA Finals And The Bathroom Law

We Southerners who leave the South are a conflicted bunch. I recently tried to capture my mixed feelings about my “sweet sunny South” homeland in a song. Here’s the chorus:

Yeah, it’s another song about the South, y’all–

Tryin’ to sort my feelings out once and for all.

How can someone feel so in and out of place?

That sweet, sunny South where I first saw the light,

If she’s my ol’ mama, I’m a teenager in flight.

Do I want to hug her neck…or slap her face?

That conflict has been raging stronger than ever this past couple of weeks, as these two feelings battle within me:

  1. I am SO DADGUM PROUD (as Coach Williams would say) of my Carolina Tarheels, playing their way into the National Championship game!
  2. I am so ashamed of the North Carolinian voters, who elected the representatives who passed HB2, a.k.a. the “Bathroom Law,” which requires people to use the bathroom assigned to whichever gender they were born with.


Luckily, the law is encountering an enormous backlash. I doubt something so discriminatory will stand for long. But just the fact that my fellow Tarheels thought it was a good idea to pass a law so mean-spirited and divisive makes me sad. So much for the “New South.”

(courtesy pinterest)

(courtesy pinterest)

I’m wearing my Carolina Blue as I write this–earrings and all. I’ll be cheering my head off tonight, and I’ll be almost as proud if our guys lose than if they win. But what would make me the proudest? If my former fellow citizens reject this law with all their physical might. I want to get back to feeling like hugging their necks instead of slapping their faces.