Meradeth Houston's Blog

June 26, 2017

As the summer progresses it's getting harder and harder for me to come up with blog post ideas :) I swear, my life revolves around long, long days in the lab and long hikes on the weekends. Which, really, is pretty awesome, but doesn't leave me a whole lot of fodder for my blog. Still, I've been writing, and that's been awesome. Today, I thought I'd share a little of the story I'm contributing to the Untethered Realm's anthology, due out this fall. Isn't that cover fabulous?

The Flood

“Do you think my ability is just to repel men?” I asked Kristen. She was sitting at my counter, glass of wine in hand, the other perusing through a wedding magazine and making the occasional grimace at the photos.

Abilities. The kind where someone’s lucky in one particular little thing: they never hit a red light, they always remember where they left their keys, their toast never falls butter side down. Generally, special abilities are insignificant and a little dull. It would totally be my luck to have the ability to repel every possible eligible bachelor.

Of course, that would be better than the really lousy abilities. I once read about a kid that blew up milk every time he got close to it. And milk’s in everything.

Some poor souls are just screwed.

“You do not repel men, Kelly. Not even a little. And why is it that all of these women have to look like emaciated waifs with horrible hair? This is a damn classy magazine, isn’t it?” She swept her long, blonde ringlets back from her face and took another sip from her wineglass while flipping to the front of Modern Bride, as if to make sure it hadn’t turned into Redneck Bride on its own.

“Sure, it’s a classy magazine. The whole boho-chic thing is in right now. But, yeah, that dress would look better on a beat up Barbie doll.” I pointed my string cheese at the offending article in question. Wedding dresses shouldn’t have patches. Or swatches. Period.

“Well, it’s ugly,” Kristen insisted. “I’m going to have to find something else to use for inspiration.” When she sighed like this it was the most annoying thing on the planet. Her giant engagement ring (“Ten damn karats!”) caught the lights in my kitchen.

There were days when I kind of wished she’d cut herself on that ring. I mean, I was happy for her, but also all kinds of green with envy. Davy was a total hottie, and head over heels in love with Kristen. The two of them kind of made me ill. But, besties are besties, and Saturday morning wedding planning was going to be a tradition for the foreseeable future.

Logically, I wasn’t going to have to do this forever. I mean, it couldn’t be that long until they got hitched, right?

God, I hoped not.

Kristen, already a bit tipsy from the wine, went to gather more magazines from her bag while I turned to my sink. The plates from last night’s meal were still there, and I sighed and decided to rinse them before dropping them into the dishwasher.

Which was when the nozzle on my sink broke off.

I stared at it for a long moment, the weird angle of the wand of metal in my hand not translating in my brain for a long moment.

That seemed to be the cue for my sink to start gushing water.

“Sh*t, sh*t, sh*t.” I tried to re-attach the handle but managed to make the spillage worse. It nearly filled my sink, and I could envision it flooding my kitchen.

Keeping up a steady stream of curses, I dropped to my knees and yanked open the cupboards I’d hand painted robin’s egg blue. Under the sink I’d stashed about a year’s worth of grocery bags and just about everything else I didn’t use in my kitchen. Chucking things out onto the floor, I managed to reach the cut-off valve for the sink.

It took all my strength to twist it. The water stopped. I took a deep breath. And then the water started to seep around the nozzle under the sink.

“You’ve got to be sh*tting me.” I wanted to close the cupboard door and pretend this hadn’t happened. Instead, I snatched a stack of hand towels and after sweeping out the last of the crap under there, jammed them around the base of the sink.

“What are you doing?” Kristen asked, her arms laden with magazines and her too-tall platform sandals giving her an odd appearance from my position halfway under my sink.

“I broke my kitchen,” I groaned.

Kristen dumped the magazines, which slid across my white countertops and slinked to the ground. She came to scoot in next to me for all the world like she’d figure out how to fix it herself.

“That looks bad.”

Because Kristen and I had been friends since third grade when I’d made her eat her own booger, so I let that slide. “Any idea on who I can call to fix it?” I asked with a groan.

***Okay, I may share a bit more later on down the line but hopefully that's a bit of fun to get you thinking of what more may come in the anthology!
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Published on June 26, 2017 04:00

June 19, 2017

Griffin Shaw used to be a PI, but that was back when gumshoes hoofed the streets . . . and he was still alive. Fifty years later, he's an angel, but that doesn't make him a saint. One small mistake has altered fate, and now he's been dumped back onto the mortal mudflat to collect another soul—Katherine "Kit" Craig, a journalist whose latest investigation is about to get her clipped.

Bucking heavenly orders, Grif refuses to let the sable-haired siren come to harm. Besides, protecting her offers a chance to solve the mystery of his own unsolved murder—and dole out some overdue payback for the death of his beloved wife, Evie.

Joining forces, Kit and Grif's search for answers leads beyond the blinding lights of the Strip into the dark heart of an evil conspiracy. But a ruthless killer determined to destroy them isn't Grif's biggest threat. His growing attraction to Kit could cost them both their lives, along with the answer to the haunting question of his long afterlife . . . (Goodreads)

Okay, so here's the thing: I picked this one up thinking I would *love* it. I mean, it has all the elements of what I generally enjoy: supernatural beings, wings, a mystery, a great female lead. But, while the writing was good, I just could not get into it. The main reason? Griffin Shaw, the main male character. I know some women like the '40's style gruff man who's strong but silent and often grumpy, but that is NOT me. I do not want some man who thinks he needs to watch out for me, take care of me, nor think that I am some kind of "lesser" because of my XX chromosomes. Nope. Not for me. And I've been there--I've been with that guy. And when Griffin started acting that way--understandably, as that's era he's actually from--it rubbed me the wrong way. I could not understand why Kit would put up with it. There was just no chemistry there. I kept reading, as the story and suspense was well done, but damn if I didn't want to take Kit and be like "He's a JERK! Can't you see that?" So, yeah, basically, I just had a really hard time with the romance in this book, which was understandably a huge part of the book. The antagonist and his horrific actions were deeply disturbing and kept me reading (to be sure he got his just rewards), but I don't think I'll be picking up any of the rest of this series any time soon.

Have you read any of the Celestial Blues books? How about read a book where the chemistry bothered you?
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Published on June 19, 2017 04:00 • 3 views

June 12, 2017

#InkRipples  is a themed meme hosted by Mary WaibelKatie L. Carroll, and Kai Strand. We post on the first Monday of every month. If you would like to participate compose your own post regarding the theme of the month, include any of the images displayed on this page, and link back to their three blogs. Feel free to post whenever you want during the month, but be sure to include #inkripples when you promote so readers can find you. The idea is that we toss a word or idea into the inkwell and each post is a new ripple. There is no wrong interpretation.

This month's Ink Ripples topic is BLURBS. I feel like there needs to be a little moment of silence after saying that. Why? Because blurbs are HARD. Like, whomever writes those suckers professionally has a job I would forever find impossible. I've written several of my own book blurbs for smaller houses, and that's always an incredible intimidating job: I want to attract as much attention as possible, while not spoiling the whole plot and not being trite or dull. When selecting a book to read, it's always the blurb that hooks me, and I want to do the same for my books (obviously).

So, how to do that? Well, there are a lot of amazing articles out there that describe how to write a blurb. They're all a little different, because different genres are definitely not going to want the same kind of blurb, and different people like different things in their blurbs. For me, I try to do something like this:

Catchy opening line--something that has to do with the story and draws in the reader.Set up the stakes and characters--who is doing what, and why is it important?Create a situation that the reader has to read on to learn more about--the stakes and why are they so imperative?
It doesn't have to be long, but those three short bits have to grab someone's attention and yank them into the story enough that they will want to sit down right there in the bookstore and dig in.

My little blurb from An Absence of Light will be my example for today:

Leah’s always seen the shadow creatures. She thought she was immune to their evil—until now. 

She’s walked into a massacre, stolen a BMW, and is running from the law for a crime she didn’t commit. Nineteen-year-old Leah’s life just went from mildly abnormal to totally crazy at lightning speed. But no one will believe that the shadow creatures are framing her for the murder, because she’s the only one that can see them. At least that’s what she thought. 

When Leah stumbles across a group who share her ability, she discovers they have something she doesn’t: a way to fight back. When the group offers to teach her how to kill the shadow creatures, Leah jumps at the chance. But something is brewing with the creatures. They’re tracking down the hunters like there’s no tomorrow. Leah suspects that maybe there won’t be, and it’s up to her to make sure tomorrow comes. Because she’ll do anything to stop the shadows, including risking her life—and the life of the one she loves—to keep the world from being lost to darkness forever.

What about you--what about blurbs do you like to see?
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Published on June 12, 2017 09:15 • 3 views

June 5, 2017

Lady Alexia Maccon, soulless, is at it again, only this time the trouble is not her fault. When a mad ghost threatens the queen, Alexia is on the case, following a trail that leads her deep into her husband's past. Top that off with a sister who has joined the suffragette movement (shocking!), Madame Lefoux's latest mechanical invention, and a plague of zombie porcupines and Alexia barely has time to remember she happens to be eight months pregnant.

Will Alexia manage to determine who is trying to kill Queen Victoria before it is too late? Is it the vampires again or is there a traitor lurking about in wolf's clothing? And what, exactly, has taken up residence in Lord Akeldama's second best closet? (Goodreads)

Okay, I totally adore this series. It's so funny, and the world building is awesome, and the characters just warm my heart. BUT, can I just say that the cover on this one is atrocious? I can't put my finger on exactly what's wrong with it, but it makes me cringe just to look at it. Silly, yes, but true. Anyhow, the book itself was such a nice lighthearted romp (well, with ghosts and such, and attempted murder galore), that it was the perfect novel to snag when I finally had some time to sit down and enjoy a novel. Lots of fun and all kinds of adventures. Alexia's pregnancy was amusingly handled (though how she managed some of her feats at the end will have to be chalked up to a fantasy novel), but generally it was just a solidly good time and a much needed laugh or two. Carriger definitely knows how to pull off funny and amusing, but not over the top, and I must bow to that talent (I so wish I were able to be funny!). Another enjoyable addition to the series!
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Published on June 05, 2017 04:00 • 6 views

May 29, 2017

This past weekend (and actually today, Monday, too), has been the Missoula Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention, commonly known as MisCon. This is my third or forth year attending, and second (I think??) as a panelist. It's always a blast and this past year has been no exception. There's no shortage of great costumes (people are SO creative), wonderful other authors to chat with, and tons of writing workshops with super fun topics, and really a much needed boost on my part in terms of getting my writing mojo in gear for the summer.

This year, I got my schedule for the panels and did a little head scratching. Building a Better Monster? Writing the Future? Becoming Human? These were a few of the panels I've been on that left me going, "huh, very fun, but not what I was expecting." Then, while doing a signing, I ran into a former student who's now one of the organizers. She laughed and admitted that she'd been the one to put me on the panels, knowing about my anthropology and science background. (Gotta love being a professor in a small town--it takes no time at all before you have strange connections to everyone!)

Definitely had a blast talking about Building a Better Monster--especially as we ended up talking about how so many "monsters" are alone on their planets, or don't seem to exist within a normal ecosystems, and how to fix that. Totally made my nerdy heart happy. Plus, there were great other panelists and definitely lots of fun to be had with the audience.

I often find myself wishing this convention were a couple of times a year, though that would probably just exhaust me. Though, maybe that's just a sign that I need to attend more of them? :)

Have you been to a comic book or sci-fi/fantasy convention before? What did you think?
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Published on May 29, 2017 04:00 • 6 views

May 22, 2017

This past week I've had the awesome pleasure of traveling to Mexico City to work with some fabulous people who work here:

This is the Instituto National de Medicina Genomica. Or, the National Institute of Genomic Medicine :) Talk about a work perk! This campus was awesome--sparking clean, fabulous labs, all sorts of great tech (there's nothing like high throughput sequencing machines to make yours truly geek out!). Seriously, this place was incredible. And the people were even more amazing. The lab here is chock full of some of the best researchers on the planet, six of whom I had the pleasure of working with extensively. I've never been treated so well anywhere else that I've traveled, either for work or personal.
We had one of the most amazing meals at this 300 year old Hacienda. Super fun!
The central place in Tlalpan--an older neighborhood in the city, where the priests used to go to rest. Now it's completely engulfed, but super cute to explore. 
So I was trying to figure out why there was a minaret (or something that at least looked like such), in the middle of the city. No one knew, and guessed that someone just wanted to build one :)
I'm a *tad* bit addicted to cool murals and street art in all its forms. This was on the side of women's and children's center.
Church. Through the front gates because it was closed. 
Mary, blessing the cars in the parking lot she guarded.
The National Museum of Anthropology. Which is, of course, the coolest place in the city. Spent a day in the back collections, looking at mummies and teeth that had been drilled to inlay turquoise, as well as the 1000's of skeletal remains. AKA, heaven.
And one last silly one from a menu from an Argentinian restaurant we went to. Meat Juice anyone? (Why, yes, I am sometimes ten years old, why'd ask? :)Anyhow, just a few little highlights (and not the best photos--I've been a little busy this trip! Lots of cool work to do!) of a fabulous week in a country I love :)
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Published on May 22, 2017 04:00 • 6 views

May 15, 2017

It's been a while since I did a little update, so today I'm going to borrow Kelly Hashway's meme and do a quick post :)

I survived the end of the semester. Sometimes I wonder if that'll actually happen, or if at some point I will be buried by paperwork and emails in my office and not discovered until the forensic students have a new body to study. (Well now, that's a pleasant!)This year I had a Masters and Doctoral student finish. This is the fifth MA that I've been in charge of, and first doctorate that I've led. It's kind of amazing that anyone lets me do this, but my students have all been really successful and I am crazy proud of them!The number of times I've been asked if I now get to relax over the summer is a big mind boggling. Um, NO. I have my research agenda that starts full steam on Monday at 6am. Of course, this is full of cool samples (mummies, vampires, and poop, oh my!), and lab work, and travel, but very little rest. But it'll be good. At least I don't have to try and work in the lab in heels and a dress like I do during the teaching year ;)I also plan on getting some writing time in this summer. It's going to happen. Really. I just need to get myself into a better schedule.And tenure packet due in the fall. *gulp*!Keeping all of the plater spinning in my life is as crazy as ever. But, life is good. I've watched so many people struggle to find good academic jobs, which are so incredibly scarce, and I've seen way too many people struggling with depression, which is rampant in the halls of higher ed. I can't complain :)
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Published on May 15, 2017 04:00 • 4 views

May 8, 2017

#InkRipples  is a themed meme hosted by Mary WaibelKatie L. Carroll, and Kai Strand. We post on the first Monday of every month. If you would like to participate compose your own post regarding the theme of the month, include any of the images displayed on this page, and link back to their three blogs. Feel free to post whenever you want during the month, but be sure to include #inkripples when you promote so readers can find you. The idea is that we toss a word or idea into the inkwell and each post is a new ripple. There is no wrong interpretation.

Okay, so I'm going to buck the trend here a bit and admit something: I'm not a huge fairy tale person. I kind of hate most of them. They tend to be mysogynistic, cruel, and generally their roots are kind of terrifying. Maybe that's because I've read too many of the originals, and they're often a little O.O and kind of make you want to back away slowly. 

Now, don't get me wrong, I've seen some great re-tellings where the story has been crafted to carry some of the elements of the original, but also have an awesome take on things. Mary Waibel (linked above) has a few of these, and I've caught some others. But in general, for me to really enjoy a fairy tale retelling, it's got to be different from the original in order for me to get into it. And this does not mean Disney.

Sorry, not to dog on Disney, because they have their place and I do enjoy the parks for their escapism (and I love a rollercoaster), but most Disney princesses, especially in the way they are pandered to young girls, make me kind of want to be ill. That was not me as a kid, and I am grateful to my mother for the thinking that I could be more. (True story: I was Peter Pan for Halloween for a couple of years. Not Mary, not Tinkerbell. I wanted a sword and to fly, haha!) 

Now, there are some Disney princesses who have movies in which they are the force behind change, but then they are twisted into these costumes and tea parties and other things that turn my stomach when it comes to how they are used by the toy market. That bugs me. Can't the toy manufacturers come up with something a little less stereotypical for kids, both male and female? I know I'm not a parent, so I can't say what's right or wrong for individual kids, but the images I sometimes see make me be like "no wonder little girls don't think they'll be good scientists!"

Anyhow, enough of my rant. Just my two cents on the matter. What do YOU think about fairy tales?

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Published on May 08, 2017 09:42 • 4 views

May 1, 2017

In this gripping page-turner, an ex-agent on the run from her former employers must take one more case to clear her name and save her life.

She used to work for the U.S. government, but very few people ever knew that. An expert in her field, she was one of the darkest secrets of an agency so clandestine it doesn’t even have a name. And when they decided she was a liability, they came for her without warning.

Now, she rarely stays in the same place or uses the same name for long. They’ve killed the only other person she trusted, but something she knows still poses a threat. They want her dead, and soon.

When her former handler offers her a way out, she realizes it’s her only chance to erase the giant target on her back. But it means taking one last job for her ex-employers. To her horror, the information she acquires only makes her situation more dangerous.
Resolving to meet the threat head-on, she prepares for the toughest fight of her life but finds herself falling for a man who can only complicate her likelihood of survival. As she sees her choices being rapidly whittled down, she must apply her unique talents in ways she never dreamed of. (Goodreads)

Okay, so I'll admit, I was a little wary of this novel. I mean, the potential for really lousy science (and you all know how much that bugs me), and a love triangle, coupled with some potentially trite sappiness, kept in on my shelf for a few extra weeks. But then I decided to pick it up, and I'm quite glad I did! There were a couple of eye-roll-worthy science goofs, but for the most part, Meyer skates over them with enough ambiguity that they didn't take me out of the story. There wasn't a love triangle, and actually I was kinda shocked there was a love story at all. But I liked it :) And I loved the growth of the characters, their layers and depth, and especially the kick-ass heroine. Because Meyer hasn't really managed this before, but she really nailed it in this novel! It hit all the other points I've been enjoying lately: bioterrorism, spies, gov't intrigue, massive plans to uncover a nasty political plot. All of it was deeply enjoyed. Really, this novel read like someone completely different wrote in: there wasn't a trace of Twilight in there, imho, and while I enjoyed the Twilight books (mostly as a sugary treat that I knew wasn't good for me), this is a tight-paced novel that was just fun and interesting, and I'm going to stop gushing now. Go read it. It's great. Meyer has grown a ton as an author and it was totally worth it!

Have you read any of Meyer's work? What did you think?
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Published on May 01, 2017 04:00 • 8 views

April 24, 2017

Life in a small town takes a dark turn when mysterious footage begins appearing on VHS cassettes at the local Video Hut

Jeremy works at the counter of Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. It’s a small town—the first “a” in the name is pronounced ay—smack in the center of the state. This is the late 1990s, pre-DVD, and the Hollywood Video in Ames poses an existential threat to Video Hut. But there are regular customers, a predictable rush in the late afternoon. It’s good enough for Jeremy: It’s a job; it’s quiet and regular; he gets to watch movies; he likes the owner, Sarah Jane; it gets him out of the house, where he and his dad try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago in a car wreck.

But when Stephanie Parsons, a local schoolteacher, comes in to return her copy of Targets, starring Boris Karloff—an old movie, one Jeremy himself had ordered for the store—she has an odd complaint: “There’s something on it,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate. Two days later, Lindsey Redinius brings back She’s All That, a new release, and complains that there’s something wrong with it: “There’s another movie on this tape.”

So Jeremy takes a look. And indeed, in the middle of the movie the screen blinks dark for a moment and She’s All That is replaced by a black-and-white scene, shot in a barn, with only the faint sounds of someone breathing. Four minutes later, She’s All That is back. But there is something profoundly disturbing about that scene; Jeremy’s compelled to watch it three or four times. The scenes recorded onto Targets are similar, undoubtedly created by the same hand. Creepy. And the barn looks a lot like a barn just outside of town.

Jeremy doesn’t want to be curious. In truth, it freaks him out, deeply. This has gone far enough, maybe too far already. But Stephanie is pushing, and once Sarah Jane takes a look and becomes obsessed, there’s no more ignoring the disturbing scenes on the videos. And all of a sudden, what had once been the placid, regular old Iowa fields and farmhouses now feels haunted and threatening, imbued with loss and instability and profound foreboding. For Jeremy, and all those around him, life will never be the same . . . (Goodreads)

So, this was a little outside my normal fare of novel, but I loved the sound of the blurb (although, dang, that's a long one!). And indeed, it was interesting. I loved the stories intertwining and coming together at the end. The explanation of the strange interspersed scenes on the videos finally all made some sense (although, I feel like the reasoning could have been delved into more). It was well written, but to be honest, not captivating. At first it had a great, creepy vibe, but it just got lost along the way. Also, the jarring switches in narrative made it difficult for me to feel connected to any one character in the novel, which I recognize isn't always necessary, but something I personally prefer. There were definitely times I went back pages to see if I'd somehow missed something, and that's not the best thing to have happen while reading. Anyhow, overall, an interesting premise and very good writing, but not something that really got me at a gut level, and I'll admit did not hold my attention as some other novels can.

Heard of this one? How does the blurb strike you?
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Published on April 24, 2017 04:00 • 3 views