books · writing

FogCon 2020

This was my second year attending Fog Con. It’s a smaller Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror literary convention in Walnut Creek, California. It’s just delightful. While the books above are the only physical books I left the con with I have a much, much, much, longer list of titles, authors, podcasts and a few games that I will be looking into in the coming months. It was hard to restrain myself in my purchases but I have literal stacks of books falling over because I am out of shelf space. Will I avoid buying more? – HA! of course not. But I’ll be looking mainly at ebooks for a bit.

The most fun part is meeting these amazing authors and listening to them talk about writing, fan over the stuff they love, and learning so much. It’s a small enough gathering that several times I would go to a panel and listen, sometimes figure out that, hey! that person wrote that book I like so much! Then at the next panel I went to, they were sitting next to me in the audience.

I attended panels on Societal Defaults That Carry Into Fiction, Choose Your Own Adventures, How Deep Do We Dig: Research for Writers, Small Scale SFF, SFF Podcasts, The Value of Hopepunk, and I went to a Reading with 3 great authors who made me want to run out and get their horror books even though I usually avoid horror.

I also did a very brave thing for me, and I signed up to attend a lunch get together for a local writing group that I technically joined some time ago, but haven’t actually ever attended any of their meetups. I’m glad I did. I enjoy the company of other writers, they are such interesting people (or maybe just because they clearly love books as much as I do). So now I am also signed up to attend one of their critique sessions and I think the lunch helped make me brave enough to not back out of that. Although I suppose it’s possible it won’t happen, at least in person. We’ll see what state of social distancing we are in come mid April.

Here’s hoping for the best.

And I’m already looking forward to next year’s con.

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SF ComicCon 2018

Our family first attended SF ComicCon in 2016. The kids immediately declared it a family tradition, so we have gone back each year since. This was our third year. They have dressed up every year. In 2016, my husband and I just did jeans and neardy t-shirts, last year, he did so again, and I wore my Star Trek (Next Gen) uniform. This year we all dressed up.

Pipe Cleaner Bowtruckle and Newt Scamander wand. Photo by Kara Hartz

I wanted to go as Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts, and talked my husband into being Jacob Kowalski. The kids went as Sans and Chara from the Undertales game. I didn’t finish my costume in time. So I had to go without the blue overcoat (that it would have been too warm to wear anyway) and without the scarf I spent weeks of lunch breaks knitting. *sigh* Ahh well. All I had was the grey slacks, white button shirt, mustard vest, and this wand and bowtruckle sticking out of my vest. It was enough that a fair number of folks still identified me as Newt. That was fun. My husband just wore a grey suit and carried a briefcase with a niffler sticking out. He was hot and uncomfortable though and changed half way through the day.

Because I was running so far behind trying to make my costume, my daughters helped me out a lot. My youngest cut pattern pieces and fabric out for me, and my oldest, made this bowtruckle out of pipe cleaners, and the Newt wand out of a chop stick, clay and paint. All those years of encouraging craftyness are paying off.

Sans mask. Photo by Kara Hartz

My oldest also made her Sans mask completely on her own. Isn’t it great? She was stopped and asked for photos a bunch, which made her very happy after all her work. We saw several other Charas, and she got photos with several of them. 

I suppose, as new family traditions go, there could be worse ones. It was a long, tiring, fun day. 
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I’m Looking for Book Reviewers

I posted a little while back about my single Goodreads rating, and how nice it was to see a stranger enjoyed my stories. Over at Smashwords I also had this nice four star review:

What a terrific tale. A lovely sense of mystery, awe and a little humour. My only suggestion is to change the title of the story, it gave away a little too much. Thanks for a great read.”

I’ve since removed my books from Smashwords to use other distributors, so I can’t link to that one. The wisdom in the self-publishing world seems to be that reviews are important, and these are all I’ve got so far. To remedy that, I’m asking anyone who has enjoyed my stories to consider posting a review somewhere. (Amazon would be great, but if you like another site, that’s great too.)

If you haven’t read my stories, but like the sound of them, and would like a free review copy, I’d like to make that happen. Leave a comment with some contact information, and what format you’d prefer your ebook in, and I’ll get one to you. For now, this is an open ended offer – if you stumble on this post months (or years?) from now and want to take me up on this. Go for it. 

For the curious here are the books in question:


An astrobiology team discovers a planet with disturbingly familiar aliens. 
A middle manager finds out who has been stealing office supplies but knows no one will believe him.
A cleaning robot is much too efficient.
A little boy is desperate to acquire superpowers.
A military robot fights to deliver vital information before time runs out.
A translator under pressure makes a fatal mistake.


Love Thy Enemy: In a post-apocalyptic America where various factions are vying for control of what’s left, Jose finds himself in love with a girl from the wrong camp. How much can they really trust each other?

The Way Home: Margaret learns a secret about her new husband’s past that is difficult to understand. 

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"Eye of the Beholder" eBook Giveaway

I’m playing/ experimenting with all the promotion thingamabobers over on Amazon as I learn about this whole ebook publishing gig.

So, I’ve made an Amazon giveaway for my ebook, “Eye of the Beholder and other stories”. This is a little different than the free book promotion I ran when I first published the collection. In that case, Amazon let me set the price to free for a limited period, and anyone who wanted it could download it without cost.

The giveaway has a limited number of copies available. Five copies in this case, and I paid for them. Anyone who wants one enters and has a 1 in 100 chance to win. So, more of a lottery situation. Sounds fun, and worth a go, so here we are. If it goes well, I’ll run another giveaway next week for “Love Thy Enemy/ The Way Home”.

Here is the link to enter the giveaway for “Eye of the Beholder and other stories”.

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New Short Story Collection – Get it for Free!

Eye of the Beholder and other stories by Kara Hartz

I have put together some of my favorite short stories as a short ebook. These are Science Fiction and Fantasy stories:

An astrobiology team discovers a planet with disturbingly familiar aliens.
A middle manager finds out who has been stealing office supplies but knows no one will believe him.
A cleaning robot is much too efficient.
A little boy id desperate to acquire superpowers.
A military robot fights to deliver vital information before time runs out.
A translator under pressure makes a fatal mistake.

This collection qualifies for the KDP Select program, so I’m giving that a try as an experiment. So for now it is only available at Amazon but it also allows me to offer a limited time FREE! promotion.

You can get the collection for free for three days at the link above beginning tomorrow, Friday February 5th thru Sunday the 7th.

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Daycare Isn’t Dull now up at Aurora Wolf

I have a new short story up over at Aurora Wolf : A Literary Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
It’s called Daycare Isn’t Dull.

For a time, I took care of my infant niece. She was not a fan of naps and it was a great source of frustration for us both. Later, when she went to daycare, I wondered how the caregivers there managed with so many children all with their own problems. Then I started to wonder how they would handle a child with even bigger problems. . .

So go check out my story, as well as some of the others over there. It’s a free site for readers, but I did notice a ‘Donate’ button if you like what you find.

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Things I Love – Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

When I find something I love, I have the urge to share it with someone. It occurred to me, that would be a great use of this blog.
So, to begin with, I give you Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman.
Shadow Scaleis the sequel to Seraphina:the story of a young musician (named Seraphina) who is in a unique position to bridge the increasing divide between dragons and humans at a time when years of peace between the two groups is growing strained. In Shadow Scale Seraphina has to take her mission even further and travel to other lands in search of other half-dragons like herself.
I loved the first book so much that I was waiting with great anticipation for the second. Part of me was a little disappointed in the sequel, but for a strange reason. In the first book, I was captured by the wonderful world and characters, and a decent amount of the text is spent on developing and introducing this world as Seraphina goes about her business. It’s the sort of story world I love to just wallow in. I had looked forward to that same feeling in the second but didn’t quite get it. We are introduced to many new lands and a lot of fascinating characters, but I didn’t get to wallow. So much happens that the story doesn’t pause enough to just lounge around in this beautiful world as much. Seraphina moves on a to a new place and new characters before we ever get to feel settled. Although I feel like complaining that the story moved along too well as a backwards sort of complaint. Instead, I will fill my need to spend time in this world by rereading both books at some point.
I believe these are marketed as Young Adult books, but I feel like there is more than enough depth for full on old adults like me to enjoy. I have a dragon-loving tween who I think would enjoy it a great deal, but I think I will wait a few years before offering it to her. Not that I don’t think she could handle any of the content or follow the story, but I think there are things (like the innocent, bitter-sweet romance) that she would appreciate more a little later on.
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A Safe Haven

There were trees of every size and color, filled with sprouts of new growth and tiny flowers not yet opened. Still none of them seemed right. Some might be adequate; they were near fresh water, others close to food, but those already held nests full of eggs or hatchlings in their boughs. I needed the perfect spot to nest with my new bride, Sparkle. I’d agonized over the decision too long. What if I was too late? 
Watching her bathe in a puddle this morning, I saw how heavy she’d grown with the eggs she carries. We needed a nest soon – very soon, a safe home where our family could thrive. Sparkle put her trust in me and I wouldn’t let her down.
I circled again in desperation, but knew that nothing had changed. There was no choice.  I would have to seek out the Wisdom Willow. I trembled at the idea, my feathers quivering, but knew that keeping Sparkle and the babies sheltered from wind, and concealed from predators was more important than my qualms. 
Will the tree speak to me? I’ve heard she doesn’t care for birds. She lived in a remote, quite corner of the woods. It was rumored that she befriended the squirrels and the thought of a huge squirrel charging almost made me turn back, but I tried to remember what was needed of me. 
What else did they say? I’d need to approach from the ground. She didn’t tolerate anyone in her branches. Speak clearly in a low voice and avoid chirping or singing. The tree was said to be temperamental. I could do everything right and still be sent away.  I was almost there. It was too late to worry now. Just get it over with.
I fought back my fear of the forest floor, forcing myself to land a short distance from the majestic tree. I hopped cautiously, cringing at each rustle of the leaves, trying to watch every direction at once. I was so exposed. It was dim beneath the trees, and I couldn’t see well.  Every breeze and stir made me want to flap away as fast as I could, but soon I was before the mighty willow. Her soaring trunk was very intimidating from my low position. Her branches stretched out, and seemed to hold the rest of the forest away. No other trees dared to let their branches intertwine with hers. I felt foolish for approaching. She would shun me for wasting her time. Maybe I should turn back…
“Windsong, why do you seek me?”  The voice was not loud, but filled the forest with authority.  I shouldn’t have been surprised that she knew my name, but I was. 
I spread my wings, bowing to the Wisdom Willow hoping she couldn’t tell I was shaking.
“Great One, I seek your guidance.” The words came out in a high squeak and I cringed at the sound. “Where shall I nest my family that they may thrive?” That wasn’t what I had meant to say, but my well-prepared speech would not come to my beak.
“You are late in the season to be seeking a nest only now,” she said.
The others were right. I was foolish to come. To her I was only another stupid bird. “Yes,” I managed to chirp, taking a hop backward, ready to fly if I should need. A cold breeze blew through her delicate branches making them float all around me. Was that a sign of anger?
“It has been ages since a bird sought my counsel, and this corner of the woods has been longing for songs,” said the Willow in a creaking, ancient voice. “Little One, you shall build your home in my branches. I’ve missed the joy of children these many years.”  
I released a breath I didn’t know I was holding, and almost toppled over in surprise. Had I heard correctly? The willow saw my confusion and a wispy limb scooped me up. 
“Do not fear me. I know what some say about me, and it doesn’t matter. You trust your own mind and heart over silly gossip, or you would not be here now. You shall be my eyes and ears throughout the woods. I am old. A young, courageous bird would be a welcome helper.”
The tension inside of me faded so quickly, I thought my feathers might fall out. Fluffing myself with pride I said, “Thank you… I am honored.” 
Warm rays of sunlight filtered through her leaves, catching juicy insects and glittering motes of dust in their beams. How had I never noticed the beauty of this region of the forest before?
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Syzygy the Novel


Syzygy (pronounced sizz-uh-gee) the novel by the charming Amanda Borenstadt is published and available for download at Smashwords, or for the Kindle at Amazon. It would probably fall in the category now called, ‘urban fantasy’ but it has strong romance elements too.

From Amanda: It’s the story of Finn Wilde, a super strong mobster who can leap tall buildings as well as hack computer networks, falls in love with Bea Jones, the girl he’s sent to kidnap. She’s immune to the virus that infects Finn’s race, therefore her blood holds the key to the antiserum which can cure him of the bloodthirsty madness that overtakes him for twelve hours each month.

The story is told by a patient at a mental hospital. His narration is sometimes dark and sometimes humorous. Little by little we learn clues about his identity as he grows closer to the widow he befriends in the hospital.

Amanda was kind enough to do a little blog interview for me to tell us a little about her book and her writing in general. She also has created some other fun projects online that go along with the Syzygy novel.

I highly recommend checking out this novel. A mere $1.99 will get you many hours of entertainment that you will not regret one bit. Amanda also has a short story up at Smashwords for free if you’ve never tried an e-book before and want to see how the whole process works first. I’m fairly new to the e-book experience myself, so it was great to download and read these. Now I feel like a pro.

Now, onto the interview!

How long have you been writing? Both in general, and how long did you
work on Syzygy?

Well, I wrote my first story when I was in sixth grade and decided to be a writer. Then, in seventh grade I realized I would never be as good as Ray Bradbury and gave up the dream.

Cut to a giga-billion years later- An artist friend of mine read our kids a book by Peter Reynolds called *Ish* which basically gave the message that things you draw don’t have to look exactly like they really are. It’s tree-ish. Car-ish. Etc. So, I grew the courage to start drawing.

I drew little comics of my teenage daughter going on adventures with Sirius Black and Doctor Who and other little cartoons. My stories got more complicated than I could draw, so I started writing full-blown fan fiction. My husband challenged me to write something I could legitimately publish for money. So, I started searching for my novel. I found it on a BART train on the way to San Francisco in 2007.

I saw this scruffy guy standing by the train door looking all moody and slouchy. I thought, “He sure is trying to look tough.” Then I thought, “What if he really is tough and has good reason to be moody? What if he has a fantastic back-story?” So, Finn was born.

Did you have the story planned out ahead of time, or did it evolve as you wrote?

For sure it evolved as I wrote. The narration completely changed. Ugh! I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but just know that the whole mental hospital part was not in the original plan. And I didn’t even know how it was going to end until I was well into the project.

When I learned the end of the story, I went back and changed how I narrated and added the mental hospital scenes. Then the patient had to go through the whole novel with me and infuse his voice into the narration. It’s there, very subtly at first and grows as time goes on.

I definably saw little bits of your personality in the book, like your fun, quirky sense of humor, but not focused in one character. Do you identify with any one character more? Or does one feel more similar to your own personality?

Thanks. I love quirky! No, I don’t think I identify with any particular character personality-wise. I can identify with Lucas because he’s trying so hard to protect and guide the young people. But our personalities are very different. He’s wiser, has more patience, and is a lot braver than I am. He’s also perhaps the least quirky of the bunch. Some of his phrases came from my husband’s mouth. Like when he answers “Yes,” to Bea’s question, which wasn’t a “yes” or “no” question. My husband can be maddening like that.

Did you intentionally avoid creating a character that shared too much of your personality?

No, I didn’t intentionally avoid creating a character with my personality. What a fascinating question. I guess I felt I was behind the camera while writing rather than in front of it. I incorporated bits of people I know and situations I saw. Even the characters who began loosely based on a person didn’t stay that way. They grew their own uniqueness.

Do you have plans for a sequel, or for any other stories featuring the same characters? (Hint, hint – I think Uncle Lucas has some fun stories to tell.)

Yes, he sure would. And Collin too! I have a vision of a sequel in that I know what happens to every character, but I don’t know if I’ll write it. We’ll see if the world demands a Syzygy Two. Then, maybe a Syzygy III in 3D.

I’ve written a handful of short stories set before the time of the novel. You can see one on my blog. Those characters just won’t leave me be. Hey, if it gets popular maybe people will write Syzygy fan fiction.

Can you tell us about any other writing projects you’re working on now?

Besides the occasional short story, I’m working on a zombie-apocalypse novel, because, as you know, the world is short of those. It’s a romance called, *The Last Guy on Earth Who’s Not a Zombie*. And my niece, Jasmine, and I may collaborate on a graphic novel called *Twelve Keys*, set in a California transformed by mysterious forces that bring modern day, the gold-mining era, and the magical realm together. This is the same niece who created the cover and promotional artwork for Syzygy. We’ll see how it goes. We’ve never published anything like this before. I downloaded the guidelines from Dark Horse Comics, so I figure we’re experts, right?

I’ve heard all kinds of opinions about traditional publishing vs. e-publishing, and it seems like something that will continue to change for awhile. How has the process of publishing an e-book been for you? Now that you’ve gone through it, would you do it the same way if you had it to do over?

No, I would run the other direction and slam headlong into the nearest wall. I’m kidding. Smashwords- well, Mark Coker at Smashwords, made it as painless as possible. I ran into snags because of technical stuff, but really, it’s not very difficult and I’m a technical idiot. There is a lot of waiting involved- waiting for files to upload and be distributed, but I guess that’s the case in regular publishing too.

I’m just grateful that Smashwords and Amazon make it so easy to epublish. Some go a more tech-savvy route and create actual apps for Apple and all of that, but I am happy with the shortcut way.

I love your YouTube channel for Finn. The search especially is so well tied into the Syzygy novel. It may be more fun for those who have already read the book than a promotional tool though. Can you tell us a little about how you came to make these fun videos?

Oh, the Search Stories? Yeah, they are fun. I stumbled on one somebody had done for Ron Weasley preparing for going off to Hogwarts and it was hecka funny. I saw at the end that YouTube had a program where you can simply plug in your search and pick music. It creates the video for you.

My character, Finn, does in fact conduct on-line searches to find Bea, so naturally I had to make a Search Story for him. The one I did for Sam was just a whim. I included some details from the novel as well as some things I knew about him that never made it into the book.

Aside from Sygyzy, where can folks read more of your work?

I have a cute werewolf story at “Lightning Flash Magazine,” a vampire story at “Shadowcast Audio Anthology,” and there’s a freebie urban fantasy on my Smashwords page. For the full list of my stories with links you can go to the sidebar of my blog http://afortnightofmustard.blogspot.com/

Thanks so much for giving us this great interview!

Thank you. This has been so much fun! Interview me any time. 🙂