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Unpacking and Repacking…

As usual, I haven’t even stopped to look in my Capclave swag bag until now–five days after I got home from the convention. Turns out there were some cool things in there! The May/June edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, which is a definite must-read; a copy of Best New Fantasy from Prime Books, edited by Sean Wallace, which looks intriguing; a DC comic book called The New 52, which I’ll probably pass along to my husband; the May edition of Locus Magazine, another must-read; and of course the program guide, with cover artwork courtesy of artist GoH Steve Stiles. That last will join my ever growing collection. (Why yes, I do keep copies of all the program books of the conventions I’ve ever gone to. Yes, it takes up a lot of space. Yes, I have only the flimsiest of rationales behind the collection. I’m going to keep doing it anyway. Mwah.)

All in all, quite a good haul for a swag bag. Normally I throw out ninety five percent of the cluttery bookmarks and pens and flyers and gimmicky stuff. It’s a relief to find so much worth keeping in this one. Well done, Capclave!

Now to the stack of business cards and notes about followup items… one of these days I’ll be able to see my desk again. And one day I’ll actually get around to unpacking my suitcase completely before I have to pack it again for the next event…. :)

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in promotions, Uncategorized, Writing Fiction

 

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Peeking Through The Chaos…

Here I am again, peeking out from behind my huge stack of Stuff To Do. Thanks for being so patient with me! Let’s see, where did I leave off… oh, I was talking about Connecticon and how great it was. And I posted pictures. All right, so that’s taken care of. Next I’ll talk about the two authors I discovered at Connecticon–one of whom has been around a while and the other of whom is more or less brand new. The first, of course, is Brandon Sanderson, author of the Mistborn series, among other books. He was one of the GoHs at the convention, and I was lucky enough to be on one panel with him–not nearly enough time, but there you go, it was a convention and that’s always the case. Maybe we can talk him into attending MarsCon one of these days and I’ll get more of a chance to hang out and ask him how, how he produced such  amazingly magical, detailed, innovative, creative….ah, hell, you know what, just go read his work and come up with your own description. I especially recommend The Emperor’s Soul and Legion, which pack a huge amount of “holy wow, what a concept–where’s the sequel?” teaser into every page. I seriously hope he returns to those worlds and characters many, many times!

The second author I am now excited about was recommended by Brandon Sanderson, and his name is Bryce Moore. His new novel, Vodnik, is a marvelous YA romp through modern and mythical Slovakia. (I would have said magical, but there were already enough “m’s” in that sentence.) The book reminds me of a glorious mashup of the best of Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker and J.K. Rowling. It’s funny and it’s serious and it’s spooky and it’s goofy all at once. I hesitate to call it YA–a problem I have with Pratchett and Gaiman and Valente and so many other supposed “YA writers”–because it’s just so damn well written. I’m very well aware, before you throw things at your screen, that YA does not automatically equal shallow, asinine anecdotes about magical jeans and the importance of the correct makeup. Books like this are simply too “big” for such a short, small label. I’d like to see them listed, instead, as books for intelligent youngsters who actually love to read stuff that makes you think, and adults who are still in love with magic–but I suppose that’s too hard to condense onto the average book spine for shelving purposes. So until we come up with something better, YA will have to do. In any case, go pick up a copy of Vodnik. It’s really that good.

….drat. My “get back to work” alarm just went off. Back with more news & updates as soon as I work through another few inches of the teetering Stack Of Doom on my desk…. there’s soooooo much more to say! One last, fast, & important note: this weekend, I will be at Fantasci in Chesapeake, VA. It’s a fun, free one day event held at the Chesapeake Public Library, and more information on it can be found on the library’s Facebook page, right here. Right, gotta go–see you this weekend, I hope! :)

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2013 in promotions, Uncategorized, Writing Fiction, Writing Non-Fiction

 

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Not Wallpaper…

This March 2013 post by Sophia McDougall made me sit up in astonishment. Not because it talks about rape in fiction–I’ve seen article after article denouncing the tactic and bemoaning the unoriginality of it–but because the article talks about men being raped.  Specifically, how uncommon that is in fiction, compared to the abuse of female characters. While the comments are filled with inevitable and heated arguments about whether McDougall did her research, attacking her reasoning, tearing down specific points, etc etc–the main point of the article is definitely valid and thought provoking. It made me think about my series with new awareness. (As did, of course, the comments and repercussive discussions, which I suspect will be rolling through various forums for months to come. I adored the post about Professor Feminism and mansplaining by Tiger Beatdown in particular.)

I’m going to talk about my use of sexual violence in my books, and whether, in my view, they’re “wallpaper” or “gratuitous”. Not to refute anything McDougall says; I totally agree with her points. Her article made me think hard about my own approach to sexualized violence, and I want to share my conclusions with my readers.

If the word rape makes you feel all squicky, you basically have two options: one, skip this post and go look at something more reassuring (which I do not intend as a derogatory or dismissive comment; I do understand that this is a difficult topic for many people), or two, keep reading–by which I mean, read the original articles I mention above, and others on the topic, as well as my post. (Set aside some time to read through the comments and follow links, this is one of those down-the-rabbit-hole, open-a-can-of-worms discussions that can eat hours out of your day.) Rape in fiction is an enormously complicated subject, and while it’s a squicky one on many levels, it’s also a very important topic, in my opinion, for writers to think about–because sooner or later, unless we’re writing for very young children, we have to face it in our fiction.

(Arguably we have to deal with it in writing aimed at young children as well, because they can also be victims, and their trauma should be acknowledged and addressed–but that’s a whole other can o’ worms that I’m going to leave unopened for the moment. The topic to hand is difficult enough.)

Fair warning: this is also a very long post, though I tried to keep it short.

Right. Disclaimers out of the way, so let’s get started. *cracks knuckles*

I’ll begin with a quote from the article:

“Rape as backstory, as plot point, as motivation – however badly handled, I can usually cope with it.

I found I couldn’t cope with rape as wallpaper.

When there had been two rapes of children (one of whom was also murdered) within about twenty pages of each other, when I realised I was physically tensing up every time a male and female character were in the same scene as each other, because something always happened, even if it was “just” sexualised verbal abuse, it occurred to me I was no longer having any fun with this book.”

I’ve seen similar sentiments expressed elsewhere. In this particular instance, McDougall is talking about the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. And she has a damn good point. Rape and violence is often presented as a given in any story set in a less-than-civilized world. Women. Childen. Farm animals, in some cases. The problem comes in, as she points out, when the subject is treated with less gravity than it deserves; when it’s so commonplace that it’s like bullets spraying in an 80’s action flick movie.

Rape is a really damn difficult topic to write about, from any angle. I’ve written about it. I don’t minimize that. In the Children of the Desert series, I wound up with multiple instances of sexual violence. I tried to keep those instances to a minimum, and I’ve really tried to make it mean something; beause if I’m going to write about rape, it’s damn well not going to be wallpaper.

Let’s look at the setup, focusing on a few items from book one, Secrets of the Sands:

* Rosin Weatherweaver was a psychopathic bastard who really liked hurting people–spreading their guts all over the floor to see how long they’ll live, for instance. Having him spawn something of a rape culture isn’t at all a stretch, in my opinion.

* The Northern Church, as led by Rosin, was extremely mysogynistic. (It started off biased, but Rosin kicked it up several levels.)

* The last few kings have been less than intelligent/sane/compassionate, meaning there’s been no strong central moral authority to keep a relative level of sanity or rein in the atrocities that have been going on.

* The southlands are considerably more progressive. Scratha and Aerthraim Families are matrilineal and led by women; Sessin Family respects their women as equals; and even F’Heing and Darden, who treat their women like property, allow for strong-willed women to fight their way up to equal status.

(Slight Spoiler) Desert lords, as part of their progression into “superpowers”, if you will, acquire an increased sex drive. This fades within a handful of years after their blood trials, but it’s fairly well overwhelming at first–which is why new desert lords are usually sequestered with an, uhm, specially trained set of servants, until they can control themselves. There are complex reasons for this, and these reasons are explained as the series progresses–as is the secret (and incredibly dangerous) way to avoid this situation. And these particular servants, called kathain, aren’t just around for fun. The complexities of their role gets explained as well.

On a more character-personal level:

* When the story begins, Alyea has been raped, once, at a fairly young age (around fifteen, at a guess), by an arrogant young southern noblemen, Pieas Sessin (who was completely out of his head on a cocktail of drugs at the time–not an excuse, especially as he was a jackass even when sober) — which directly resulted in her training in a self-defense martial arts/mediation form called aqeyva. While it’s not explicitly explained in the story, the meditation part of this training, as much as her new ability to defend herself, helps her to heal from the trauma. Helps, but doesn’t erase it–the encounter leaves her with significant trust issues, especially when it comes to southern males. She also tends to leap without looking first when presented with an opportunity to increase her own personal power–i.e., increased protection from future attacks.

* Idisio grew up on the streets–first as a beggar, used to garner sympathy from passerby, and later as a whore. He eventually became a pickpocket instead, due to an encounter gone very, very wrong. Overall, his attitude toward whoring is pragmatic–it’s a hell of a lot more profitable than pickpocketing–but that encounter left him more than a little jumpy about any form of intimacy, not to mention a lot of internal conflict about issues of power and dominance.  (Which makes his discovery that he is, in fact, stronger on many levels than the people around him all the more disturbing for him.)

* Cafad Scratha’s entire freaking Family (not just “family” as in direct relatives, but “Family”, meaning every occupant of the fortress-city he lived in) was killed in the space of a few hours, while he was away from home on a desert lord training exercise. As a result, he spent a lot of time with the West Coast Families–because nobody was going to let a ten year old kid live in, let alone run, a Fortress literally soaked in blood. And the West Coast Families treat their women like property. So Cafad has always struggled with seeing women as people, he’s got a huge amount of rage in his heart, and he’s a desert lord. In spite of all that, he’s not only not a rapist, he’s also very nearly averse to sex altogether, because of the intimate connection involved–remember, he’s a desert lord, meaning that he’s psychically sensitive; he’s also more or less a war orphan, desperately looking for emotional stability. It was a big deal for him to fall in love with Nissa; and when he found out that she’d been lying to him…well. It’s surprising that she’s still alive. The aftermath of that one moment quietly informs a lot of what happens in the first book, although Idisio doesn’t understand the situation well enough to see it himself.

* Wian, Alyea’s former servant, undergoes a lot of extremely rough handling throughout the series. Her life experiences have made her cynical, very good at deception–and completely focused on taking care of number one, to hell with everyone else. She’s one of the most complicated characters in the series, in my opinion. Whether she’s a good person or not depends entirely on the reader’s personal morality, and that’s deliberate.

* In Bells of the Kingdom, there is a female character and a male character who were tortured, during the reign of Rosin Weatherweaver, to the point of madness and back multiple times. The female, under Rosin’s control, tortured her male companion repeatedly. Tortured other people in front of her companion. The male refused to participate in torturing others, even to save himself pain. One may safely assume that torture, in this instance, was as comprehensive as it gets. I chose to go very light on that picture, because what I did show already disturbed me enough.

* Also in Bells, and in Fires of the Desert, there are two young men traveling together who have the common ground of drastically abusive childhoods; one was fed aphrodisiac, addictive drugs to make him more pliable and the other–wasn’t. Their childhoods affect their current day choices, and shaped their personalities, strengths, and weak spots; without that information, their actions and reactions wouldn’t have made a damn bit of sense to the reader.

So there’s rather a lot of violence, sexual and otherwise, in the series to date. There are men and women struggling with their sexual appetites and histories; there are guys with every excuse to be rapists who refuse to go there, and gals with every reason to be compassionate who instead turn to sadism. To be entirely honest, I never intended to have this much darkness in the story. I remember feeling almost desperate at times, because each choice I made forced me into consequences that I wasn’t at all happy about; but to flinch away from that consequence, to downplay it, to minimize or alter it, was cowardly. It was cheating.

Here’s an example: Idisio started out life on the streets as a beggar and a whore (which are both totally commonplace in any genuine street-life scenario I can think of). He couldn’t be either of those things at the time Scratha met him, because then they’d have no reason to bump into one another (Scratha would have completely ignored him–Idisio would have been as good as invisible). What made Idisio turn to life as a pickpocket instead? Unexpected moral crisis? Not likely. Message from the gods? Also not likely. There weren’t many options but an encounter gone horribly awry, very nearly ending in Idisio’s death. And once I decided on that point, it would have been cheating Idisio’s character to simply leave that as wallpaper–such a profound experience would have marked him for life, and his newfound status would twist the knife in the wound: I never should have been in that position to begin with, I never should have been on the streets. Why didn’t my parents protect me? ….leaving him wide open to the events of Bells of the Kingdom.

I could analyze every single character with similar results. There’s a lot of violence. But in my view, it’s not wallpaper. I agonized over every piece of unpleasantness, making sure that it meant something, tied into the overall plot; making sure it mattered. As I’ve grown in my ability as a writer, I’ve tried to make unpleasant matters and good moments alike evoke a gut response from the reader. And to my vast relief, I can also say, as I’m working on the fifth and final book of the series, that the worst of that sort of thing is behind me: this one is much more political, set in the relatively liberal southlands,  revolving around mainly southern viewpoints. The crazy people in this story aren’t sexual predators; they’re just nucking futs in that “everything I’m doing is perfectly rational, what are you talking about?” kind of way.

And, returning to the above quote briefly:

“it occurred to me I was no longer having any fun with this book”

…I can say that this fifth and final book in the Children of the Desert series, in many ways, is a lot more fun to write than the others were. It’s certainly less gut and heart wrenching than Bells. But I also know, without a doubt, that I couldn’t have made this one work without all the other stuff being set up first. For one thing, developing the background through the other books gave me an implicit framework that allows me to leave certain things as understood–and a gut sense of when things are going right or wrong, meaning that I don’t have spell the hints out. For another, it forced me to develop my skill as a writer, made me examine why the characters did certain things; made me learn how to show, not tell; made me learn to convey vivid moments with fewer words and a deeper impact.

It is a vast relief to walk away from the squicky stuff into more “ordinary” conspiracies and plots and centuries-old revenge plans. I don’t regret having done it. I will very probably not go there again, if I can avoid it. I know there is at least one book in my future plans that will require a brief return to that dark area of human perversity, and I’m not really looking forward to that segment of that book, but without it the whole story falls apart–and the whole story is, in my judgment, worth telling.

Whether any book involving any amount of darkness–or even the lack thereof–is worth reading … is a reader’s choice, and not one an author can reasonably argue. All we can do is tell the stories that come to us, and hope that the pathway betwixt mind and page is as clear of distortion as possible. After that … it’s out of our hands.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2013 in Uncategorized, Writing Fiction

 

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Publications to Date…

I had hoped to have more of a list by this point in time, but on reflection I think I’m actually quite pleased with where I’m at. It’s been a lot of very hard work to get here, and I’m starting to get the hang of this writing thing…

(I know I have a properly dated list around here somewhere, but I can’t find it right now; I’ll have to come back and update this post later.)

  • Alternations, Futures: Fire to Fly Magazine
  • Charon In Tahiti, Anotherealm.com
  • Mind Games, Alienskin.com
  • Secrets of the Sands, Mercury Retrograde Press
  • Guardians of the Desert, as prev.
  • Bells of the Kingdom, as prev. (Jan 2013)
  • Fires of the Desert, as prev. (April 2013)
  • Dragon Child, Galactic Creatures anthology (May 2012)
  • Silver and Iron, Sha’daa: PAWNS anthology (Nov. 2012)

I am currently working on refining a handful of short stories that tie in to the Mercury Retrograde Press novels, and I have a steampunk short story to get knocked out within the next couple of weeks, if the Muse–and the clock!–is kind to me. Short stories, for me, are rather like getting struck by lightning. I never know when I’ll be able to pull one off, and applying Butt In Chair almost always fails when I’m trying to develop a short story; either I wind up with garbage or I wind up with a fledgling novel. …

How do you handle writing a short story? Is it easier for you than a novel, or the other way ’round? Curious writers wanna know…. :)

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2012 in Uncategorized, Writing Fiction

 

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Dealing With Stress and Still Getting Stuff Done

I will frankly admit that I suck at this, spectacularly. In recent weeks I’ve done everything but hide under the bed in reaction to a rash of mega-stressful events popping up like malignant mushrooms in my life–and the only reason I didn’t do that is because my plushy posterior wouldn’t fit.

But I still got through the various Essentials Of Life, those being, in no particular order, laundry, going to the Outside Job, paying bills, visiting with friends, keeping up with emails, and eating solid meals at least once a day. Oh, and showers. Those happened, generally, just before the racing-out-the-door-to-the-Outside-Job sequence began.

Along the way I made myself laugh as much as possible. I went outside and blew bubbles and sang loudly to ridiculous songs. I practically saturdated myself in lavender essential oil in the evenings, imbibed massive amounts of acetomenophin and ibuprofin (not at the same time, of course!), took hot baths whenever I could (day or night), got my hair redone in a nice bright red shade with gold-orange accent strips, stocked up on dark chocolate and darker beer, and turned the ringer on my phone off every time I thought I could safely get away with Not Talking To People.

There’s a stack of Stuff Due A Week Ago on my desk that threatens to topple and injure me every time I sit down to it. But I’m okay with that. I tackle what I can tackle as I can tackle it, and I try not to scream at people who get in my way too much, and I think of all the stuff I’m grateful for whenever my mind is clear enough to allow for that.

And now I have something Really Good to look forward to: the ARCs of my next two books, Bells of the Kingdom and Fires of the Desert, will very soon be winging their way to my doorstep for proofing. And then I will squeeee and be ever so happy, because then, see, it’s going to be real. All the hard work and breakdowns and blowups and backward progress and revisions and rounds of editing and last minute “oooopses” will all be behind me, and I will hold, for a brief time, a beautiful, wonderful creation in my hands.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here are the cover art images for each book:

Then I’ll have to send the bloody thing back to the publisher, of course–but hey! I’ll get the final version just a few short months afterwards, so I can wait.

Pass the lavender oil, would you…. ?

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2012 in Uncategorized, Writing Fiction

 

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Back on Track…

Recent posts seem to have wandered a bit off the writing-topic path, haven’t they? Let me steer things back to the proper route (although diversions are always fun, and have their place), and get on with talking about things writerly.

Most recently, I’ve been reading a book called “Verbatim”, which is a collection of articles from the long-running magazine Verbatim: The Language Quarterly. Published in 2001, it is in a few spots already showing its age, but it is tremendously interesting and amusing all the same. Laurance Urdang, long-time editor of the magazine, says: “It was always my hope that Verbatim would emerge as a breath of fresh air for that interested cadre of word lovers  who had been forced to endure Sunday-supplement curiosity collections and word puzzles levelled at six-year-olds.” I’d say, offhand, he succeded, if this collection of articles is anything to go by.

VerbatimThere is a refreshing lack of stuffiness in any book that starts out with an article on why “bad English” isn’t the end of civilization after all. “Nothing,” notes columnist (and Verbatim editor) Erin McKean, “is as irksome as to be forced (wearing a polite smile, rapidly souring to a grimace) to listen to someone’s tirade, rant, or polemic against ‘today’s English’.” He goes on to talk about the fluidity and evolution of language and how the “good English” being upheld by the purists today would more than likely clash terribly with the “good English” of even two hundred years ago.

I like these folks. Each article is absolutely fascinating, occasionally hilarious (as the one examining the odd reluctance of dictionaries to properly define “sexual intercourse” and the entry on American place names). The article I just finished reading, “English as she is spoke”, talks about a guidebook to the English language written by a Portugese gentleman named Jose de Fonseca (who, unfortunately, spoke no actual English himself). I’d never heard of him before, but apparently he produced a phrase book that endures as a masterpiece of mistakes. It’s not just that the individual examples taken from this book are appallingly funny–they make me wince with recognition. I’ve long wondered just how the hell anyone learning English can learn such a horribly fractured form as to think that “In case FIRE, avert the boots”, to choose just one example from this article, is at all comprehensible. Understanding that “avert” is taken from avertir–French for warn and that boots is taken from an old nickname for hotel servants, makes the mistakes rather more understandable.

This article alone gives me a lot more tolerance for the fractured speech of some ESL folks, because I now truly understand that they are very probably teaching themselves, or being taught from, a book rather like Forseca’s (which was first published in 1855 and remains in print to this day, clearly labeled as a historical curiosity and amusement to avoid anyone actually trying to use it as a phrase book). Or they’re working from understandable misinterpretations such as the one noted above.

As a writer, articles like this are pure gold. Want to fracture up some speech in your books? This article practially maps out the process, as far as I’m concerned. Insert a Forseca-style guidebook into your fictional world and watch the fun start!

I could go through and rave about every article in here, but I’ll content myself with a blanket statement that for a writer, I suggest that this book–and checking out the Verbatim magazine itself–is an absolute necessity.

That latter option is a bit tricky, unfortunately; the founding father, Laurence Urdang, passed away in 2008; the last post on the website appears to be from December of that same year. The independant publisher, Stein & Day, who once distributed the print magazine, went out of business in the late 1980s. I see no further trace of the magazine; there are two Verbatims listed on Facebook, but one is a law review journal and the other an odd lit-mag type of thing. A quick Google search yields no announcements that the magazine has folded; it appears to have merely stopped midstream, as it were. So if someone out there knows whether the magazine is still viable, I’d love to get my hands on a subscription, belated as that desire may be; and if someone happens to have a trove of back issues, I would be deeply grateful to get my hands on those!

In the meanwhile, I suggest picking up a copy of this book. It’s fantastic–and I don’t say that often or lightly, as those readers familiar with my reviews at Green Man Review and the Sleeping Hedgehog already know well. :)

Now–on to the next, and to all a good read! ;-p

 

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Busy, Busy Blogger

Hey! I’ve been doing a great job on having blog posts lined up ahead of time lately. Patting myself on the back here… and for those of you now yet subscribed to the feed, here’s a brief recap of what you may have missed:

I started off the New Year with a Thank You to all the wonderful folks who’ve been keeping me steady and moving forward; told a tale of two silences; discovered a really good group of writers in Norfolk, VA; talked about being a slutty writer; looked at taking an idea from concept to creation; discussed anger management; looked at what it means to me to be a star; regrouped from recent events and documented it in a series of posts that start here; talked about how to show emotion in one’s writing; talked about POV vs. Perception; tackled the question of gender dysfunction in fiction writing (and made my readers answer it!); and talked about writing with joy and eating whales.

Quite the list, and I left off as much as I’ve mentioned. I think I’ll go take a nap now… I’ve earned it!

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2012 in Writing Fiction, Writing Non-Fiction

 

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