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Monday, July 2, 2018

Chasing the Light: A Secret, and a Sample

We were alone in the front living room that drowsy afternoon, Melanie and I, partway through that first retreat. Intense conversations drabbled from the kitchen, but not enough to distract us. I readjusted my butt in the faded floral arm chair where I sat and glanced up at her, lounging on the opposite couch and deep in her work. “I’ve figured out the secret to a productive writing retreat.”

One corner of her mouth quirked up, and so did her brows. Like we were plotting. “Oh?”

“Yes,” I said. “Treat all of the other people in the room like generic video game sprites. Non-Player Characters. Don’t get too close or they’ll engage you in a conversation that will take great strength of will to escape.”

Melanie returned my grin. “And on that note, excuse me while I do just that.”

Needless to say, it was a productive afternoon.

* * *

Melanie Otto was an amazing person, a bright light that I am honoured to have known. Quirky and wise, she was amazing woman and an excellent founding member of our retreat group, the Roaring Writers. Late in the fall of 2016, she was taken by an aneurysm, leaving her partner with extensive medical bills.

For ages we’d been batting around the idea of a group anthology but couldn’t decide on a theme.
After she passed, we knew what we were going to do: contribute pieces that we Melanie loved when she read them, or would have enjoyed because her delighted laugh was ever-present on our retreats.

Thus Chasing the Light was born, and the decision to donate all proceeds to help her partner with the bills was unanimous.

I hope you’ll enjoy this collection, which is filled with short stories from across the science fiction and fantasy spectrum, and includes contributions by all of the Roaring Writers and the award-winning authors who’ve taught us. Check it out today!

Here’s an exerpt from my story, “Preservatives”:


The glass-and-chrome behemoth on the office kitchen counter loomed with all the pretention of a wealthy hipster. Not surprising, given who’d acquired the monstrosity after the old microwave kicked it last week. Tiffany was on another of her holier-than-thou cleanses, and something like this seemed to fit with her litany of kombucha, quinoa, and kale. But I was starving, I’d timed my break to avoid Princess Probiotic, and my lunch was in serious need of therapeutic radiation, so I didn’t have much choice.
I savored the muted aroma emanating from the foam box I’d pulled from the fridge, then dumped its contents on a plate. Emperor Ho’s made the best chicken chow mein in town, and the Phokas College union contract mandated an hour for lunch. After yet another harrowing morning, I was ready to take my MSG-laden comfort and escape into the June sunshine. I opened the machine’s wide door—
“Chinese food, really?”
She was at my side as if I’d summoned her, derision dripping from her voice like a leaky faucet. “Ellen, I thought we talked about this.”
No, you talked at me. Red-faced, I glanced away. “They’re just leftovers.”
“That’s still not an excuse, you know. You should really consider your health.” Her auburn ringlets bounced as she strode to the fridge to retrieve her own lunch—a salad, naturally—before turning back to eye my food. “Well, at least that thing will see some use.”
Right. The microwave. She’d made such a grand gesture of donating it on Friday—right before declaring yet another holy war on processed foods. How could I forget?
I glared at the back of her twin-set as she strode off. There she went again, trying to force everyone to conform to what she thought was best. Dammit. Svelte and fit she might have been, but Tiffany was the biggest cow I knew.
What was it about losing weight that made a person think they were superior? As if we were all failures if we didn’t kowtow to her ideas, do what she’d done just so we could be as “successful” as her. The sad thing was, for the most part, everyone in our department had fallen in line—even our boss.  Not that Milo was much for conflict. Ever. And so Tiffany and her quinoa reigned supreme.
While I stuck to the one defiance I could still get away with: my lunch.
So what if I spent more on eating out and facial degreasing than clothes?
A pang in my belly reminded me of what really mattered. I stuck my food inside the machine. The door closed with a clunk as it locked, and I studied the rows of buttons on its not-so-standard panel.
Oh, the usual options were there. Cook. Power level. Clock. But one button in the panel’s lower left corner struck me as odd.
Incinerate.
I snorted. Clearly the machine’s creators had a sense of humor. And then I thought, Why not? The faster I could enjoy my calorie-laden therapy in peace, the better. I punched in ninety seconds, hit the button, and popped into the nearby washroom.
I shouldn’t have left.
I’d heard the microwave beep while I peed. The office walls in our department are pretty thin, and the kitchen produces a linoleum echo not found in the rest of the carpeted halls. But when I returned, the room lacked the distinct mouth-watering scent my greasy leftovers usually produced.
The box was gone. In its place was a dense green mass on a squarish glass plate.
I eyed the palm-sized glob, cold with disbelief. That was not my chow mein.
Somehow, in the two minutes I’d taken to empty my bladder, someone had switched my carton of scrumptious snackage with this—this—
Whatever the hell it was, I sure didn’t want to call it “food”.

* * *

For a taste of other stories in the anthology, check out our blog tour:

Ken Schrader – Chasing the Light: Remembering Melanie – June 11, 2018
Faith Hunter – Chasing the Light – 12 June 2018
Alex Gideon – Null and Void – June 14, 2018
Janet Walden-West   – Chasing the Light blog tour and excerpt – June 18, 2018

Monday, June 25, 2018

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Defining "Ready": A The Million Words post

My lovely retreat group and I have started a blog together, called TheMillionWords.net, where we talk about our journeys and the lessons we've learned along the path to publication. Here's my contribution to the launch.

(Don't worry, there will be more notes soon. But my life has been more hectic than usual, so that's going to have to wait for now. Thank you for understanding.)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Blitz: Suzanne Lazear's THE SECRET LIVES OF ROCKSTARS


Saving the world, one tour stop at a time.

Eighteen-year-old Bitsy Butler has never quite fit in, not with the dragons who raised her, the druid who took her in, or even with the non-human members of the cirque noir punk band she thinks of as family. Her chance to prove she can make it on her own comes with her band's first big solo tour. It’s all going according to plan when an angel walks into a bar and demands help with his demon problem.

If she doesn't step up, a magical war will break out, threatening Arizona and all those who call it home. With the help of a human, a sexy dragon, and the members of her band, Bitsy must stop an angry mob of chaos demons before the band leaves for their next tour stop.

It’s nice to be needed, but Bitsy has no idea how to defeat the demons and she just might get herself killed trying. But then, at least one problem would be solved...

Fitting in doesn’t matter if you’re dead.

*        *        *

Today I'm delighted to host a stop on the YA Bound Book Blitz for book one of Suzanne Lazear's new adult elfpunk novel, THE SECRET LIVES OF ROCKSTARS.

I absolutely adored this book. This is the kind of story that had my writer's brain working overtime, wondering what was going to happen, and even projecting predictions for book two. There was humour, quirkiness, and an enthralling plot. And one of the neatest aspects of the was the drakken, a race of dragon-like beings with an exciting cultural heritage. Here's what the author has to say about it in her own words.

*        *        *

Beyond here be drakken: the dragons of THE SECRET LIVES OF ROCKSTARS
By Suzanne Lazear

One of my favorite things about THE SECRET LIVES OF ROCKSTARS is that it has dragons—or drakken as I call them. I love dragons and had been itching to write a story with them. My drakken are shape-shifters. Once, they lived in this realm, but moved to their own parallel realm as the human population grew, which is why there are so many dragon stories.

My main character, Bitsy, has to stop a demon-fueled war before it harms innocents—and before her band, The Freakshow, leaves Tempe, Arizona, for their next tour stop. She was also raised by crazy drakken, and years later is still trying to deal with everything that happened with her.
Drakken,” I corrected unthinkingly. “Dragons are creatures in human children’s stories.” Drakken were a shape-shifting people who now occupied a magical realm parallel to ours, but most liked to travel back and forth. Being trapped in the human realm unable to return to the homeland was a pretty serious punishment.
Serious enough to burn everyone alive in an attempt to get back. 
I rubbed my arms as if trying to rub away the flames licking at my body. “What?”
“What do you have against the Drakken?” Amusement tinged his voice. “Didn’t you have some Drakken friends back in LA?”
“They weren’t my friends. And I have nothing against them.” Nothing I wanted to talk about. I knew the crazy exiled Drakken who raised me were very different from most, but I didn’t like advertising my upbringing.
“Good,” Aidan nodded. “Because they’re a noble, polite, honorable people who don’t get involved in others’ politics.” 
I rolled my eyes at his SĂ­dhe rhetoric. “They’re not perfect.”
Drakken love books and learning, and often come to this realm to attend college. The Freakshow’s current tour stop is a college town. Not only does she run into a few, but if she’s going to stop the chaos demons in time, she needs help from one, Eric.

The drakken are organized into tribes, and different types of magic are associated with them, however, there is plenty of crossover due to inter-tribe marriage. Eric is western tribe, an earth drakken. Eric has earth magic. Bitsy’s foster sister had been northern tribe and a mistress of lightning. However, the place she and her foster sister grew up in had been run by exiles.

I also gave the drakken their own language.  I tried to use it sparingly, in ways where you wouldn’t necessarily need translation.
I smiled at the waiter, grateful to get some food. “Bes’sa.
The words just slipped out. Old habits.
Na’i te.” Eric smiled; it was the kind that put people at ease and made girls lose their morals. “You speak my language?” he said in Homespeak, the common drakken language.
“I just know some,” I replied in the same language. Lies. It was my first language. We never spoke much English in the compound though my foster mother insisted we learn it. Well. 
“Some? That’s surprising.” Eric’s eyebrows rose. He probably expected me to say I knew a little. “I don’t often come across a dikka who speaks it.” 
The word dikka, outsider, made me flinch. 
“I’m sorry,” he replied, eyes widening. “I mean no offense. I’m western tribe. It’s not an insult there.” 
Western tribe. Earth drakken. 
“No offence taken.” I closed my eyes for a moment to help choke back the voices in my head. At the compound it was an insult and I’d been called that far too often as a child, usually with satta, stupid, in front of it. I wasn’t ever smart enough. Or fast enough. Or graceful enough. Or had enough magic. 
Most of all, I wasn’t one of them. And never, ever would be. 
Kai’kien, please…” he murmured, hovering over me.
“No, really, it’s okay,” I muttered in English, just wanting him to go away.
Each tribe has different customs. Also the different tribes and their customs loosely relate to where they came from in the human realm. Drakken are telepaths, especially when in dragon form. Bitsy can hear them just fine. They are also very polite and have a very elaborate culture.
Taking a teapot, she filled the cup with red-brown liquid, steam rising from the surface – but the flame kept burning. She handed to me. I hesitated. This fire can’t hurt you. The cup in one hand, I waved the other over the flame three times, blew it out, murmured kin’ba, and took a drink. The sweet-tart liquid burned my throat in a way that brought back memories of cold afternoons, late night tea parties, and tiny cookies shaped like snowflakes.
Ses’ba,” she added quietly in the background. 
Both these things had no translation; it’s something you say when you drink. There were a few of those phrases in Homespeak, but my foster mother always insisted we use kin’ba. She never told me why. But she always did things differently than everyone else in the compound.
“Excellent, my complements to the chef,” I told her. The preparation – and serving – of haeibo was an art. My sister always made it look like a dance. My klutzy self had been banned from even touching my foster mother’s precious teapot.
Eric’s enthralled with the fact that she knows so much about them. Since most of Bitsy’s memories of the drakken aren’t fond, she’s not too keen on this. The drakken also have their own religion and goddess.  Bitsy hides it, but still practices their religion, given it’s what she knows.
I don’t believe in coincidence.” Eric switched languages. “Everything is the work of the Goddess. She’s most definitely at work here.”
Yes, She was. The question was, why?
Sighing, I rubbed my temples. “Sometimes I don’t appreciate Her sense of humor.”
Again, he stood too close. I could smell his Drakken scent – mainly books and brimstone.
“Sometimes I feel the same way,” he whispered.
I had a lot of fun creating the drakken culture and writing Eric—especially scenes between him and Bitsy. I hope you enjoy Eric, the drakken, and the adventures he, Bitsy, and everyone else have in THE SECRET LIVES OF ROCKSTARS.

If you were a dragon what powers would you have?

~Suzanne Lazear
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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"Focus on the Good, and Fight for That": a #HoldOnToTheLight post

.As I said in my previous post, there's been a lot of Stuff going on for me lately. Enough for me to have a personal investment in this initiative, even though this is nonetheless neither the place or time for me to discuss particulars. But this topic is important. The Mental Wellness for Writers panel at ConCarolinas this June was heartfelt, honest, raw, and hands down, my favourite one this year. And out of respect for all who participated and shared, it's not one I'll ever take notes at.

Timing's a funny thing, though. I had recently written this scene during revisions to my novel, SIGN OF THE STAR, which will be on submission soon. And it felt important to share.

Background: A princess with healing powers who escaped murder as a child must choose between being the healer she wants to be and the country that needs her. When she encounters a fugitive nobleman seeking the lost princess, circumstances force them to travel together, and she learns that guarding her secret also means guarding her heart. At one point the two are kidnapped, but before they can escape, the bandits are attacked by a warring group. As a servant of the Land, Janni must deal with.the aftermath—and its consequences.

*          *          *



Lingering tendrils of clouds, violet-edged with the last of sunset, curled about distant peaks, clinging to them like smoke capped a fire.
My stomach turned. I tasted bile. Grimacing, I glanced away.
“Are you all right?” Concern tinged Brennant’s voice, as it had since we left Karovar.
I ignored him and focused on the road ahead, pressing onward. Shoving away thoughts of the pyre smoke’s stench, of copper and musk, acrid and sweet.
“We should stop before it gets any darker.”
Hmph. Likely Hush would have purred her agreement, but the puma had already gone off to hunt. I kept walking.
Away from the ashes of our work. The grim task I’d suggested, and now wished I could forget. Days had passed since we’d left Baesh, and yet the mindless slaughter still ate at me.
The morning after the battle, building the pyre had consumed the rest of the daylight. None of the dead had been less than half the chief's massive size, and all were far too heavy to drag on my own. Brennant saw my struggle with a corpse and rushed to help me, but then Baesh cursed and sent me into the woods to gather deadfall instead. And when we were ready, both men looked at me to speak.
I opened my mouth—and faltered. This was no Deathswen ritual, where the names of the newly dead were spoken to honour their memory. There were no loved ones to mourn their passing, no scribes to log their fates.
There was only me.
“We stand before the fallen,” I said, grasping for what words I could find. “Soldiers and captives, worthy and wicked. As we release them from the Land into the sky, may their souls find peace.” Spreading my hands, unable I looked at Brennant for help.
He met my gaze with his own, gave a grim approving nod. “May their souls find peace.”
Baesh, torch in hand, set his jaw. “Aye.” He lifted the flame high. “May their souls find peace.”
With that, he set the pyre alight.
The bodies burned until dawn. None of us slept until noon.
Brennant and I stayed another night at the clearing, too heartsore and worn to resume the journey at once. At least, that’s how I’d felt. The next morning, Baesh had taken us as far as the northern Karish border, where the wilds and some semblance of a road resumed at last.
And I still couldn’t shake the ghastly scene, that cloying reek of the dead, from my mind.
So on I walked.
“Janni.” He sped up and grabbed my wrist.
I jerked it away. “Scorch it, Brennant. What do you want?”
“It’s been four days since we left Karovar, and you’ve barely spoken.” There was raw hurt in his voice. “What’s wrong?”
“It doesn’t matter. Come along.” I frowned at the road ahead. Maybe we could make it as far as the next mountain before full dark—
“Night falls quickly around here. You should have noticed by now.” He spread out his cloak, all he had left of the things he’d bartered from Derva. Everything else had been lost when we were kidnapped.
“What are you doing? We have to keep moving.”
Had to get to the vision-lady and her people before anyone else suffered.
He crossed his arms. “No.”
“Then catch up with me tomorrow.” I strode away.
Brennant snorted. “Fine,” he called. “Clearly you’re too foolish to listen to your escort. More proof that Sordinak made me go with you to protect you from yourself.”
That halted me in my tracks. How dare he.
“I have been summoned, Brennant. I have to get there, and soon. There’s nothing foolish about that—”
He threw up his hands. “There is when you won’t listen to reason! How can you help the woman if you’re injured—or worse, dead?”
“If I don’t hurry, who knows what else will happen?”
“We’re going as fast as we can safely. That’s enough—”
“It’s my fault they died.”
There. I finally said it. The truth I’d been holding in since the pyre, since the attack. I collapsed to my knees, my pack hitting the ground with a thud.
Brennant was on his feet and at my side at once. “What do you mean?”
“I keep seeing the bodies. The blood. The pyre. Every time I close my eyes.” I stifled a sob. “And I’m the reason for it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Everyone who died in the battle perished because of me.” I sniffed. “The soldiers. The prisoners. Even Baesh’s men. If he’d paid more attention to them instead of protecting me, they wouldn’t have betrayed him. And all of them paid the price. All so I could live.”
His lips thinned. “That’s where you’re wrong.” Crouching, he took my hand, and as he stroked the palm with his thumb, for once I didn’t flinch. “What the men did isn’t your fault. It’s theirs.”
Bitter and hot, the tears I’d held back for five nights finally broke free. “But—”
“No. They were criminals and traitors. That raid happened so easily, it’s obvious they were colluding with the Korish.” He reached out and gently touched the spot between my shoulder blades, flooding me with warmth. “Besides, think of the good you’ve done. You healed the barkeep’s son. Baesh, too. And if not for you, Elasa’s daughter might have died.”
“That doesn’t matter. All that death—” I choked back another sob.
“You can’t blame yourself.” Shifting, Brennant took both my hands now and squeezed. “The Land has its reasons for all things. We have to focus on the good, and fight for that.”
I bit my lip. The words were a platitude he’d probably picked up in the priesthood, but Zira had often said the same over the years. I never quite understood; I was a healer, not a fighter.
But maybe that’s what they meant. I could help people. That’s all that mattered, and why I’d made my choice.
Releasing a ragged sigh, I squeezed back. Shivered at his intent gaze, and looked to the distant peaks, where the clouds had scattered. “So what should I do, then?”
“As you said, we’ll keep moving forward.” Brennant helped me to my feet. “But first, let’s get some rest.”

*          *          *
About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors, or reach a media contact, go to the #HoldOntoTheLight Facebook group; or, check out the website or Facebook page.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Writing Characters with Disabilities (ConCarolinas 2015 Writing Panel Notes)


So it's been awhile. Definitely a lot longer than planned. But when Stuff begets Other Stuff and one's world implodes just ever-so-slightly, and then one finds oneself the unfair target of several negative people in multiple areas of one's life, and then one starts to question one's own sanity, until numerous others come forward and confirm that no, one is not imagining things... well. It has been an interesting summer. Complaints have been and will be filed. And at least for one of the situations, my next filked song will be, "Screenshots Are a Gir's Best Friend".

You read the title of the post right: this is my last set of notes from 2015 that slipped through the cracks in my rush to edit a manuscript and then subsequent jetsetting, attending my sister's graduation then flying to this year's ConCarolinas and my writing group's retreat. I exhausted my spoons but still came back creatively invigorated and refreshed.

Today's topic is very appropriate, since this is nothing if not Difficult Topics week here. Coming in a few days will be my contribution to #HoldOntoTheLight, the mental health awareness initiative from SFF authors and bloggers. (Hey, might as well go for the stuff that matters.) The authors here bring their experience writing about characters with disabilities, and in some case, dealing with their own issues. This is another important facet in the movement for diverse books. Enjoy!

* * *

Writing Characters with Disabilities
Rebecca Carter, Louise Herring-Jones, Dahlia Rose
 Moderator: Allen L. Wold

DR: Husband with PTSD
AW: Has written about disabled people; has strong opinions about this subject
RC: Writes short horror, focusing on people who are dealing with specific ailments, has a few issues of her own
LH: Writes much about people with various challenges, some with disabilities

Why would you choose to write about disabled people?
RC: It’s important to get a good read on the story. It’s hard when you can’t function the way you believe you should function. Wants to be able to relate to something.
LH: The story she wrote, the story structure, the deaf character came to her, and that diability became an ability.
DR: Husband came back from Iraq after two deployments, with a massive brain injury, and ptsd, and going to the VA, talking with other soldiers, felt like people wanted to pity them rather than seeing them as they really are. People see the scars, the injuries, and she shows in her books that they have to learn a new way of life and are not to be pitied. They don’t want a handout, they just want to learn to do it differently.
AW: The people are people, and don’t want pity.

What actually entails a disability? (Thinks it’s rude to say “differently abled”) What does comprise a disability and what are things not a disability?
RC: Anyone who has a physical or mental roadblock to be able to function the way society generally would.
LH: Skewed viewpoint, as an attorney: disability specifically defined in law, something that impairs a major life function. Not reading glasses, but yes special eyewear for legally blind. Looks at what people can do, not what they can’t.
AW: Saying something is “differently abled” is condescending to him. What about injured soldiers? Do you agree, DR?
DR: Agrees completely. Helped husband retain his right to his own power of attorney because it means more to him and her.
AW: Yes, disabilities are part of who disabled folks are. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing about them.
LH: The key is to write about it respectfully. If a not-nice character in your story has a certain characteristic, some readers might not like it. Everyone has logic, even if the logic is illogic.
AW: If you’re going to write someone with disability, acknowledge the disability, but that doesn’t mean you should spend much time with that disability if it doesn’t do much in the story. What is the point of the character?

How much time do you spend working on the disability in your characterization, and how much on the rest of the story (unless you’re making a specific point)?
DR: Just treats it like another characteristic. Yes he has a missing arm, but it should just be a thing, not the focal point that impacts the story.
RC: Trying to find the line, just because a little point is a fact in the character’s life. Unless that’s exactly what you’re writing about.
LH: Latest issue of Discover – about echolocation in visually impaired in the real world. Different btw people born with sight and live that way, but the earlier you lose your sight, the more skilled you are at echolocation.
DR: An accident required a corneal transplant, couldn’t see well for a few years, had to rely on other senses and found ways to work around that.

If it serves the story … how could you best portray a disability without being condescending or overly detailed?
AW: Not about the disability, but about something else.
LH: Jamie Lannister’s story arc since losing his hand, it’s the impetus for his character development.

Can you imagine a situation where a typical disability can prove to be the benefit necessary for the continuation of the story?
DR: Social awkwardness – with disabilities in general, when soldiers are scarred or injured or hurt, there’s the emotion, the anger, the self-pity, and they do lash out. You can’t just write a perfect hero, you have to write their mental and physical attributes because of what happened. Can cause destruction of a family, of a person who’s gone through it, and it’s hard to see a person who was so vital before drawing away from life in general and you’re trying to pull them out and you’re feeling a desperation. It affects the people around them, too.

How would you write folks with specific disabilities?
RC: Probably would, but what’s hard is that people can only relate to people who are different to a certain extent, and if the story’s not entirely about what they’re facing, then readers can’t entirely connect to the stories because it’s hard to understand what others are going through. You empathize the most with the people you can relate to most.
AW: If that’s just one facet of his personality and the rest of the character is interesting by themselves, you can definitely deal with that. Don’t dwell on it, but let it be a subtext that makes the character richer.

Aud: What if the purpose of your story is to open up your reader to the difficulties of a character?
DR: Sheldon is socially awkward. But as the show progresses, it shows different people opening up. Showing how nerds are just like regular people. A colour of a skin, a person’s social awkwardness, if you take a moment to learn about it, it gives your reader something to mesh with. It opens up the story to the readers.
AW: The first thing you have to do is give them only one problem and not seventeen. Limit the number. One disability, even if that’s not true, is something you can focus on and clarify, so that otherwise your character is sympathetic, someone you feel with them (not pity). So don’t layer on several things at once.
RC: Beyond sympathetic, don’t need to have too much. One thing at a time because a lot of people start to instantly feel guilt if there’s too much the person is suffering from.
LH: Not much into message literature. But there’s also a social issue of whether or not can a person of one race or ethnicity truly write about someone of another race or ethnicity? John Hartness “The White Guy” and learning to open his eyes, Alice Walker’s scathing essays –  LH disagrees, thinks it can be written. Whether it’s race, gender, ethnicity, disability, write it. Do it respectfully. And if it’s something you understand personally, then all the better.
AW: If you want people to be sympathetic to the character, having some knowledge helps you write it better.  
LH: And if you want to write something amazingly controversial, make a sff world and put those differences, and it’s amazing what you can get by with.
DR: Speaking as an African American, you don’t write them differently. You just write them as you would any other character.
AW: Portray people as people. Then if you can empathize with that character, then regardless of their disability or other characteristics, then
RC: People aren’t stereotypes. When you come to mental disabilities. The only stereotype you see of women with mental health issues is the “one type” of “crazy lady”. You rarely see women with legitimate mental disabilities.

Audience Question: What should we do if we want or need to include a person with some kind of difference? How do we portray that person: ignore it, accept it, or is it something that can affect the story? Show how they’ve overcome it?
DR: Yes.

Audience Question: Are characters with disabilities more prevalent these days?
AW: Less of a shame, less embarrassing, because we’ve been working on this for a very long time. It’s easier now to put them in fiction. If you’re embarrassed about somebody’s differences, you shouldn’t be including it in a story.
LH: A trend in calls, stories about people with disabilities, people “underrepresented previously in literature”. If you want to writer about an unrepresented population, now’s the time. Know people. Talk to people. Pay attention.

AW: We’re all still people, and that’s what we’re writing about. Stories with people.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Author Funk: The Filk

Hey everyone! I've hardly been home the past few weeks, owing to sisterly graduation followed by ConCarolinas and my writing retreat. So I'm sitting here in the late North Carolinian afternoon, thankful for the air conditioning and resting after some great conversations.

We took a day off halfway through the week.This year, I was feeling creative and exhuberant, so I did something I haven't done in awhile: I filked. I present to you: "Author Funk." (And no, not the kind you'd think.)

* * *

"Author Funk"
Filk of: "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars
by: Laura Sheana Taylor 

Doh
Doh doh doh, doh doh doh, doh doh
Doh doh doh, doh doh doh, doh doh
Doh doh doh, doh doh doh, doh doh
Doh doh doh, doh duh (Aaaaaaow!)

This plot
Will go far
Those re-views
Them five stars
This one’s for that story
That glory
Straight masterpiece
Writin’, incitin’
Every point-of-view’s pretty
Got characters and fancy words
Gotta kiss ourselves we’re so witty

We’re too hot (hot damn)
Call the reviewers and librarians
We’re too hot (hot damn)
Make a TV wanna retire, man
We’re too hot (hot damn)
Time to binge read now if you can
We’re too hot (hot damn)
And we’re good about that plottin’
Break it down...

Readers hit your hallelujah (ooh)
Readers hit your hallelujah (ooh)
Readers hit your hallelujah (ooh)
'Cause Author Funk gon' give it to ya
'Cause Author Funk gon' give it to ya
'Cause Author Funk gon' give it to ya
Call an agent, ‘cuz we’ll succeed
Don't believe us just read (Come on)

Doh
Doh doh doh, doh doh doh, doh doh (Hah!)

Don’t believe us just read

Doh
Doh doh doh, doh doh doh, doh doh (Hah!)

Don’t believe us just read
Don’t believe us just read
Don’t believe us just read
Don’t believe us just read
Hey, hey, hey, oh!

Stop
Don’t get weary
Do some edits, then send that query
Take a breath, then don’t you lurk
World buildin’s hard work!
With that stylin’, applyin’, point of view and some conflict
Get agents, and payment
Ten-book contracts’d be perfect

We’re too hot (hot damn)
Call the reviewers and librarians
We’re too hot (hot damn)
Make a TV wanna retire, man
We’re too hot (hot damn)
Time to binge read now if you can
We’re too hot (hot damn)
And we’re good about that plottin’

Readers hit your hallelujah (ooh)
Readers hit your hallelujah (ooh)
Readers hit your hallelujah (ooh)
'Cause Authors Funk gon' give it to ya
'Cause Authors Funk gon' give it to ya
'Cause Authors Funk gon' give it to ya
Call an agent, ‘cuz we’ll succeed
Don’t believe us just read (Come on)

Doh
Doh doh doh, doh doh doh, doh doh (Hah!)

Don’t believe us just read

Doh
Doh doh doh, doh doh doh, doh doh (Hah!)

Don’t believe us just read
Don’t believe us just read
Don’t believe us just read
Don’t believe us just read
Hey, hey, hey, oh!

Before we leave
Let me tell y'all a little something
Authors Funk you up, Authors Funk you up
Authors Funk you up, Authors Funk you up, uh
I said Authors Funk you up, Authors Funk you up
Authors Funk you up, Authors Funk you up

Come on, write
Jump on it
If it’s fantasy then flaunt it
If it’s sci-fi then own it
Don't brag about it, come show me
Come on, write
Jump on it
If it’s fantasy then flaunt it
If it’s sci-fi then own it
Come call an agent, ‘cuz we’ll succeed
Don’t believe us just read (Come on)

Doh
Doh doh doh, doh doh doh, doh doh (Hah!)

Don’t believe us just read

Doh
Doh doh doh, doh doh doh, doh doh (Hah!)

Don’t believe us just read
Don’t believe us just read
Don’t believe us just read
Don’t believe us just read
Hey, hey, hey, oh!

Authors Funk you up, Authors Funk you up (say whaa?!)
Authors Funk you up, Authors Funk you up
Authors Funk you up, Authors Funk you up (say whaa?!)
Authors Funk you up, Authors Funk you up
Authors Funk you up, Authors Funk you up (say whaa?!)
Authors Funk you up, Authors Funk you up
Authors Funk you up, Authors Funk you up (say whaa?!)
Authors Funk you up

Aaaaaaow!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Avoiding Stereotypes (ConCarolinas 2015 Writing Panel Notes)



Avoiding Stereotypes
Michael G. Williams, Darin Kennedy, Faith Hunter, Melissa Gilbert, A.J. Hartley
Moderator: Janine Spendlove

Common Stereotypes They Deal With
JS: Heroes anthology: “Anything but white dudes in tights.” Also, as she’s in the marines which are 90% male; she’ll be deployed this summer as a commander. She feels that she represents all women in the marines because of the disparity.
AJ: Has a lot of problems of the way people represent the British, English, and British/English people. Still wrong, and operates on the assumption that “anything that doesn’t look or sound like me is not real”, not a fully developed person, etc. Doesn’t like the automatic equate of “You must live in a thatched cottage, etc”.
MG: She’s an English teacher, so she sees a lot in fiction and nonfiction of the stereotype that bothers her the most: the dumb hillbilly. A lot of times people think that because you came from a small town, you can’t be intelligent, can’t hold a meaningful conversation, and do nothing but make babies with your cousins.
FH: Doesn’t like the Polyannas. Women being stupid with their strength, or being weak where they could be strong.
DK: Doesn’t like the damsel in distress; or the sitcom with the unintelligent overweight husband and the smoking hot wife. (You’d never see the reverse show). And on the Disney channel, the children are brilliant and the adults are stupid and the children have to save their parents.
MW: Doesn’t like stereotype that gay men are either super macho bodybuilders or flamboyant. (“Most of us are both, thank you!”
JS: Worked on Capitol Hill when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was being repealed, and the stereotypes and misconceptions, the fears that were going to arise, among the older generation.

Typical Stereotypes
JS: Let’s discuss the F Bomb: Feminism.
AJ: Someone who thinks that women should have equal rights to men.
JS: Equal rights for everyone. Equal pay.

JS: So what are the stereotypes?
-          Equating man-hating with feminist
-          Has a bumper sticker: “I know I run like a girl. Try to keep up.”
-          Stereotypes with age and the way it’s represented
-          Fanfiction: how everyone was appalled by the Snape-Harry fanfic, but the Snape-Hermione fanfic was somehow okay
-          Audience comment: Wherever you go, the underclass, the underprivileged, the assumption that the race is the assumption, not the situation. (e.g. poor, welfare African Americans or Hispanics)
-          The concept of the other.
-          That the mentally ill are dangerous to others; usually, they’re a danger to themselves.
-          That a learning disability or ADHD is equated with stupidity, troublemakers
-          NERDS.

It’s okay to be a stereotype if that’s who you are. But most of us are not. We’re an amalgamation of everything. But we have stereotype because of laziness, lack of understanding, and snap judgments.
-          JS: Like I’m the hipster feminist who hates all men and burns her bra.
-          FH: I used to burn my bra. I gave that up.
-          JS: I’m wearing one today. I can’t stand it.
-          AJ: I like them.
-          JS: Stereotypes exist because of society.
-          MW: Because people prefer the shortest explanation ever.
-          DK: Because early-on in our development we needed to identify “this is my tribe, that’s another tribe” – that it’s encoded in our DNA to look for differences in people.
-          MG: Jungian archetypes. We do it to help ourselves understand, because in order to learn, we have to connect.
-          Audience comment: The Identification of friend or foe.
-          FH: When we create characters, the easiest way is to start with a stereotype and work back from that. If only needed for one scene and one purpose, you don’t need much more than a stereotype. But characters you build on, you pull away from that. It’s the individual traits that make them stand out.
-          MW: If you only write an antagonist that’s just opposed to the protagonist, then that’s a stereotype. But if you ask why, even in one sentence, you can make them more.
-          Sometimes stereotypes are good. Put in aviation because her supervisor found out she had a motorcycle. “Because you’re a little bit crazy.” But if you don’t use more than the stereotype, that’s when things go wrong.
-          MW: His vampires want to “pass” among humans. The concept of “passing” is a form of social engineering, inhabiting a stereotype to make people stop thinking about you. Stereotypes are good when you want people to stop thinking about who you are.
-          AJ: Whenever we deal with anything historical. We have a bad habit of saying, “100 years ago, everyone believed, “[something stupid]”. Not necessarily true. Not everyone agreed back then, either. So why do we assume in the past that it was somehow easier?
-          JS: We like our categories. It’s what we do to classify and categorize books.
-          DK: In Star Wars, assuming the whole planet is a desert planet, an ice planet, a forest planet, etc.

We like to avoid stereotypes. Like “strong female character” just means “realistic woman”. And often with our first character, we base it on our selves. Why?
-          Because we know ourselves, know how to base things on ourselves, know how to write ourselves without stereotype. So how can we overcome this fear of stereotypes in our writing?
-          MG: Conversations. Talking about it. Openly, non-judgmental. Getting to know people helps a lot.
-          AJ: Once you’ve decided someone’s an ethnicity or gender, creating an actual life for them, putting aside those concerns and writing them as a character first. Wants to put himself into that character first, and then ask others in beta-reads for feedback later. The moment you ask, What do women want, women like? you’re already screwed. With writing, what we do is an act of empathy. Putting ourselves in someone else’s skin. Your capacity to put yourself in that position is always going to be mediated by a sense of strangeness.
-          DK: If your character is playing with or against type, there’s likely a very good reason why they do it. Maybe it’s not shown (the deep part of the iceberg), but as long as you know it.
-          FH: But you can use the stereotypes to show how a character is non-stereotypical.
-          JS: That’s a lot of big words for a southern lady.
-          FH: I bought me a thesaurus last year!

Audience Question: What’s the Difference Between Archetype vs. Stereotype?
AJ: Archetype is about character function. E.g. the threshold guardian. But a stereotype is something based on a set of social expectations of a particular type.
MG: Sometimes the stereotype can come out of an archetype.
MW: And stereotypes are at the expense of someone, penalize someone. Archetypes explain someone.
JS: When they wrote Tomorrowland, the script called for a white male as the protagonist. Disney has wisened up. Cast a teenaged girl instead, and changed nothing about the story. It became Terminator as done by Disney with a happy hopeful ending.

No matter what you do or what you write, you’re going to offend someone. It’s going to happen. So how do you deal when someone comes up and tells you you’re wrong because the stereotype is wrong, or because it’s offensive? (e.g. when Weird Al wrote the song WordCrimes, he didn’t know "spastic" is considered a version of the R word in Britain)
FH: Just says, “I’m not white.” And that usually shocks people. Her grandparents had to pass, and hid this from their children. She’s a stereotype, and she’s not.
AJ: Next year has a book from Tor with a 17-year-old female person of colour protagonist in a South-African like country. Says, “This is a fantasy world that looks a lot like Africa, but it’s not, and he’s the only one qualified to write this character, but he’s not.” Writing is an exercise in empathy. He’s doing his best to do his research, ask the right questions, and all he can do is give it his best shot, and see what happens. It’s scary.
MW: Plans to have half the cast male, half female when writing a book, then varies it racially and religiously, and don’t worry, next time it’ll be someone else’s turn. But when he receives criticism, he says, “So turn this into a teachable moment. Tell me what I got wrong so I can do it better next time.”
JS: Say “I’m sorry. What can I do to make it right?”
AJ: I’d like to have it before the book comes out...
AJ: Most of us have been in situations where we were out of place, not what people expected. Knows some of the strangenesses that arise from that. For example, he comes from a lower class, and was judged because of that at university.

JS: This panel could go on a long time, because this is such a big topic.


Yes. Yes it is. But they still managed to cover some great points (and.crack a few jokes, too!)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Nature as Character (ConCarolinas 2015 Writing Panel Notes)

Horned Man with Guns Pointed at Him

I wasn't expecting to be gone this long.

Real Life, for me, has been as wild and uncontrollable as the ocean Chris Jackson talks about below. But throughout the current chaos, one thing has been constant: I've been writing. (Well, revising.) Meanwhile, I'm trying to get things back on track, ConCarolinas is in a month, and I have four sets of notes from last year to post. Here's the first.

* * *

Nature as Character
Chris A. Jackson, Faith Hunter, David B. Coe / D.B. Jackson, Nancy Northcott
Moderator: Debra Killeen

Three classic forms of conflict: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Himself, Man vs. Nature. We’re focusing on that last one.

Movie examples: Castaway, Call of the Wild, The Day After Tomorrow, or Post-Apocalyptic like Mad Max, etc.

There are so many different types of Man vs. Nature. What’s yours?
DK: Using nature as obstacle in her new series, taking characters from temperate climate to a desert climate, and the reality is more than what they expect; as a practicing pagan, has a different feel towards the nature
FH: With her Thorn St. Croix novels, the environment becomes as much of a character because there’s a mini ice-age, and dealing with that provides its own set of conflict and obstacles, and not just one problem but a variety of survival problems. In the Soulwood series, the forest on the character’s farm, what has become old growth forest because of the magic the character can bring to the world. Her 150 acres are developing their own form of sentience and a will of their own. And because she thinks she’s symbiotically tied to it, leaving for long periods of time it is a problem.
DBC: In the Lon Tobyn chronicle: there’s a magic system in which mages bind psychically with birds of prey. At the same time, there’s a very aggressive technological world interested in harvesting that natural world. Nature is both a source of power and a victim.
CJ: 35-40 years on the ocean has taught him one thing: it’s possible to love something that’s trying to kill you. He writes nautical fantasies – nature as obstacle, and nature as seductress. A reservoir of magic. And when Mother Nature wants to kill you, sending mountains of water crashing on you, trying to put you at the bottom of the sea, she can knock you flat. So strong, so scary. You feel like you have some control, but if Mother Nature decides you don’t, you don’t.
FH: Very like kayaking – some rivers are friendly and playful, some are scary as crap.

We have a long history of nature writing. Why do you think that’s so interesting, a thread that runs through our writing and our genre?
CJ: It’s something beyond our power. We can’t control it. We have to work with it or it’s going to kill us. You have to run with the storm, work with nature to survive.
DBC: The identity of this land has always been tied to the power of its natural environment. It’s no coincidence that the first big artistic statement was the Hudson River school of artists, portraying a landscape that caught the attention of the people. Tied to the power of its natural resources, and a natural frontier. It was seen as something to be tamed, harnessed, and used. Ask people in the late 18th and 19th centuries, and it was always nature. It has stuck with our identity as a country, and defined us.
FH: And yet the idea of a frontier was outright theft. Europeans came over and took away from the Native Americans. It wasn’t a great frontier; it was warfare and genocide and theft of a world that did not belong to them. It was one version of using nature replacing the native peoples’ version of working with nature. A head-to-head confrontation that changed the way it was viewed. Mankind took the forests, used them, and didn’t let them grow back. We need to regain a reverence for our land again. The Soulwood series is about the awareness and how the original peoples had a reverence for the earth, and how their way of life would have kept it alive, while our way is killing it. Deep abiding grief for our world and the whole human race. And we’re breeding ourselves out of existence.
DK: We’re raping our life-giving planet, and we can do a good job of paying lip-service (national parks, small conservation efforts), Yes, we do need to spread the word that it seems kind of obvious that we seem hellbent on our extinction. We need to respect nature because nature will win. It won’t miss us when we’re gone.
NN: The American ethos seems to be about conquering things: “There’s a challenge, let’s go get it.”
CJ: It’s not just Americans. It’s active in a lot of cultures. We’re a struggling species, and what’s happened is that we’ve always seen nature as a foe, not as a partner.
FH: And we believe it’s our right to use it.
CJ: Some believe that it is their right to take everything.

What’s your favorite book or movie that uses nature as a character, and why do you like it so much?
DK: A Perfect Storm. Extremely powerful film. This was based on a true story. Also, enjoyed Oz, where Baum used acts of nature to start adventures.
NN: The Time of the Great Freeze by Robert Silverberg. The characters have to cross this icy landscape. It’s about youth facing the challenges of their environment.
FH: Deliverance. The river had such a personality, such moments of serenity followed by such moments of incredible violence that was mirrored in the character struggles. Also, White Fang (Jack London). The setting affected her greatly.
DB: Rascal by Sterling North. About a young boy who adopts a raccoon. Also, A River Runs Through It. The river as metaphor and plot device as a family is chronicled.
CJ: My Side of the Mountain by Walt Murray. About a boy who learned to live in the mountains. And Dune, obviously, with nature as adversary and ally.

What about nature drew you to using that, and how do you use it in your books?
CJ: Nothing is more spiritual to him than being 150 miles from shore on a clear moonless night. The universe opens up around you and you realize how insignificant you are.
(DBC: You mean publishing didn’t do that for you?)
CJ: It makes you feel like a grain of sand on the beach, and you start living differently, thinking differently, once you connect. So in his books, his character longs to go to sea, but when she gets there, she’s sick as a dog. You can be terminally seasick, where you dehydrate and go into a coma. But the “what I love is killing me” that he experienced personally when younger drove him to include that in his work.
DBC: Environmental history: the duality between humankind and the natural world. As much as human activity impacts the planet, the planted shapes humanity. Conscious when worldbuilding of the way the landscape affects the history, culture, society of the people he creates. It’s important to understand that even cultures we think of living as one with nature impacted the natural world with which they were interacting, and in turn were shaped by that natural world. It’s not one-sided, it goes back and forth, and that’s the healthier kind of thinking we need.
FH: Nature has always been important to her writing because as a child she was bullied, a geek before geeks were remotely cool, a tree-hugger because she found solace in nature. Nature gave her something to hang onto because she had nothing else.
NN: Not a nature girl, but when she started to write about mages fighting ghouls in a Florida swamp, she knew she had to learn more about it. The book has a nature-based magic system because nature is always there. You can’t draw from it exhaustively, and yet you can. And energy is different in a swamp, so demons and ghouls use it. It feels like an alien landscape, because it’s a blackwater bog. (Okeepenokee swamp) The writing sucked her into nature rather than the other way around.
DK: Nature is spiritually uplifting for her (so discovering paganism was no surprise), so now she uses it in her writing, and has characters in the desert harnessing the elements with their magic. Is having fun with it.

What are the benefits and problems when you decide to make nature a lynchpin of whatever you’re working on?
DK: Be careful with limitations. Controlling magic, not getting out of control when the character is using it.
NN: The advantage is that nature is all around you, and the Okeepenokee swamp’s distinctiveness is useful. The downside is that you have to get it right. There’s also a danger of making it repetitive when you use the same setting too much.
FH: 150 acres is not that big of a piece of land, and it’s hilly, so not being repetitive is going to be difficult. Finding her subconcious awareness that she wants to make the piece larger, bring more pieces in, and there’s no way to do that that she’s found yet unless she makes it antithesis to what Soulwood is. And knowing as a writer that that won’t work. The other part of her brain is trying to twist that around, find the conflict. And to get the metaphor into the series, it’s all located in one spot, she’s got to try to make it work. It’s not easy, and she likes that. But it’s hard to rein that in. Winnowing out all the things her subconscious wants to use is a challenge.
DB: In the Justis Fearsson chronicles, the third book has a lot of scenes set in the natural environment. The experience of visiting a landscape for the first time. In the Lon Tobyn chronicles, he turned it into a polemic: it’s fine to write about a society part nature and part technology, but when you allow the fact that you’re an environmentalist creep into your narrative so that it’s ideologically driven rather than plot driven, it’s not good. He must remember that first and foremost he is a writer.
CJ: First, he gets to show people things they don’t get to see. Tropical reefs, the majesty of an ocean, with his books, essential and wonderful. The downside: he gets too close to it, and if you dive too deeply into setting you can overshadow your characters. It’s easy to get too much into the sea and to nautical terminology. Patrick O’Brien used nautical terminology heavily, which can alienate.  Pull it in and realize that you’re writing stories about people. Realistically, yes, you have nature, but it’s about character. Don’t overshadow the focus on your characters.

Audience Question: DBC and CJ: what if your audience is environmentalists and people who’d agree with you?
DBC: If you’re being true to your characters, that’s fine, the problem is when the authorial voice leaches into the characters. Was writing 21st century American sensibility into the cultures. Needed to be true to the story and the characters. As soon as you lose that trueness, then you’ve stepped over a line.

Audience Question: Have you ever written a character who has a distinct experience for the first time, and how it affects how the story is told?
FH: It’s difficult, because the sense of wonder is so intense, so strong, that there aren’t good English words to explain it, and you lose something when you do. Has never been able to replicate in text that sense of wonder the first time she had an experience with nature. That sense of absolute alienness.
NN: A concept, the idea of the holy, and the numinous: that moment of awe and things come together and you feel like you’re seeing something you didn’t realize was there.
DB: Didn’t try to recreate it; went back to old journals. Went back and read what his young self thought, because as inarticulate as it is, the emotion was there. He had the words.
CJ: It’s like looking at a beautiful painting, and looking at every brush stroke it took to make that painting, and feeling what the artist felt when he made that painting. Like seeing Crater Lake, Oregon. Gestalt moments. Putting it on paper is hard.

Audience Comment: She has a specific memory of before she got glasses, sometimes it’s just the little things. Like seeing leaves on a tree after first getting glasses. Experiences so small can still give you these experiences too.
FH: She was walking a creek, and it made a wide elbow turn, and there was a spring coming up in the middle. You could put your hand over it and feel the spring. Very small moments of wonders.
CJ: Coral reefs are like that. The closer you get, the more you see.
Other audience member: In the Eragon series – seeing the mountains for the first time, and seeing a forest, then seeing a city in the forest.