Monday, December 27, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #7

Sorry this post is late. For Christmas I got insomnia, a burst pipe and a sick fiance. But better late, right?

7) I don't think a female POV would add anything to my story.

This makes no sense to me. All characters are made up of their experiences, and a woman's experience is often different than a man's, simply because (for good or ill) she is viewed differently by society. Female characters provide a viewpoint that the men in your story can't. They will see things through the lens of their gender, and through society's views of their gender, as well as the lens of their social class and occupation.

Isn't it illuminating to see an arranged marriage through the eyes of the bride-to-be? Isn't it helpful to know why she goes through with it, or why she won't? Doesn't having a female perspective on life on the streets of your gritty industrial city provide you with a different view of things? Doesn't it give you the opportunity to show things in a different light? And isn't it interesting to consider how a priestess sees a religion differently than a priest?

Your characters are an extension of your setting. The types of characters (male and female) that your society produces are relevant to the setting, to the depth of the read itself, and to story. You ruin your world's credibility when there are few or no women in it.

Last Excuse | Next Excuse

Friday, December 24, 2010

Building Cultures: Part 2

Once I have a grasp of the culture itself, I like to look at the culture's neighbors and work out how they will relate to one another on a political, governmental and religious basis. What do they have that their neighbors might want? What do they believe that their neighbors might not? What do they have to do in order to communicate?

After I feel I have a grasp on the current political situation, I look to the past. Where did this come from? How did it evolve? What led to the current situation? I write as much of the history as I feel will be important to the book, and probably more since I like to fill that in instead of leaving it bare bones.

I fill it in because often myth, legend and folklore play a large role in people's lives, even today. Some of us love myth and devour it because it speaks to us, we tell our children folktales although they're not always the same folktales our ancestors told one another. We have our own legends as well, people who do interesting things or win against the odds, or do something really well.

These things have endured for a reason and I think it's important to the story. These things illustrate the lessons people teach their children, their views on the world, their superstitions and their fears. The provide idioms, expressions, and analogies. They shape the way these people communicate with one another, and they can be used in that to really create a sense of the setting for the reader.

Once I've got the government, politics, religion and history down, I turn to the details of clothing, expression, use of materials, architecture, entertainment, etc. These are things that don't always come through in my first drafts because it's much easier to figure out where they fit in once the book is finished.

I'm always looking for ways to include my world building in the story without bogging it down. Details are a great way to do that because if the same detail is used five or six times a book, many people won't even consciously notice it on the first read through. Those most likely to notice are the ones that tend to like details (hence them noticing them). Of course, that doesn't go for phrases, which I think people pick out a lot quicker.

Once I have an understanding of these things about the culture, I start putting names to things. Governmental positions, religious position, people who use magic, anything that needs a name that is specific to the culture from which it comes.

I try not to give names to things I can more easily explain by using a well-known word, and I don't often name things in a culture's language because I think they can be more easily understood with a descriptive name. However, I may call magic users "casters," "runists," "spell weavers," etc. I choose something that fits the story, the culture and the culture's view of that thing.

When I have things named, it's time to write!

Building Cultures: Part 1

What are the most telling or important aspects to you? What elements help you define the most about your culture?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Update

The holidays totally make me crazy. Good crazy, but also very, very scattered.

I haven't gotten much done, but I did manage to cut more than 3,000 words out of Sings the Distant Heart. I've also come up with a new take on the main character that I think will be more emotionally satisfying. It also ties up the plot a little better. The concept itself is going to be a little difficult, so I think making the plot as straightforward and relatable as possible will help. Once I get this revision finished, I'll slap it up and see how it all goes over in the crits.

I also keep coming up with notes for a story I hadn't even planned to write any time soon. I may have to get to it quicker than I'd thought, if it keeps talking to me.

Monday, December 20, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #6

6) “Strong female characters” are too often boiled down to men with breasts, not a character so much as a portrayal of the amazon archetype.

Women in any role can be strong, complex characters. They don't have to be warriors to be strong, nor do they have to be masculinized or feminized. Some will have some traits that are considered “masculine” by our societies' standards, and some will have traits that are considered “feminine” by our societies' standards. You know, like actual people.

Even women who do the wrong thing, or bad things, or have moments of weakness can be strong characters. A “strong character” is one who is a character, a well-round and complicated individual with their own morals, goals and ideas. Any author who creates a weak character who amounts to a two-dimensional cardboard cutout is responsible for that character. Don't blame the concept of “women in fiction” for the characters that authors create.

And that's not a reason to exclude women from your story.

Beyond that, I would love to see more variety in the portrayals of women. Along with the warriors, thieves, assassins, pilots, priestesses, healers and politicians, I want to see clerks and artists, seamstresses and prostitutes, heretics and fisherwomen and beggars and bakers and dockworkers. Oh my!

Last Excuse | Next Excuse

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Building Cultures

(I'm breaking this post into two parts due to length. I'll post the second half next Friday.)

I love worldbuilding, I think it's part of the fun of fantasy. For me, culture building really starts with creature building, unless, of course, it's a culture of humans. Even then, I like to start with the terrain and environment. How does it affect the culture? What does it give the culture that they can use for themselves or sell? What challenges does it present for the culture? It is, in the end, all about the questions.

And, often, these questions have been addressed to some degree in the creature building as well. What don't they have? What do they want? What will they do to get it? What do their instincts demand of them and how does this influence their beliefs? How do they relate to one another? How do they relate to the outside world?

Once I understand the people themselves, I ask myself what sort of government they're likely to form. How they're likely to police themselves, what they're likely to consider legal, illegal, moral and immoral. How do the people see their government? What purpose does it serves in their lives? What different opinions do they have about it?

A lot of that is influenced by their resources and economy, what they have to sell and what they need to buy. A rich culture might believe that their wealth makes them special and so focus on their wealth when it comes to government. If they value money, there may be a focus on productivity over creativity, or a lot of shady, behind the scenes deals, or they might require heavy taxes and so create a sharp class distinction.

In turn, their economy is influenced by their place in the larger world, both politically and geographically. A country that has little access to trade routes may have to pay high tariffs to access the routes of other nations, reducing the amount of trading they can do. Even if they are rich in products, this might take a chunk out of the money they make, and create a nation which--despite its greater produce--is economically equal to the nations around it. It can also create a nation that is frustrated and ready to attack its neighbors.

Then I consider what part religion plays in the nation. Religions may be more varied in port towns or towns on trading routes, but have fewer or even only one in more rural areas. Religion holds a lot of sway with people. It forms, in essence, a second government and a second set of politics: what is moral vs. what is legal. Is the religion in opposition or concordance with the government? How powerful are the different religions and are there cultural battles between them? What advantages do their adherents and clergy receive? What disadvantages?

These, for me, are the two main poles of a culture. They both evolve from the root of who the people are. One is what they want to believe and the other is what they're willing to accept, and both tell the story of them as a people.

Building Cultures: Part 2

Where do you start building your culture? What's usually the first aspect you create?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #5

(Been sick. Getting better. But the blog must roll on ... )

5) It's unfair to put in a woman character, just to have a woman character.

Is it unfair that women want to buy books in which they are represented? Why? An author writing only, or even mostly, women is often called "feminist," and many men wouldn't buy such a book, even if the plot sounded spot on and the world sounded interesting. And yet, women are expected to buy the books in which men are the main characters, and learn to live with having a lack of role models and characters that share their experience?

Many authors don't put in female characters because they're worried about “tokenism.” Here's a simple solution: Don't make your female characters the only women in the world. Unless you're writing a story in which genders are different, or nonexistent, there are women in there somewhere. There are mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, nieces, cousins, friends, girlfriends and random women on the street. For the men in your story to exist, there must be women. Most often, there is room for a female POV, especially in genre fiction, in which there are often multiple changing points of view. Just because an author doesn't think to add one, or doesn't take the time to consider how the women fit into their plot, doesn't mean that they aren't there, or that they don't fit in.

So, before you start writing, ask yourself a few questions: Where are all the women? Did you create a whole new species and then put in a POV to show that off? Is your spaceship sentient, so it has to have POV of its own to show it off? Why wouldn't you put in a female POV to do the same, to show off the work you've done?

Last Excuse | Next Excuse

Sunday, December 5, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #4

4) Women with “feminist” ideas did not exist in history, but women written into genre fiction often turn into them.

Gender politics didn't spring up fully grown into the modern world; it is an issue which is deeply rooted in history. In fact, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, dating back to around 190 AD, is widely considered one of the first feminist works. In it, Thecla follows Paul, doing good works, but trouble seems to spring up whenever she's near. It is other women, and Thecla herself, who get her out of these jams. At one point, Thecla is to be fed to a shark. Before she enters the tank, the shark is struck by lightning and dies. Thecla than uses the pool to baptize herself, after Paul's refusal to do so. Tell me that wouldn't make an excellent fantasy novel!

The Acts of Thecla is also about the sexual freedom of women. Women of the time could choose the church, and chastity, as an alternative to marriage and being limited to the role of child bearer. In those days, chastity was a way for women to claim ownership of themselves, to become scholars, leaders and teachers. This didn't start with the advent of Christianity. In Rome, the Vestal Virgins also filled this role, although many Roman women were often educated as well as expected to educate their children. Still, the very concept of these women having to give up their sexuality (to varying degrees) in order to pursue a different life is an easy way to provide tension and conflict in genre fiction.

You don't have to stick to historical examples, of course, and created worlds should always be internally consistent, but you should be aware that these things can be part of the story. Especially in societies where the roles of men and women are different, in such climates, there will be gender politics. If one gender is not in power, they will find a way to make their voices heard--even if only in a limited way. Even systems which discriminate cannot totally control their citizenry and outlets must be provided or revolution will ensue.

Most cultures are not homogeneous, and this is true of their political and ideological makeup as well. Whenever a stance is taken in one direction, there will always be people who are driven to disagree, regardless of what that stance is. While the gender politics of a created world may bear little resemblance to those in our own history and culture, they should be considered as a factor and can be used to create conflict and dimensions within stories and characters.

Don't be afraid to write women because of the ideas you might find them expressing. Write women who fit into your culture, and the more of them you write, the more of these different cultural viewpoints you can express.

Last Excuse | Next Excuse

Friday, December 3, 2010

10 Things I Learned From NaNoWriMo 2010

1) Plan ahead.

Having an outline beforehand is invaluable for me. It kept me on track, told me just what I needed to be writing about, saved me from plunging down the path of a sub-plot that later story events would have rendered impossible, and made it possible for me to write a 127,486 word, complete first draft this year! Other people can write without that kind of planning, but I am not one of them.

2) Blogging during NaNo is a must.

While writing my story, I would find myself considering the mechanics of what I was doing. It was distracting me from the story itself. Plus, there are always random ideas that pop up while I'm writing. Talking about those things here helped me get them out of my head, so that I could focus on my story.

3) I love writing novels.

They are my favorite form. I've written flash fiction, short stories, and novellas, and they all have their joys, but there is nothing like a novel. It allows me to dig deep into the story and the characters and the setting, and really get to express those things and watch them develop. It's like magic.

4) The NaNoWriMo forums are a fantastic place.

They're filled with ideas and questions and answers and great people. I met some wonderful people in the last month, was exposed to a multitude of view points, and made some friends. That's as awesome as writing a novel in a month.

5) Break the work into smaller sections.

Sitting down and telling myself that I'm going to write a bunch of words can be daunting. Instead, I sit down and tell myself that I'm going to write 500 words. The knowledge that I only have to focus for as long as it takes to write that smaller number keeps the overwhelming at bay.

6) Sleep is vital.

I shouldn't sacrifice it so that I can do the dishes, watch TV or play video games. I'll regret it, and I'll feel like crap. Sleep deprivation makes it much harder to concentrate and that makes it much harder to get those daily word counts. I should get enough sleep. Of course, this doesn't mean that I will. It's NaNo, after all.

7) Take frequent breaks.

I need to get out of my chair on a regular basis. Even if it's just to make tea, feed the cats, pet the cats, talk to the cats (No, my life doesn't revolve around my cats at all. Really. :D ) getting out of that chair is as helpful as getting in it in the first place. It can start to feel like a cell after a while, but if I get up and take a little walk or stretch, do chores or make myself a snack, I don't feel so much as if I'm chained to it. Plus, taking time away from the story gives my subconscious time to think ahead, to make connections and consider plot points without me. I have a lot of good ideas when I get up and let my mind wander while I do something easy and brainless.

8) Celebrate the milestones.

Writing 10,000 words is an accomplishment, and just because I'm not done doesn't mean I can't take a moment to enjoy it. It's easy to ignore the smaller numbers in that quest for the big one, but reminding myself of how far I've come makes it easier to go on.

9) Everything can be fixed later.

NaNoWriMo is great practice at putting away my inner editor. There's just no time to worry. I remind myself that it can all be fixed later, and keep writing. Ignoring that voice is a skill, and one I--at least--have to practice, especially since I've started critiquing and learning to be a better critic.

10) I love NaNoWriMo.

I honestly believe that this is how first drafts should be written. Not necessarily with the time limit, competition and fanfare, (although I loved those, too!) but without worry that the words won't come out right. Revision is necessary, and it always will be. But having the story on the page is a starting point and getting to that starting point is a lot easier if I'm not beating myself up for writing badly.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NaNo: Day Thirty


I'm done! Born of This Soil came in at a little under 130K. I already have some notes on what to do in the revisions (which will just have to wait for another day, because I'm done!) and I'm really happy with it. Maybe it's just the post NaNo euphoria, but I think it's one of the best first drafts I've written. Some of it's a blur, so it's a bit hard to tell. I know that it needs work, but I just don't care right now. :D

Congratulations to everyone who participated this year! Whether or not you made it to 50K (and there may still be some time left, depending where you are!) you wrote and that's just fantastic!

All right. I'm done abusing the exclamation point for now. Promise. ;)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #3

This applies equally to science fiction. Often, the cultures in science fiction are based on something we've seen before. As humans, we reach to the past to imagine the future. The Romulans are Romans, the Klingons are Vikings, and while they both surpass this limited categorization, their basis is in the past. We often create species based on what we know can exist, because it does exist or has existed in some form. If we are not aware of historical women, and their roles in history, we fail to imagine them in the future.

3) Extraordinary women are rare in history, so there isn't much to base them on. Women didn't go on quests or fight battles.

Totally untrue. While the roles of women in history are often less documented, there have always been women involved. Their roles may be different--in a variety of ways dependent on the era and culture in which they lived--but I fail to see how that makes them less important or compelling. They give themselves in marriage to ensure the peace of their nation (too many to name), they scheme and twist and sometimes murder to get their sons or husbands on “men-only” thrones (also too many to name), they lead revolts against enemy armies to revenge rape and the killing of their neighbors (Boudicca), and they struggle to overthrow ancient religious traditions (Nefertiti). How is any of that in any way less worthy of story time than the historical deeds of men?

The women of Greece, Egypt, the Celts, and even medieval Europe (to name just a few) often found themselves fighting, leading battles or defending their villages, towns and cities. The Scythian/Sarmatian/Sauromatian women might as well have been born on horseback with a bow and full quiver. They weren't even allowed to marry until they'd killed in battle.

Also, historically speaking, medieval women went off to the Crusades just as men did until around 1096. After that, they usually stayed behind when men went off to war, but were expected to be able to defend their homes and take care of the day to day running of estates, counties and entire nations. There are many historical accounts of women who fended off sieges, led war parties, or came to power at this time. This was, after all, a time when one's home was as likely to be attacked as one's war party. The fall of the Roman Empire left a void into which many warlords galloped and the menfolk were, quite often, dead or away.

When the church was the highest authority both men and women made pilgrimages to holy sites. Before that in "pagan" times women were often the ones sent to holy sites, especially if it was a goddess who needed to be appeased. And then there's the Elysian Mysteries, which drew people from all over the ancient Mediterranean world, men and women both, on a quest. How is being a priestess of Bast or a Delphic oracle a less powerful position than what men have held? The oracle of Delphi practically controlled the politicians of ancient Greece.

Even if these were “rare roles” for women (they weren't), why should we only portray "typical" women? The male heroes are almost always 'exceptional' in some way. Why shouldn't it be so for the women as well? And if they are going against the gender roles of your society why sacrifice the extra depth that adds to the story? That should add to the character, and yet so often we see it only subtracting because authors don't run with it, not because it can't be run with.

Last Excuse | Next Excuse

Friday, November 26, 2010

Armies & Tactics: Cavalry (pt 2)

Light Cavalry

Light cavalry was used to scout, provide defensive screening and engage in skirmishes, as well as pursuing fleeing enemies and carrying messages. They used lighter, faster horses which were not armored, and wore little to no armor themselves. Light cavalry troops were archers, but they often carried other weapons as well, from swords and daggers to maces and poleaxes.

One of the Parthian's favorite tactics was to have the light cavalry ride in on an army, raining down arrows. They would then pretend to retreat and the enemy would follow. The Parthian horsearchers would turn around and fire arrows at their pursuers. This technique came to be called the "Parthian shot." In some cultures (Samaritan, Scythian) women were common among the light cavalry and archers. The tattooed Scythian women were particularly noted for their status as warriors.

Later, in 15th century Hungary, light cavalry troops were also used to infiltrate behind enemy lines, capture supply trains and hold or destroy important intersections or roads. As the weaponry of the time changed, the light cavalry went from archers to riflemen. Under Napoleon, the light cavalry was organized into small units that could easily be broken down into smaller units for use as pickets and scouts. The light cavalry often rode at the forefront of the army and along its flanks, acting as scouts to make sure that the main body of their army was not surprised.

Medium Cavalry

In the Middle Ages it was a common for knights to fight by using their horses to gain position on the field and then send their horses away while they fought on foot. This was especially done when the heavy cavalry's charge was rendered ineffective by the terrain. However, the heavy armor had to be lightened to allow for this flexibility, and thus the medium cavalry or "mounted infantry."

The ability to fight both while mounted and while on foot offered advantages in mobility and versatility. Though armored, the soldiers could still move freely and they had their horses to help them get inside the enemy's ranks. Fully armored heavy cavalry began to disappear as guns became more common on the battlefield and the more lightly armed and flexible medium cavalry rose to prominence in Europe and America.

Leading us to the Dragoons of the 18th century. These medium cavalry troops fought with pistols in addition to sabers. They were trained with the sword and were capable of fighting from horseback, or on foot.

-----
For Further Reading:

Cataphracts and Clibanarii of the Ancient World

Parthian Army

Cavalry Weapons and Organization
Hungarian Renaissance Warfare

Cavalry Tactics and Combat during the Napoleonic Wars

Napoleonic Cavalry

Dragoon Soldier - Historical Background

-----
Interestingly, while researching cavalry, I was most reminded of the character of Beka Cavish from Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner books. Beka and her fellows are a great example of light cavalry. What are you favorite examples of the use of cavalry in fiction?

Heavy Cavalry

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NaNo: Day Twenty Four

I broke 90K. I was hoping the story wouldn't get much beyond that, but we'll see. I don't know if I can close it all up before 100K, but I've decide to just let the story be however long it's going to be.

I've got 12 plot points to cover and I'm going need to pick up the pace, but I still hope to be able to get everything done in time. I may have to work on it this weekend, but that's a small enough price to pay for a finished first draft in a month!

The next bout of writing should go quickly enough. One chapter will probably cover both plot points (one of which may get cut in revisions anyway since it's not nearly as major after the changes that took place), and the next couple of days after that should both require one chapter. Then things get sticky. The last six plot points are all wrapping up the major conflict of the story, so they may take more than three chapters.

Still, I'm having fun, even if some days feel like pulling teeth! They're fun teeth to pull. Hmm, that just doesn't sound right, does it? Oh, well, I'm too tired to come up with something better! :D

Sunday, November 21, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #2

This is mostly a fantasy excuse, although I have seen it pop up in science fiction when the writer is looking to modernize, for instance, the Roman Empire or some other monolithic civilization. So, if you're thinking science fiction, just replace "magic and dragons" with "FTL and spaceships." :D

2) I want my book to be historically accurate, but with magic and dragons.

For starters, women in history led diverse lives, but we'll discuss the real roles of women in history later. Let's just take this excuse as “I want to maintain realism in my setting.” While I fully support the building of a full and complete world in which things like flora, fauna, resources, political motivations and the role of gender is taken into account, fantasy written to historical specifications isn't fantasy. It's historical fiction. The attitudes about gender need not be the same. Chaos theory dictates that adding even a single dragon into a world should create a ripple of changes (many of them unpredictable just from knowledge of the catalyst) throughout the world's history, and therefore its society, and its attitudes as well.

A created world that is 'medieval Europe' with magic and dragons should look different in many ways from our own medieval Europe, because all the years before also had to include that magic and those dragons and that changes things. It can't help but change things. The entire evolution of the planet, the various species and the cultures have to be different, because there was magic, and dragons.

Even if you want to use gender roles that are accurate to a historic setting--and do your research on what those gender roles are, because you might get a surprise--that is no reason to cut out female POVs. If anything it's a reason to add them. In a society where gender roles for men and women are distinct and separate, not showing the female perspective fails to show a full and complete view of the culture. The men in your story cannot have the same experience as the women have, because the gender roles are distinct and different. By excluding women from the story, you eliminate the experience of a full half of the population. Why would you ever do that? Why would you lessen the depth and realism of a culture you worked so hard to create?

And, as to science fiction: It's all well and good to say you want to explore the ways in which the Roman Empire managed to dominate for so long, or see their culture's decline in a setting that helps a modern person understand them. But you're not going to be able to do that without the Roman women.

Last Excuse | Next Excuse

Friday, November 19, 2010

Armies & Tactics: Cavalry

(Split into two posts due to length. I'll cover light and medium cavalry next Friday and put a link in this post.)

The first cavalry troops date back to the Parthian army around the 6th century BC. It seems to have sprung up first among the nomadic cultures who spent much of their time on horseback, such as the Scythians. It is after the 6th century that cavalry troops began to replace chariots, although the change didn't come overnight. The Parthians used two types, with which you're probably at least a little familiar: light cavalry and heavy cavalry. Medium cavalry came into use later and was often used as mounted infantry. Throughout the ages and between cultures, the purpose of these troops has been much the same, offering similar advantages and disadvantages.

Heavy Cavalry

Even from Parthian times the heavy cavalry was heavily armored. The Parthian cataphracts were armored from head to toe in metal scales or plates and supplemented with chain. The horses, too, were armored. Some completely covered in armor like their riders, while others were only armored over the front parts of their bodies.

The cataphracts were the Parthian's answer to the hoplites and the phalanx formation. Because troops locked their shields when they were fired upon, they were left open to assault. The cataphracts would ride in, forcing them to break formation and picking them off with a long lance called konto. Our image of the classical medieval knight actually has ancient roots.

In terms of weapons, the heavy cavalry troops often wielded two-handed lances, without shields. They also often carried swords, maces or axes and some wielded one-handed lances so that they could also carry a shield.

One of the main differences between the medieval heavy cavalry and the ancient heavy cavalry was actually the stirrup. The cataphracts didn't have them, and so they were a lot less balanced and secure when it came to melee battle. They avoided it whenever possible because their heavy armor made them an easy target if they were knocked from their horse.

The heavy cavalry, of all eras but especially in Parthian times, needed two things: level ground and archers. The archers forced the infantry to shield themselves or scatter, and without archers the cataphracts became much less effective. And, because they were so heavy, they needed flat ground to build up the momentum of the charge. Because of this generals about to engage heavy cavalry sought inclined ground, the upward charge rendering the heavy cavalry less effective or entirely useless.

The armor used by heavy cavalry was expensive and required frequent maintenance, and like the medieval knights, the ancient heavy cavalry troops were often the upper classes of their societies. They would be required to provide their own horses, weapons and armor. In contrast, in Napoleonic France, the lancers of the heavy cavalry were largely green troops, mounted on horses that were lacking in training, but led by a very experienced and skilled senior officer.

Against the Parthian cataphracts, the Romans often ordered their own, lighter cavalry not to engage directly, leading the cataphracts to chase them about and tiring both the soldiers and the horses that had to carry such heavy armor. Once they were tired, they were easier to defeat.

However, a cavalry charge at the right time could cause quite a lot of damage, and could even turn the battle. Heavy cavalry would often be held back until the right moment presented itself. Then they would charge. The effect wasn't just physical; the charge of heavy cavalry has a psychological component as well. Consider the difference in size between yourself and a large horse. Then imagine a tight line of them charging at you bearing metal-clad soldiers carrying sharp lances, while battle cries and the pounding of kettle drums filled the air. I know I'd wet myself.

The heavy cavalry were shock troops. Meant to ride down on a weakened army and smash them to bits.

Light & Medium Cavalry

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NaNo: Day Seventeen

Well, we're more than halfway into November and I have backed up my work (several times). I hope y'all have backed yours up, too! Just imagine losing all those words to a random glitch. *shudder* I'm trying to get into the habit of backing things up every night. I lost 5,000 words of edited material earlier this year and I do not want that to happen again, even if some of it did come out better in the second edit.

Because I've already hit the 50k of the NaNo challenge, (71,783 and counting!) now I'm just working on resolving all the plot lines I've opened up. I hope (pray, beg) that I don't have to use more than 90k to do that. I tend to add to drafts more than I take away--although, I can already think of at least one scene that's coming out entirely during revisions--so I want to keep this first draft as compact as possible. We'll see how that goes! :D

In blog news, I've added a previously published short story, as well as an excerpt from another story, and a deleted scene from another. If you're interested, you can check them out here, or go through the Stories & Excerpts link listed in the sidebar.

And now I have to sleep. I've been sick all day and I'm about to fall over. But I leave you with some questions: How's your NaNo going? How much do you love your characters? Are you ahead, behind or right on track? Got backup?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #1

Women in fantasy and science fiction is a topic close to my heart, so I wanted to talk about it. While some genres/sub genres are rife with female characters, others are pretty lacking. Often, I find the scarcity of women in some books surprising, or I want to hear more about female characters and they don't get mentioned again, let alone get a view point. And I've heard writers make excuses for why they don't write more women, or don't give women point of view roles in their books.

Each of the following excuses are things that I have heard (often more than a few times) and so I thought I would go through them, give my thoughts, and ask you for yours. However, this post did get pretty long, so I'm going to cut it into parts (1 excuse per post) so that y'all don't have to read an essay, but I'll include links to later posts, for those who want to read the whole list. I'll be posting these every Sunday, until I run out of excuses. ;)

1) Too many authors put in women just to have them and because of this they're not well-rounded characters.

Isn't that the fault of the author for failing to round out the character? Just because the author needs to learn to write well-rounded, realistic female characters doesn't mean the female characters aren't needed. Sometimes, there are logical reasons for women not to appear in the story (the story takes place entirely in a monastery or men's prison, for example), but most of the time the lack of women is unrealistic and limiting to the story, cutting out a whole viewpoint that could be used to deepen the setting and a reader's view of the other characters. This is only more relevant if the roles of women and men are different in the society.

The solution here is easy: if you write a female character, write her as a character. Don't keep thinking “Girls, girls, what are girls like?” Instead, think “Where did she come from? Where is she going? And what will she risk in order to get there?” If you don't like female characters that are uncomplicated and shallowly characterized, great! Don't write them that way.

What do you think? Are women under-represented in the genres you read? What do you think the reasons for that are?

Next Excuse

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NaNo: Day Eleven

Muahahahaha! I have broken 50K! I'm still not done, since my goal is a finished first draft, but I've hit a major mile marker. I'm about halfway through the story, although hopefully the next plot points won't take up so many words. I was only aiming for 75K, but it'll probably take 80-90K to finish the first draft. Then I'll get to the editing, but I'm not going to think about that right now. Especially since I'm not sure that what I've already written makes sense. *winces*

How about you guys? Are you NaNoing? How's it going?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

To Excerpt or Not To Excerpt?

I’ve been thinking about putting excerpts up, perhaps posting a free story or two here, but I didn’t know much about the practice so I decided to do some research. There wasn’t as much material out there as I thought there would be, but I did find some different points of view. I thought I’d share them with you.

Basically, there’s the No Excerpts camp:

Be (Slightly) Afraid of Posting Your Work Online by Chuck Sambuchino

And the Pro Excerpts camp:

Stop Being Afraid of Posting Your Work Online by Jane Friedman

And then there are the writers, who also seem somewhat divided on the topic.

My thoughts are these: I think it’s very unlikely someone is going to find my blog and say “Oh, look, an under-published writer! I can totally swipe this stuff.” While it is possible something I post will spark off an idea for some other writer, so what? That’s not stealing my work, it’s inspiration. Even if they take an element of my plot, what they write will be completely different from what I have written. No two writers ever develop an idea in the same way, especially when it’s just a small thing from an excerpt or synopsis that’s going to be turned into a novel. If their book is better than mine, it may get published before mine. If mine is good, it will get published as well. How many times have you read fantasy novels that had similar concepts?

Now, stealing my entire plot is another matter. However, I don’t see how anyone could, just from posted excerpts. Maybe, it’s slightly more likely if I post a synopsis, but even that would only talk about the book in broad concepts, there’s not room enough for details.

Besides, I don’t want to stop sharing my work with other writers. I love discussing writing, plots, stories, characters, etc. with both readers and writers. It’s fun and inspiring and challenging, and frankly, I just don’t get enough of it. It’s how writers grow.

I discuss my stories (and post chapters and stories) at my critique group (Critique Circle, it’s in my links) and I discuss my NaNo novel and post excerpts of that in the NaNo forums. I love doing those things, and they’re just as likely (which is to say, in my opinion, pretty unlikely) to expose my writing to someone who lifts an idea, or a concept. Ideas aren’t copyrightable for a reason. They’re a dime a dozen and everyone writes them differently.

I am pro excerpt. :D What about you guys?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

New Look

So, I changed things up a bit around here and I'd love to hear what you guys think of the new look! :D

I haven't NaNoed in a few days, but that was my plan. The fiance works like crazy during the week, so the weekend is the only time we get together. I'm willing to write some more words during the week if it means having my weekends free-ish. But look for me to burn up the word count this coming week! I'm rested, revved, and ready to go.

In the absence of NaNo, I have managed to send out five submissions, including one piece I wrote just this weekend. It's a flash piece, but one that bit me hard and wanted to get out. Other than that, I hung out with the fiance and scritched the cats. All in all, a great weekend.

How about you guys? What did you do this weekend?

Friday, November 5, 2010

NaNo: Day Five (Plotting, Pacing and Character)

So, five days in and I’ve made it to over 27,000 words! I’m proud of myself for keeping up the pace and sticking to it and I’m enjoying the way the story’s unfolding. All the plotting I did beforehand is making it very easy to stay on track. I know what each scene needs, even if I did underestimate the length of some scenes.

Which has gotten me thinking about scene planning. When it comes to figuring out where a scene should go, you have to consider things like foreshadowing, the order of events, pacing, character introductions and setting introduction. You have to introduce magic before it’s used for anything important, each character needs to get an introduction of some sort, and events have to line up so that everybody has the knowledge they need for the scene to play out. Pacing requires that scenes are long enough to feel important and to involve the reader, without being so long that they become tedious, repetitive or bring the story to a halt.

A writer needs to balance these elements in each and every scene. But how do you do that? Well, chronological events are easy enough—unless you’re not writing a chronological story, but that’s another post entirely—you just put the scenes in the order they would have to happen for the story to come to its conclusion. But there are always events that aren’t defined by the chronological order in which they happen. They could happen at various points in the story and while the story would play out differently because of it, the overall plot wouldn’t change. Such as characters meeting one another, which is my topic for today.

Story events can take a completely different path if the characters come together at the beginning of the book, or if they meet farther in. This is especially true if they both have a piece of the plot, but not the whole of it. Their working together early in the book means they both have a wider knowledge from the start, they have access to more information from the start, and they have one another to depend on for back up or support.

But what happens if their meeting is delayed? If they don’t meet each other early on and they don’t have that missing piece of knowledge and they’re not seeing the whole picture? Well, it makes it harder for the characters, which often makes it more interesting for the reader. A character overcoming deficits and challenges is integral to most stories, right? And the character will eventually have that big moment of revelation when they discover what they’ve been overlooking all this time, made larger because of the wait.

If there’s a romantic theme, the characters should probably meet as soon as possible, but what about in non-romantic fantasy? Most of the time, characters meet up quickly and then go about their business, but delaying those meetings could be a way to add tension and drama to a plot. If both the characters have a POV, and the reader knows what they both know, they’ll be routing for the two of them to meet up (to cooperate or fight it out) so that the puzzle can be completed. I think it would be even more interesting if the reader didn’t know how it would provide a solution, but was still clued into the fact that it would.

There are some risks, of course. If you draw the “when will they meet” tension out too long, it loses its power and becomes boring or even frustrating. Each character needs a firm arch of their own to pull it off, too, since they’ll be moving through some of the story without the other character to play off of. Their plot trajectory may need some thought, since you have to keep them from finding out information as well as plan out the information they do learn.

But I think it would provide a good reason why character A doesn’t know about this or that. Character B knows, but isn’t around to tell them. That lets the reader know as well, but forces Character A to act in whatever way is appropriate without that knowledge.

Often, I find that I have the characters meet at the first possible opportunity, but that’s not necessarily what’s best for the book. Obviously, it’s not possible or desirable to delay all the character meetings until the middle of the book. But, mixing in a few key delayed character meetings can create interesting twists and turns that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I’ll be paying a lot more attention character meetings in the future.

Monday, November 1, 2010

NaNo: Day One

Well, my first NaNo writing session is over and I've done a respectable 5,552 words. I want to build up a buffer in the first few days, but I'm also hoping to keep up this pace. I'm aiming for 75k, instead of 50k, which means I need at least 3,750 a day.

So far, I'm enjoying Born of This Soil. I had fun writing the first chapter and most of the second and I think they're interesting. I'm having fun with the characters and I hope they're coming across well.

So far I've written Beshauna's first POV and Jenra's and I've introduced Gregor and Serrace, as well as some minor characters. I've started a few plots and sub-plots and hinted at a few others, although they'll need further development before they come to the foreground.

All and all, it's time for me to go to bed. :D

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Plotting

So, the days until NaNo are ticking away and in almost every spare moment I'm considering the plot I will soon be feverishly writing. This, of course, leads me to thoughts about the best ways to plot out a novel. I have a step by step process that I follow to try to get the most out of my plots and I thought I'd share it, and encourage y'all to do the same with your own plotting secrets. :D

1) I start with the main story. I outline all the events that absolutely have to take place for the story to go forward. These may be general, like “So and so finds out about such and such.” They’re just there to form the bones of the plot and give me something to flesh out.

2) I go through each character’s point of view, even when they’re not POV characters, looking at the story through their eyes. I figure out what they want out of this, how they’re most likely to go about getting it, and what lengths they’re willing to go through. This lets me add all of their stories to the bone structure, filling out the general features. These items are more specific, listing the place the characters are in as well as what they’re trying to accomplish.

3) Then I look for areas where these plot lines cross, when two of the characters are in the same place or want the same thing. I figure out how that conflict will affect the story and what it will lead to. How will they react if they see one another? Will the two characters fight it out? Will they pretend they’re there for something else? And which of them is going to get what they want?

4) Finally, I go through the plot chronologically and try to spot any gaps. Does this character not have anything to do for four chapters? Did I tie up all the sub-plots? Is there anything I started and winded up dropping? What are the “bad guys” doing while the MCs are running around doing X, Y and Z?

After all that, I’ve got a pretty filled out plot. I tweak it and move things around, trying out different configurations until I like what I’ve got. What about you?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fantasy Isn't Historical Fiction

There is a trend in some areas of fantasy toward research and realism, so I want to comment on it. I’m all for it. I love fantasy and I love trying to make my world feel real and present, as if the reader has just stepped into a different place entirely. Investigating the details of Earth’s history can go a long way to help me fill in the details that really make a world pop.

However, I think that sometimes we get so caught up in the history of earth and the way things unfolded here that we forget to consider what could happen. We forget the imaginative spark of creation that is part of what's so fun about fantasy. Understanding the past--and the cultures, nations and peoples that have inhabited it--is a great way to understand how societies have worked here, but I don't think that's enough. If you introduce magic, powerful psychic ability, or even a single dragon, everything has to change. The culture has to change according to the elements that don't exist on earth as well as the elements that do.

We recognize this, to some degree, with fantasy species. If elves live a thousand years, how does that change them? What is it like to live so long? Do they mature more slowly? Do they create fewer offspring? If not, why haven’t they out-populated the other species? If you dig in deep, you can find new answers. You can create species that are as entrenched in their world as humans are in this one, species that never existed here, or species that never could exist here.

Research and invention are far from conflicting concepts. Research makes creating new things possible, too. Knowing more about this world is just a starting point in building a new one, a platform on which to build and invent. With research you can put people anywhere, have species do practically anything. It's only unrealistic if they don't have a reason to be there or the coping mechanisms to deal with the situation they’re in. Those coping mechanisms and adaptations, the way humans or elves or dwarves or flegalbrosts, whatever, adapt to and cope with the situation they're in are, to me, some of the most interesting details of the fantasy genre. (Of course, I love just about everything about fantasy, so take that for what it’s worth. :D)

But it’s not always necessary to be so thorough. Sometimes a single inventive element in an otherwise earth-based culture can light up a whole story. And in some fantasies there simply isn’t room to go into in depth explanation, which can be needed with cultures that are truly unique. The unfamiliar takes more explanation, both to the reader and for the writer to truly understand it. But, regardless, fantasy offers us the opportunity to explore these details.

Fantasy shouldn’t be mistaken for historical fiction. The two do occasionally cross paths, but they’re not the same in and of themselves. Fantasy is fantasy. It doesn’t need to conform to the cultures or ideas or paths of the past unless that’s what you want it to do.

Granted, fantasy is often used as a way to explore past cultures and that can be a great way to build a story, but seeing it as only that limits its scope and power. So, while I’m all for the research and realism, I think it’s just as important to remember the whimsy and magic of fantasy. Even if I sometimes have to stop myself in the middle of my research and tell myself that all over again. :D

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Describing Skin Tone

Updated May 23rd, 2012

I’m going for NaNoWriMo (Nation Novel Writing Month) this year and I’ve been spending far too much time in the forums over there when I should be working. (It’s the weekend; I’m cutting my tired brain some slack!) The point being, a discussion about how to describe skin tones in writing came up.

I love these discussions because I don’t think there’s enough variation in skin tone in fantasy and science fiction. Often, characters either aren't described at all, or are some variation of 'white.' Characters of color are often invisible in secondary world fiction. In fiction based in our world, writers often feel more comfortable identifying a character as "African-American," or "Latin@," or "Native American," or "Asian," but in secondary worlds--in which those words are out of place--a writer has to rely on description. Otherwise, characters of color don't seem to appear at all. You, as the author, may know they're there, but if you don't describe them the reader can't know it. However, I also get that some writers are worried about accidentally coming off as racist or offending people with their choice of description and because of this they avoid the topic all together, but that just perpetuates the problem. In addition, if you only describe characters of color, you risk creating the notion that 'white' is the default for people and skin tone only needs to be mentioned when the character is "non-white," which is utterly ridiculous. So, describing all your characters is important.

What helps, or at least, what I think helps, is realizing that people are just people. You’re going to offend someone with something, and someone else is going to love it, and it all depends on who they are as people and how you handled the situation. If you made a mistake, if you failed, having it pointed out to you means that you can do better in the future. Just as with any other aspect of your story. While it's not great, it isn't the end of the world. Use it to do better. Learn and grow and move forward. As long as you are self-aware in your writing and you’re working within the confines of your novel, there’s no reason to be worried.

What also helps is discussion and ideas about how description can be done and different ways to work these things into your story. I like to use comparisons. I think comparisons let me say more than just skin tone, they let me allude to the environment of the characters (“She had skin the color of wet sand”), to special circumstances that are present (“The flashing police lights and the blue of the portal-glow made his skin seem even darker”), or highlight a character’s mental or social state (“The red in her brown hair and the warm amber of her skin set her apart from the rest of her family”). But you can also use general terms of color (red-brown, golden, warm brown, red-orange, brown with yellow undertones, grey) or descriptive terms of color (alabaster, ebony, rosy, ashen, saffron, sienna). The important thing is to choose a method which fits with your setting, your overall style of description, and your novel. The point of view character can also play a huge role in how other characters are described. For instance, an artist may use the specific names of their paints when describing people and the world.

Also, remember that skin tone is not a defining characteristic of a given character (even if other characters may see it that way). While it's important to note it, dwelling on it can become fetishizing or can make it seem as if it's the only thing that matters about them. Take the whole character into consideration when you describe them, and if you find that you can't see past their skin tone, you need to think more about the character. Who are they as a person? Their size may be more relevant and reflective of their personality, so you could mention their skin tone in passing, but highlight details of their height. Or their eye color could be an important clue later, and so while you'd mention their skin tone to give a complete picture, you’d make the description of their eyes especially memorable.

And this doesn’t just matter for characters of color. Just because Earth cultures too often have default assumptions, doesn’t me that we as writers should, or that the cultures in our novel do (or that their default assumptions are the same). This is all the more important when we’re dealing with characters that aren’t human. Not only can the addition of another species make humans rethink their definitions of “race” and “ethnicity,” but new species require more in depth description. Trying to describe a people of which the reader has only a minimal understanding means that you often have to describe their skin tones no matter if they’re dark or light or blue or green.

We all have some sort of color, even our world isn't as simplistic as 'white' and 'not-white,' and a complete picture of a character may include a mention of how pale they are, or how they look artificially tanned, or how they fit into the racial structure around them, or how they have undertones of a given color mixed with their general skin tone. It’s important that you make your characters memorable and give a picture of them, whether that picture is more focused on their features or their hair or their skin. Spend your time on the details that are important to the story, to the characters, to the setting and to the themes and sketch in the rest.

For more thoughts and discussion on this topic, here are my favorite links. Have fun!

Describing Characters of Color in Writing
Describing Characters of Color, pt 2
Whatever You're Doing, You're Probably Wrong
Truepenny

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Vilifying

I like villain characters. I like the kind with motivations and goals and loves and hates, the ones that jump off the page, grab you by the throat and shout to be noticed. For me, the villain has to be just as real as the heroes, or how could they ever be a match? Every Holmes needs a Moriarty, after all. Someone they’d actually jump off a cliff to get rid of, someone they’d fight just because they are fundamentally opposed to one another.

I also love it when the author tricks us, makes us feel for the villain even when they’ve done things we find unforgiveable. It’s not easy to achieve, but when it works it’s fantastic. Unfortunately, when it doesn’t it can be very bad.

But not all characters who make the wrong choices, or who believe things we don’t agree with are villains. I like to experiment with characters who are morally grey, who do things they’re not always proud of, or who make the wrong choices, or who believe things that I find hard to wrap my head around. In the writing of these characters, I feel as if I reach some sort of understanding of human nature. We all make mistakes, do things we’re not proud of, believe things we come to see as foolish or just plain wrong.

But just how far can that be pushed? Just how much will a reader forgive a character for? What kinds of beliefs, actions and opinions are we willing to overlook? What will instantly get a reader’s ire up? Is there a clear line separating “villain” and “likeable character?” Are we more likely to forgive humans their flaws, because we understand them so well?

That’s another reason I enjoy fantasy and science fiction. They give me a way to see these behaviors through other points of view, points of view that don’t share the same expectations, the same moral, social or cultural boundaries. I think it reveals humanity when it is viewed by an outside observer. And if you can reflect a particular trait or belief or ideal in a dozen mirrors, you can see it from a dozen points of view.

And all of those views have something to tell us. They contain within them some comment upon the reflected trait or belief or ideal. Even the villains tell us something, maybe especially the villains.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Future Archeologists

Recently, I read about Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where the government is creating a facility to store nuclear waste. They want it to safely house this waste for 10,000 years and this has brought up some extremely interesting issues, even beyond the storage of nuclear waste.

The most interesting, to me, is how to tell the people we will be in 5,000 (or even 2,000) years, what we’ve done and why. Consider how much we know about the Ancient Greeks, Mayans, or Egyptians. While we know a great deal more than we used to, a lot of what we have are theories and there are plenty of misconceptions. We explore their landfills, their cemeteries, their sacred places, and if there’s a warning that says “Go no farther?” We call a camera crew.

Language, culture and humans in general, are still evolving. We tend to think of ourselves as the end of a long evolutionary line, but assuming we make it another 2,000 years, 5,000 years, 10,000 years, we’ll be a blip on the radar. Just another past era. We think the knowledge we’ve gathered will live on forever, but books don’t last forever. And as the way we store data changes, even data is lost. Think of all the old computer games that only live on as we remember them, the programs that have faded away. And that’s in a very short time of our evolution. The Library of Alexandria was a center for the knowledge amassed by our ancient ancestors, the Smithsonian of their age. It certainly doesn’t exist now. It, and all the knowledge it contained, is gone.

Language will grow and change, what we speak now will be the languages of scholars and will it even be understood? Will it be understood in time to keep someone from drilling in a site made to store nuclear waste? Will the symbols and signs that we find so recognizable today still mean “biohazard,” “radiation,” or even “danger?”

In 2,000 years we will be to future humans what the ancient civilizations are to us. Future archeologists will search our graveyards for some understanding of how we lived and what we went through. They’ll pick through our landfills to find out what we made and what sort of technology we used. They will walk in our sacred places, and maybe they will speak to them and maybe they will be only an interesting puzzle. And if there’s a sign that says “Go no further,” what will they do?

Links to the articles I’ve been reading:

Buried But Not Forgotten?

Excerpts from Expert "Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Creating Creatures

This is one of my favorite aspects of fantasy, science fiction and horror. I watch nature documentaries incessantly and I approach creature creation from that view point. In Court of Scales, my dragons have three sets of wings, breath that smells like an alchemist’s workshop and scales that grow cloudy-white with age.

The more important aspects, to me, are that they’re solitary creatures slowly becoming social ones. It’s a long process, taking several hundred years already and still not very advanced. They have a voluntary political system because there’s no way to force them and only the more social dragons even bother to gain position. They mate for about a month every two years and the mothers raise their offspring without any contact with the fathers. While I find all that very fun to play with, what’s even more fun is to look at the exceptions. Razier, the main dragon character, is one of those and desperately wishes he wasn’t. Poor thing.

I really enjoy looking into the instincts of a creature and pondering their evolution. In another story, I’m playing with the concept of the dwarf. Dwarves, as they are commonly thought of, probably didn’t evolve underground, but rather moved there sometime in their past. Dwarves that evolved underground have no reason to have eyes. There’s no light. There’s no way to see, so why would nature give them organs to do it? What would a story written from the “point of view” of a creature without eyes be like? How would they communicate? How would their society have come about and evolved? What would it mean to them? How would they sense, get around and interact with the world?

I find these questions fascinating and I like working on the story because it forces me to come up with new ways of describing things, new ways of understanding things. There’s even—currently—a dream scene description that I adore. It may get cut, but right now it makes me smile every time I read it.

Creatures don’t have to be sentient, of course, although I think it makes them more interesting. I like creating the non-sentient creatures, too. Birds that attract mates by singing a particular note, lizards that eat sewer rats and small foxes on the canals of my story’s setting, dogs the size of horses that pull sleds like elaborate carriages, and birds with pine-tree-branch wings. Then there’s the weird stuff, the burrowing rock mites, sand-eating lizard-birds and spacefaring cephalopods.

My philosophy of creature creation is to start with a detail and ask lots of questions. When creating creatures, sometimes I start with a sketch. I have a notebook that I call my bestiary and I sketch out any ideas I have. More often, though, I start with a non-visual detail: an interesting system of magic, an aspect of their physiology, an idea of how they find nutrition. Then I work backwards.

Generally, life needs water and nutrition. To survive more than a generation it needs to be able to reproduce. These are all basic, but once you get an idea of the basics, one thing leads to another. For instance, if you start with the idea of a plant-based sentient life form, you know that your creature’s going to need light, possibly other nutrients, water and a means of reproduction. Plants have a whole range of interesting reproduction practices, and some only produce flowers, fruits and seeds when under stress. That could be pretty fun to play with, a character that starts to flower when under stress. How long does it take? What resources (light, water, nutrients) does it use? Does it have other effects on the creature? Do they start flowering immediately? Do some types of stress have a greater effect than others?

I think questions are the best way to create a creature. Answering the question creates other questions to ask and answer. The answers build the creature up from that one idea. Well, that's my system at least. :D

Monday, August 30, 2010

Another Hello Post

Starting to get back into the swing of things, although I still feel as if I’m always behind. You know how it goes. I’ve been staying off the CC forums, concentrating on crits, writing, work and trying to find at least some time to spend with the fiancĂ©. I’m hoping to have some interesting posts to make soon, rather than these “Hi again” posts, which are frankly pretty boring. *G*

I’m getting close to the end of my first pass edit on Court of Scales, but I have two more passes planned and one of those is the a language edit that takes me a while. I’m hoping to have it done and ready for submission by the end of the week. It’s long, but hopefully I’ll be able to cut it down a little. I need to re-sub two stories, “Past the Setting Sun” and “Revenants,” which I’m hoping to get done tonight.

I’ve been reading “The Book of Taltos” by Steven Brust lately and I’m having trouble getting into it. It reads a bit like a noir, which I like in theory. I don’t mind first person, usually, so I don’t think that’s it, and it’s got some interesting world-building, but it’s just not engaging me. *shrugs*

I’m also reading “Physics of the Impossible” by Michio Kaku and that’s good. It doesn’t go into as much detail as I’d like in some areas, but it’s got interesting ideas and thoughts and mentions the experiments and advances to back them up.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Links on Ancient Innovations

Okay, so I know I've dropped of the face of my own blog, but I'm back-ish! :D I've finally caught up on my articles, almost caught up on my crits, and? I finished the final edit on A Sign in Blood so it's now all ready to go up for ripping apart--ahem, I mean crits. ;) The ending made me cry. Again. *rolls eyes at self* I'm taking that as a good sign, though.

Also? A few neat links from my time away from blogging...

Ancient Swiss Army Knives

Ancient Hair Dye Based On Nanotechnology

History of Brain Surgery

I love it when the modern world goes: "Hey! They did this way before we did!" :D

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

One of Those Days

I'm having a day where it takes my brain a little bit to catch up with rest of my body. I had a craving for a certain food earlier (mac & cheese) and it took me a few minutes to figure out exactly what it was I wanted. Then I saw a pattern and my eyes went "Hey, we've seen that before," and a few seconds later my brain finally turned up that I'd seen it just a few minutes ago. My fingers are even moving faster than my brain today, and that's always dangerous! :D

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Flash! Anthology is Out!


The Flash! Anthology is out and now available at Amazon! I'm so excited! It's got my story "Innocent Until Proven" in it and a bunch of other fantastic flash-length fiction in several different genres!

Looking for a story to nibble on? Or a whole book filled with bite-sized stories to devour? :D

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Crime Links!

Okay, so whenever I get a minute when I'm not working, writing, sleeping, eating or doing unmentionable things with the Fiance, I'm organizing my links. I come across a lot of interesting stuff and file it away at random in the moment, so this is a pretty continual process. I thought I'd share a few of the neat things I found while adventuring through my own labyrinthine link filing system.

After all, what writer doesn't need more links? :D Today, it's links relating to crime. *rubs hands together*

Profiles of a Rapist

I like realism, even in my genre reading and not everyone does. However, I think that writing criminals requires a writer to know something about them, to understand what they want (even when it's icky) and how they're most likely to go about getting it. While I don't think a profile like these should be used as a character in and of itself, I think it's important to consider these traits and how they would or could be expressed in an "in character" way. Now, as I said, not everyone likes realism as much as I do, and not all writing is about realism. I get that. But, for me, this link is a fantastic jumping off point for if I ever create a rapist character. And, given my penchant for crime stories (even in my genre fiction!) I just might someday.

The Truth About Chalk Outlines

You only really see chalk outlines in TV, I think. Most books don't mention them. Or maybe they do and I just haven't read them.

The next two are videos:

How to Escape From Metal Handcuffs
How to Escape From Plastic Handcuffs

Well, that it's for this link session. Enjoy! Er, feel free to leave me any links you have to hand, too, btw! :D

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Post Everyone Should Read

No, not here. :D Over there, at Paperback Writer by Lynn Viehl. It's about fatigue among writers and she gives some great advice.

As I said over there, I'm a (recovering?) workaholic and stepping away from work now and then is absolutely necessary. That isn't to say I do it all the time *cough*or even most of it*cough*, but I need to remember this post when I start wearing down. :D

Friday, June 18, 2010

Good Stuff

The catching up is going pretty well. I'm still behind with crits and my fiction, but I'm making progress and that's enough to make me happy at the moment!

Unfortunately, there is some sad news. Lame Goat Press is no more. They were a small press, but I really thought they had potential, so it's sad to see it go. However, the lovely Chris Bartholomew, the publisher of Static Movement, has been awesome enough to pick up the Flash! Anthology as well as several others, and will be moving ahead with publishing them!



This is wonderful news for me, since my story "Innocent Until Proven," is in the Flash! Anthology. For which there is now cover art!! See? Isn't it pretty? (I'm so excited!)

Also, on a completely different note, MuseItUp (a wonderful Canadian e-publisher, and I say that not just because they've made the wise decisions to publish a few of my friends :) ) is putting together a free online writer's conference! How cool is that? I've already signed up and I'm really looking forward to it, although I don't think I can have A Sign in Blood ready for pitching by then. Oh, well. Anyway, I really need to get back to playing catch up! :D

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Run-by Posting

Been sick. Very busy. Deadlines to meet. Hi.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Writing Update

I got frustrated with Court of Scales and put it up for critique. Which is going very well. I've got tons of new things to think about for it, and the feedback has been mostly good with just enough of the not-so-good that I know what needs to be worked on. Which is the point, after all! :D

I've started editing A Sign in Blood. It feels really good to be working on it again. I wish I was doing a more comprehensive edit, actually, but I'm just adjusting the first three chapters and fixing some problems later in the story that I recently realized. Then up it, too, will go for critique and I'll edit from there. Maybe chapter by chapter, maybe not, depending on what catches my interested between now and then.

As always, lots of crits to do. Man, the stories so many people are missing out on! Somebody should publish this stuff! :D

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Character Profile: Meet Rucient

He's from Born of This Soil. I'm world building the book to get ready for National Novel Writing Month and Rucient is one of a number of characters I'm working my way through.



His people evolved from rodents somewhat like the capybara. For centuries, their people have been travelers, moving across the world because they believe that knowing the world means knowing one's place in it. It's not uncommon for groups to settle down in a area, live there several years and then move on.

In the last war the Inscari people were separated into two groups and the northern group was taking a beating because they were trapped between warring nations. The southern tribe risked everything, mounting massive raids in order to draw attention away from the northern tribe, who then evacuated to the south along river routes. The incident was not without casualties, but three of the northern tribes survived to reach the safety of the southern mountains.

However, due to politic pressures, border disputes, and the tough spot that Rucient's tribe are in, they feel they've reached Journey's End and have chosen a final home. This isn't unusual, and sometimes smaller groups break away to continue the journey. For the most part, Rucient's people are adapting to an agrarian (sort of) lifestyle. The past hasn't let go of all his people, though. There are smaller tribes among them who feel that the wounds of the wars must be repaid. These tribes earn their livings largely from raiding other nearby cultures.

Concerned about their sibling tribes, the larger tribe has recruited their people's version of a monk to serve as the ambassadors/missionary to these smaller tribes. The larger tribe wants recognition, the respect given another countries, rather than the treatment of outcasts. It's their belief that this is the only way to prevent the same things from happening again. And it's vital that they accomplish this, especially with the rumbles between Roth'Andol and Pyrana (the two countries their mountains are between).

Rucient is one such monk, deployed to convince his assigned tribe that it's through peace that they'll gain safety. It's a tough job, but Lyllian is a bright spot. She's an unapologetic thief (although she never steals from her own people) and though she supports the raiding, she and Rucient have grown close. But can their relationship survive the coming struggles, and the distance that will soon separate them?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Busy, busy, busy.

I've been writing a lot of articles lately, which has sucked time from other things. You know, like blogging. :D

I'm now on my last edit of Court of Scales. I've managed to restore the 5,000 words I deleted! Some of it is better than before, although I'm not all that happy with other bits. Anyway, it just needs a grammar/style/wording/spelling run-through before I post it for crit. Of course, the way I do it, that could take me a couple days and they probably won't be consecutive. *shakes head at self* I can write fast, but I think I edit slow.

I haven't forgotten my character experiment. I've been working on it in spare moments (Gee, I need some more of those), but it's getting pretty long and so far I've only been writing the first character. I'm not sure how or when I'm going to post it, but I'll figure it out.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Crap.

I just lost 5,000 words worth of story. Blip. Gone. I have a backup, but it doesn't have any of the edits I'd been slaving away on.

*weeps*

Monday, May 10, 2010

Seven Most Interesting Deaths

The lovely Jean Davis tagged me to come up with my seven favorite character deaths, whether in something I've written or read. This took a lot of thought for me. What constitutes death? I mean, does total erasure of previous personality and memories, or change to their actual physical form, count as a death? What about psychotic break? If the character has convinced herself that she is someone else (and I don't see her ever recovering), does that count?

I guess killing my characters isn't the worst I do to them. :D Of course, many of my own character's deaths are in unpublished stories. :( And I don't want to spoil them. So, I'm going to stick with deaths from things I've read. Although, "death" might be a debatable term in some of them.

1. My first pick is classic: Gollum. It's just such a perfect end to his arch, to his obsession. Frodo can't throw the ring into Mt. Doom, but Gollum can't live without it, and so he has to die with it. I think it's even better because it's not a conscious choice. There's no heroism in what Gollum does, only the ever present need to possess the one ring. It's been his constant drive and, though he may have wished it different, in the end he gets what he wants. Briefly, but forever.

2. The second is from a short story called The Troll by T.H. White. It isn't that the death itself is so momentous, just that it's so well described. The main character witnesses a troll eat a woman, and the description is so filled with a sense of mundane horror--that such an awful, grotesque thing could happen in the middle of a perfectly lovely inn, on a perfectly mundane trip--that it almost makes you believe it. The main character, half-convinced of his own madness and yet not enough so that he can ignore his fear, is so real you can almost taste him. And so can the troll. :D

3. My next favorite death comes from Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy, and how could it not? I don't want to spoil too much, but the books are about necromancers who, instead of raising the dead, are charged with laying them to rest. In the last book, the quest to lay a certain spirit to rest takes two of the characters beyond death's last gate, and they find themselves in death's final, irresistible, domain. All who look upon the heavens there are forced to face their own mortality, and to go when it's their time. Ready or not. I'm sure you can imagine how many people and things aren't ready to go, in a book about necromancers.

4. Next, I have to go with the death of everyone at the party in Poe's Masque of the Red Death. It's beautifully written, and I love his portrayal of the party-goers and their horror, and his description of the inexorable Red Death. It's one of those stories that just hits buttons... and stops clocks. :D

5. And, for something lighter, the "death" of wizards in Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles. It's not permanent, but it's quick and clean. Well... it's clean: just water and lemon juice, and you can wash that wizard right out of your hair.

6. There are many interesting deaths on Terry Pratchett's Discworld, but I have to say my favorite is the death of the wizard Wendel Poon in Reaper Man. As ready as he is to go, and though he dies, he's just not very good at staying that way. Poor Wendel.

7. Last, we come to the "death" of Coretti, from William Gibson and John Shirley's The Belonging Kind. This is one of those instances where "death" is a debatable term. But, Coretti as we know him at the story's beginning doesn't exist by the end, and it's a fascinating story.

Whew! *wipes sweat from brow* That wasn't as easy as I made it look, but it was fun! Thanks for the tag, Jean!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Busy is Better than Bored

I haven't gotten much fiction writing done this week, but I have gotten a few things submitted. I've done some non-fiction writing, and managed to crit a few things (there's always more do! :D ). I have been thinking about the fiction, though. You can't tear me away from it entirely.

Court of Scales is slow going, but once I have a little more free time I think I'll be able to make some progress. It really isn't as far from ready as I keep thinking it is, so it's my hope that I'll breeze through it and get it up and critted. I've also been thinking about A Sign in Blood and what it needs before I can get it moving again. I don't know when I'll have time to do it, but at least by then I'll know what I'm doing. Well, one hopes. :D

Today, however, there will be no writing. I'm taking my mom to the the botanical gardens for some fresh air, (hopefully obscured) sunshine, and a lot of picture taking because we both love that.

Happy Mother's Day everybody! :D

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Feeling Better

I'm still catching up on everything. I got those articles done, and some crits. Although I still have more to do, but that's an ongoing thing! :D I even got about 1,000 words written. Here's hoping for more!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Owie.

Due to a pain flare up, I'm probably not going to be active for the next few days. I don't want to get into it, but I'm all owie, which makes it difficult to concentrate. I'm going to try do crits, and there's a few paying articles I absolutely have to work on, but other than that, don't expect much from my corner of cyberspace for a few days.

I hope y'all are doing well though!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Writing Exercise

I've decided that the aspect of my writing I want to work on next is characterization, and so I've devised a little exercise to start with. I'm going to create five different characters from various backgrounds. For each character I'll write their introductory paragraph five times, each time with them in a different occupation. My hope is that this will help me see how the characters remain the same and how they change, given that one variable.

I think it will also give me a little practice introducing characterization through different methods. What is the character's essential view, and how is it expressed when tempered by or applied to different areas? A cop will see things differently than a crook, but a single character could be faced with the choice of going either way. How would that decision, as well as the occupation it led them into, change their characterization?

I hope to have some interesting results. I'm going to take it character by character, but I'll share the results on Friday, and see what I've learned from the experiment. At the very least, I'll probably get some story ideas out of it! :D

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Editing: Court of Scales

Last night I finished switching Court of Scales from first person present to third person past. It was a fiddly initial pass and I still have other things I need to do--making sure the story elements line up, making sure the characterizations come through, making sure everything is described so someone who isn't me can 'see' it, etc.

Then, all day today I agonized, because every time I sat down and opened up the story I couldn't think what to do with it. Literally. I just sat there staring at it, or avoiding staring at it. I couldn't wrap my head around working on it. I couldn't even get my fingers to type. They sat on the keyboard, poised, and did nothing while I stared.

I kept coming back to it though, over and over. Trying to figure out how to proceed. It's not the first short story I've edited and it's not that difficult a story. But something about it bothered me, and I couldn't figure out what.

Hours later, having come back to it several times, I got sick of it and deleted the entire first paragraph. And, lo and behold, suddenly the story made sense again! I had started in the wrong place, with the wrong thing, and because of that every time I looked at the story, I couldn't move past it.

The killer is that I knew this. In the back of my mind, where it waited fairly quietly until BANG! I had complained about the story to my fiance several times and every time I said things like "I just look at the first paragraph and can't get any further." *shakes head at self* Sometimes it goes that way.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Favorite Genres

I'd have to say my favorite is urban epic fantasy.

I love cities. Especially ones that have been around for a while, that have that sense of history free-floating in the air. Sometimes it's so thick you feel as if you could breathe it in. I love concrete, and crumbling bricks, and carved stone. And I love fantasy. I love hero/ines, and mythic creatures, and epic deities. Mostly, I love to shove the two things together as often as possible.

But, I also don't think it always has to be in a contemporary setting, or even one based on earth. Which is why urban epic fantasy is my favorite thing to write. I love the idea of the ancient city, a hub of politics, trade, cultures, and plots. It holds a mystery for me and I enjoy writing the characters as they navigate and explore.

I think it brings a modern feel to the story, without it being contemporary and without my having to be bound to one world. And the cultures are mine to puzzle through, just the way I like it. I'd like to explore some other genres, Steampunk for one, and eventually I'd like to do some modern re-tellings of myth and fairy tales. But I think urban epic fantasy will always hold a special place for me.

What about y'all? What your favorite genre/sub-genre, and what about it speaks to you?

Inaugural Post

Well, I'm still getting things set up, but here's my new web presence. :D It looks comfy here, and there's room to lounge, never a bad thing. I'll probably be fiddling with the settings and the look. I haven't quite decided what sort of content I want to concentrate on, other than "writing-related," but I'll figure that out as I go.

Wish me luck!