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Back in the day

6 Mar

Is there anything more groan-inducing than opening up an old manuscript and realizing just how terrible it is?

No, I take it back. It wasn’t terrible. I liked the story, I liked the characters, but oh my god, technically, what a hot mess. Five years–just five!–and the damage was just unbelievable.

Things at which I was more terrible than I am now, apparently, complete with ranty tumblr moments from me and various others on these subjects.

-Overwriting. Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick, how many actions does a character need to commit in one sentence? NO ONE IS PAYING ATTENTION AFTER THE FIRST ONE.

-Similarly: excessive description. Especially when you’ve already described them once. What the hell is this, Dickens? Move on, already! Delete. No one cares.

-Epithets. Okay honestly, I never used these a lot since I started submitting stuff; I’ve hated them for some time thanks to some very clever betas and fellow RPers. However, even titles can get just… bad. Even ‘the Secretary’ and ‘the Inquisitor’ are hard to follow after a while, man.

-Who the hell is talking? Okay, I still get accused of this a lot, but wow. Just. Wow.  Related: tags. Terrible, terrible tags. Hissing words, laughing words, snorting words.

No, Katey. Just. No. That is not a thing that happens.

-Looking. Looking at this, looking at that. Stop, okay, Katey? If you describe something we know the PoV character is LOOKING AT IT. Who else would be? Oh right!

-In a similar vein: filter words. “She felt” “he thought” “he knew” “he saw”… no shit, Sherlock, who did I think was feeling and seeing the crap I was describing? It’s tight third person limited PoV–there is only one possibility! (Assuming I wrote the PoV right. Which, well, at least I didn’t fuck that up!)

-Passivity. Passive voice can be used to such great effect, but I feel like shaking it off as a default has been pretty much the longest process of my entire writing life.

Now I look at this list and wonder, five more years down the road, what horrors will I find in my current works? Ah, it’s the fate of the writer to grow up in public a little bit, I suppose. Bless editors. Bless you all. And bless people who’ve hired me to edit between now and then, because thanks to you I have my little Elements of Style book memorized. And though many of its rules are outdated, it’s still the solid foundation it was back in the day!

Le sigh!

Please do not consider this a writing advice post, but do consider it me taking the piss out of myself. As an editor myself, these days, I find it necessary to reassure authors that I’m not just being mean and I TOTALLY understand where they’re coming from. Let this stand as proof. Because god, that only took a few days to edit up, but it felt like years.

The Boy Who Talked Through Books

16 Feb

Silly ass emo-post coming. I am so goddamn exhausted it’s a wonder I’m not flooding the world with these right now, but I’ll keep ‘em to a minimum, promise.

Well over a year ago–wait, no it was two!–I did a post about visiting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grave. There’s a very brief mention there of me leaving him a thank you note, but I don’t think I talked about what I was thanking him for. So this is it:

Liam is the boy who talks through books. He’s introverted and–not a loner, because he has his best friend and his brothers, and that’s all he’s ever needed. He’s bad at feelings, because, you know. He’s 20 and fairly repressed. The way he connects to the world, the easiest way to get him to empathize or understand, is through literary analogy. He does it to himself fairly often.

F. Scott Fitzgerald comes up a lot.

I watched him until he faded into the dark, wondering if this goddamn uncomfortable mixed-up feeling made me the resentful, admiring Nick Carraway to his effortless, romantic Jay Gatsby.

Pretty standard Liamthought, there. After a particularly heady evening:

Jesus, that was the kind of night you read about in books full of champagne and jazz and rich kids with nothing better to do than fuck each other in every way imaginable. My Great Gatsby analogy coming back to haunt me.

That’s what you get for making shit literary references, Liam. Way to go.

And Gianni, being a clever bastard, picks up on this and starts doing it for him.

Gianni went on, “It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I did very well, in spite of my name.” I didn’t get his meaning, so I made a face. “You don’t see many Italian names in an F. Scott Fitzgerald book, do you? Poor and savage—not precisely Ivy League material. Not that the years have changed things that much.”

My old Gatsby analogy strikes again. I grinned.

“The respectable WASPs—even the rich Irish Catholic boys, few though they were—couldn’t abide us, though we were just as American as their own brats.” His smile suggested the memories weren’t unhappy, for all that. “But I was smart, charming, and most importantly, rich enough that they couldn’t often get away with calling me a dirty little wop in polite society. Not so long as I stayed away from their sisters, daughters, and wives.”

I grinned, imagining that he didn’t generally oblige them on that point.

“I was a bit of a novelty, in a penny dreadful way. Boys fought over who would be my friend.” There, he started to smirk. “I had a lot of fun, when I wasn’t being bored to death.”

“But?”

“Such a ridiculous little world. I hated it.”

“No Long Island girls and Harvard boys?”

“Not even lazy, good-looking, aristocratic Princeton could tempt me.”

His tone spoke of quotation, so I asked, “What’s that from?”

This Side of Paradise.” More smirking, a little more smug.

I loved when he did that to me. I was never sure if that was because it fed my ego that he went out of his way to speak my language, or if it was just that his brain was generally sexy.

Probably a little of both. I gave him his point, anyhow: “Haven’t read that one.”

“You had better. I think it’s about you in a past life.”

There are a lot of other occurrences of this kind of thing, but the FSF thread continues all the way to the end. (That bit right there is about in the middle.) It’s perfect common ground, since Gianni is a product of the Jazz Age himself. The Gatsby analogies were in early drafts, but the thread stopped there; only with those last few did it make it all the way through to This Side of Paradise and tie it up for me.

Or maybe it tied them up, since this scene is probably the first where they come to a real understanding.

So the note I left at the grave that first time said thank you for the awesome books, of course. And then I said thank you for tying up mine, because I couldn’t do it on my own. I tried for ten years, believe me.

I don’t know, but the first place I sent Liam after that was Belfire. And. Wahey. It’s a thing. So FSF is the unofficial patron saint, and I don’t care how fucking silly it is, because I like it. (And so does Liam. Hell, even G approves, and he is not a fan of saints, god knows.)

So today while I was in Rockville I stopped by to visit again. I didn’t write another note. Like dude has time for my notes–if there’s an afterlife he’s sitting in a hot tub drinking Dom Perignon from a coupe glass and fighting eternally with Zelda. But you know. Had to be done.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's grave, St. Mary's, Rockville

Independent Adventures in Faerie

13 Aug

This is sort of my writing-and-publishing operations blog, so I’m going to ramble a bit here about the experience of producing my first ever self-published series, Fairy Compacts. It’s a Katey Hawthorne series, but it’s still more relevant to this blog. Pooooooossibly a TL;DR post, but hey.

The Dangers of Fairy Compacts by Katey Hawthorne

Cover by C. Bernard

Quick background: I wrote the first novella in the series, The Dangers of Fairy Compacts as a freebie for the MM Romance group at Goodreads. The idea was that people would post a prompt to go with a picture, and authors would claim a prompt and photo that appealed to them. I managed to score this one, posted by Miya Kressin, a fellow fae lover and author. I wrote it, it was super-fun, and of course it spawned a little trilogy in my brain before it had even gone up at the group.

Okay, so, that’s the catch-up bit done. When I came back from Italy earlier this year, I did up an indiegogo campaign to scrape together some funds for a pal in some trouble. Loads of her friends and professional acquaintances donated books for giveaways, but that was a sort of raffle ticket perk–I needed something everyone could be guaranteed for their contribution. Seeing as this was going to be a largely romance-reader community effort, and I had these two planned-but-unwritten fairy romance novellas in the back of my mind, I figured what the hell. Perks!

Now, as I learned last year when creating the promotional chapbook for Scripped, putting my own work out there presents a totally different set of challenges than editing and even publishing work by others. I’m not even close to being an old hand at the latter, but Morrigan Books and The Red Penny Papers have got me some experience there, at least–not to mention that all of my publishers so far have to varying degrees let me have a hand in the production process. What little experience I have, however, has taught me that publishing in general is an undertaking fraught with peril. There’s art to consider and commission; there are beta reads, structural edits, line edits, and proofing; there’s formatting to wrangle; there’s paying the bills on time all the time; there’s pre-promotion and proper promotion; there’s distribution and royalties to divvy; there’s social media out the ass–or death.

All of which is my idea of a good time–when it’s for someone else. (No, actually, I don’t mind the social media and promotion aspect for my own stuff, but that’s another post for another time.)

The rest of that stuff? That’s the stuff that requires

1. Fresh eyes and perspective. As in, things I do not have when it comes to my own stories. Never have, never will. I rely on others to tell me if I am saying what I hoped to say.

2. Experience, particularly in business matters. No matter how much I gain, someone else will always have more. And I need it. It makes me feel safe, goddammit.

3. Organization. I make a lot of lists, but when it comes to my own stuff, my lists are plotty and charactery and decidedly not operational. (On the other hand, you should see my elaborate RPP operations lists. My god.) Related: the time to organize.

I don’t think I lack confidence in my work, especially. Yeah, I go on those binges where I hate everything and I suck and blah blah, but for the most part I don’t even think about that stuff. It’s pointless, because I’m going to write it anyhow (I genuinely cannot stop and never could–every time I’ve tried it’s been god awful), and I learned a long time ago that it wasn’t worth driving myself any crazier than I already am over something I can’t change. I’m more of a leap before I look kind of girl in that sense–out of necessity. Not particularly confident, just not particularly, um, thinky.

I do, however, know my limitations, and they are neatly described above as no.s 1, 2, and 3. I don’t think it signifies a lack of confidence to recognize that you require no. 1 not to suck; to me this seems pragmatic. And since being good at telling stories is my main concern when it comes to my own work, no.s 2 and 3 are naturally secondary and get pushed aside impatiently. Which is what I say when anyone asks me why they might want to court a publisher when they could just do it themselves–and why I’ve always known I’d be better off with a publisher, if I could find one brave or stupid enough to take a chance on me. Because I know (at least some of) my limitations.

Not true for everyone, and it shouldn’t be, for so many reasons. God, to think of the excellent self-published books I would’ve missed out on otherwise–no, no, no. This is all very me, and me alone.

Life as a Fairy Thrall by Katey Hawthorne

Cover art by Ruxandra Lache

So when I decided to continue the Fairy Compacts thing myself, I was pretty nervous. The first story was  (and is) free for all, and the MM group had proofreaders that kindly went over things. I’ve done a few little freebies before like that for my boys from Equilibrium, and Editrix Raven went over those for me because she’s awesome. But these new FC books, these would be perks for which someone  contributed their hard earned money to a cause that was really important to me. If they were disappointed* with them, I’d feel horrible. Production is on me!

Enter John and Meghan, the best editors ever, and Ruxandra, the wonderful artist who did all three illustrations and the cover within a week of my talking to her about it.

Even knowing I had them up my sleeve, I was up in the air for a while on how to proceed. What do I do with these books after they’re perks? I’m a writer, I like telling people stories, so I’d like to make them more widely available. Do I send them to my publisher and see if they’re interested in doing an omnibus? After all, it’s a small run if they’re just used for perks, they might be willing to reprint. I sort of felt them out (admittedly, on accident), and they seemed willing to have a look. It’d reach a wider audience if they said yes…

I talked it over with some writer-friends and B (my bastion of business sense and practicality), and they sort of smacked me upside the head. “You’re already doing all the work–not to mention paying for it. Just sell it yourself!” With all my other concerns about trusting myself to publish, all that was left was that vs. the prospect of a wider audience, basically.

So I figured, Fuck it, I’ll be brave this once, and there it is. The first (read: perk special!) edition went out last night–and let me tell you, brave, intrepid, and frankly revolutionary independent authors out there: you fucking win at life. I have always been a huge supporter of author-controlled and produced stories, but actually having the guts to do it myself this week has given me a whole new level of love and appreciation. This shit is intense. And I love you for doing it.

Of course, the regular version of Fairy Thrall won’t be on sale til September, so we’ll see if I’m still feeling so optimistic about my own adventures after that happens. But damn dude. Damn. Hardcore adventure time.

And in closing, it’s been brought to my attention that my tendency to ramble on at length about my reasons for doing writer-career-type things can come off as defensive. I always think I’m coming off like an arrogant dumbfuck, so was actually glad to hear it. But the truth is–and I think you guys will feel me on this–that there aren’t a lot of people in my life with whom I can talk about these things without putting them into a coma, which is the age-old problem of writers everywhere. Talking it through both feels good and helps me to organize my thoughts; pathetically enough, I’m not looking for approval, just a conversation with a friend who gets it. Tooooooooooootally not asking for anyone to tell me it was okay to try something different and *patpat* you did good honey. (You can ask Raven–when I want that, I ask for it outright. I literally email her and say, “Please pat me on the head and tell me I did good because I’m freaking out right now.”) Just talking about an interesting experience to which I figured people who’d see this could relate and ideally have experiences of their own in the same vein to talk back about. Because, you know. Humans. We’re like that!

*Side note: of course every book disappoints some readers, which is a fact of being an author with which I have become very comfortable, if no less happy, over the course of this year. I just mean disappointed in a way I could’ve controlled from a QA perspective.

I hear voices

25 Jul

Been a while since I rambled about writing, but hey. Why not!

Here, soundtrack:

People talk a lot about voice. Find your voice. Use your voice. Respect the voice. As an editor, that’s kinda my first rule: I’m not here to do anything but make sure the author is communicating what they mean to communicate in their own, individual voice. I guess it sounds pretentious in a way, but I don’t give a shit, because it’s true. There’s nothing like a writer that, no matter what the story, I can recognize their voice in it.

But here’s where things get tricky, especially if you go in for first person: what about character voice?

Wait, wait, don’t get me wrong, it’s an issue in third too, but I’ll get to that in a second. When you write a lot of first person*, like I do, it makes for paranoia. Just to use the vampire books as an example, since it’s currently relevant, James can’t sound like his big brother Liam. They’re from the same family, they share a lot of history, a lot of traits, even, but they’re opposites in more ways. How disappointing it would be to read Liam and then James and realize: wait, they both just sound like the author. Or worse, Liam and then Madison or Gianni, who really have nothing in common, background-wise.

Ah, that’s why first person’s tricky. It’s not the author telling the story. It’s the character. And yet…

I think about it a lot with the romance novels, too. The superpowered ones are all first person. The first is an econ grad student nerd, the short stories that follow are his post-jock boyfriend, the second is a quiet book shop manager, the third is an everybody-loves-me popular partyboy. This gets even weirder with the next two planned: the fourth is an arrogant, angry young special agent, the fifth is a disenfranchised redneck… who just did a stretch in a federal pen.

They can’t sound like me, and yet, they must in some ways. The only way I can really describe it is like method acting. I try and get into the role. That can fuck with my head because frankly I am not the most stable human being (shock and surprise, I know), but luckily B makes for a fabulous anchor. But it’s a weird ass balance between me and them. When I draft, I surrender to them. Then I wonder, am I fucking it up or making it better when I go back through more objectively a month or two later and fix it up?

Then there’s third person, which is actually what made me think about this today. I guess most of you know by now I tend to do the RP thing. I’ve talked before about how I think that sharpened some of the skills I hold most dear as a writer–so have some of my friends. But today I actually just picked up a new character (for the record: Fantomex–yeah, I’m having a love affair right now, it’s true) and I was like, “Fuck. How does he refer to himself, name-wise?” As in, when I’m writing supertight third person, how do I refer to him? Fantomex, his chosen code-name? Jean-Philippe (the totally fake French name he randomly selected for himself)? Charlie-Cluster 7 (the designation he was given as an experiment–he’s got a Weapon X/Weapon Plus history, yeah)? Wouldn’t be a problem if this was in first person (which all his thoughtboxes in the comics obviously are, so no help there)–how he introduces himself to others depends on where he is and whom he’s with. But this, in his head (in his multiple brains… anyhow…), man. Different story.

Awesome, right? Well, frustrating. But still. Gets the brain going.

What the hell am I talking about? I dunno, I just like talking about this shit, since it’s what I think of all day. How much thought do y’all put into PoV, how do you like to write it–anything on the subject, love to hear it.

*For the record, like most people, my default is third. There’s a reason why I use first when I use first, but that’s another post altogether.

Genrethought

4 Jun

Random writerly thinky-thoughts that y’all have probably had before, hence the sharing, as usual:

We’re all forced to think in terms of genre. Well, saying “forced” is bad, because as much as the willful punk in me wants to say “fuck the labels!” the truth is that I find them handy when applied to objects. People, eh, not so much, but what can you do? The problem is that books are as complex as people — as many people, depending on how many characters, places, and important objects we’re talking about living in those pages. Thing is, without genre and subgenre labels, I would never discover any books for myself. Yeah, I do tend to go on recommendation, but there are also certain words that’ll draw me to books I’ve never heard of before, especially in the right combination, and in a broad way, that’s what genre’s all about. “A world without genre” sounds fucking awful, let’s be serious.

Writers complain all the damn time about genre and how it makes them feel restricted. Writers are readers first (well, the ones with a hope of being any good are), though, and that means they also understand perfectly well the usefulness of genre labels, and are just as likely to be annoyed or even depressed when their expectations for a given label are dashed by a book. To use a shockingly self-centered example — people who’ve read the superpowered romance I do are usually surprised, be it pleasantly or unpleasantly*, at how little my main characters are bothered to explain, justify, and in some cases utilize their powers in the pre-approved and oft-utilized mode of modern paranormal romance.

And that’s okay, because you gotta do things your own way, or it’s fake. I can smell a faker within the first few pages of a book, and it’s cringey; I don’t want to be that guy. The story itself is a communication, a connection, a conversation**, but how to know if it’s one you want to have? Yes, self-centered artiste, your Great American Novel really is the wank your family thinks it is, if that’s how you’re gonna be about it.

So, okay, fine. What do you do if there’s just no good subgenre that’ll set people up for expectation? I think that’s why most of us who like working with the more specialized, independent publishers are so comfortable there, to be honest. They’re not concerned that your book is one half urban fantasy one half horror with an unhealthy romantic subplot — they just want the good story. I knew going in with Scripped (because yeah, that’s an accurate description of it, genre-wise) that I’d disappoint someone’s expectations, genre-wise. That sucks, but it’s okay, too. Part of the job, and at least I know I made a good faith effort to try and explain to people what they’d be getting into with it.

I’m staring down the barrel of Katey Hawthorne’s fourth romance novel right now, as I may have mentioned because eeeee! Ahem. Anyhow, if my first three were weird as hell for the genre, this one is even more left field. Instead of taking the real world and adding a quantifiable paranormal element, with all the rules and regulations that entails, I’m making a magical element straight out of folktales and forcing it to be taken as real. That sounds like the same thing, but it’s not, in terms of reader expectation or author intention. Like, not at all.

So that sounds like magical realism. But it’s also not, because there’s just way too much history that confuses the definitions there; there’s the post-colonial baggage, which can either imply misappropriation*** or political intention, be it casual or pointed; there’s the implication that it’s someone just trying to shake off the supposedly low-rent “fantasy” label (which is a ridiculous black-and-white way to look at it — plus, have you met me?); and of course there’s the fact that it’s not quite right.  Yeah, there’s the appropriate amount of metaphor involved, and the magic exists to challenge the readers’ reality construct — but the characters, though they have far less work to do and far less intention of explaining it to themselves, are aware that the world they live in doesn’t accept it, either. The point is: there it is, and it’s not actually a big deal, and it never should be. Still, that kinda DQs it from MR.

Plus, who wants to explain magical realism? Fuck, ain’t no one who can, as far as I’ve seen; I just kinda go with my gut based on the million and twelve articles I’ve read on the subject.

My question is: how do you reconcile these things for your readers as best you can? (Cuz if I’m not willing to do that, I don’t deserve their consideration, let alone their hard-earned cash.) Also, how much in terms of flowers and chocolate is it appropriate to send to your publisher for thanking them for taking the massive chance on your book and giving it a go?

I don’t know, man, but I’m open to suggestion. All I could think of was to let the book describe itself, so that’s what I did in my superpowered love post today. But I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, because I know the people who mostly see this deal with the same questions daily.

Phew. And in closing, I’m inclined to think that those who call romance shallow trash are, in fact, the shallow ones. They’re clearly not fucking paying attention, because this shit makes you question everything — yeah, in a different way than horror or fantasy or sci fi, but come on, just listen for three seconds and it’s obvious. God forbid someone gets kissed instead of gutted. Therefore, I’d like to take this opportunity to cordially invite them to go fuck themselves. While I’m on the subject.

*Both are cool. Hell, I still have trouble believing people let me entertain them like this at all, let alone that they’d star or review the things; I will be the last to complain about any view of it. Too busy groveling.

**I don’t believe in stories that must be taken a certain way. No room for interpretation? That’s just propaganda.

***It’s an anglo folktale I’m using, the kind of sea-bride thing, but I mean misappropriation of the classification label.

On Revisions and the Wanky Bits

22 May

First up, free fiction. The lovely Dagan Books folks are posting many of the Cthulhurotica V. 1 stories to the website just now, and mine, which is a bit of a shipwreck tale, is available now. Yay! Check it here:

Transfigured Night

In an interview we did for the blog when the book dropped, we were asked to pick one line from the story. I picked this one: “I either need to jerk off more, or throw myself into the ocean and get it over with.” But it’s scary, promise! It sprang from a re-reading of Lovecraft’s “The Temple”, for the record. A pretty, dead boy with a creepy artifact. You know I’m all over it.


In other news, revisions are done. ALL the revisions. Both vicious vampireboy Liam and my newly accepted romance novel, By the River, got facelifts. While Liam was me getting rid of some of my bad habits and paring things down yet again, River was me getting rid of some of my bad habits, but mostly plumping . I added 5k to that fucker — and it was only 25k to start.

Oh, what an illustration of the kind of writer I was and the kind of writer I have become. I’m nowhere near finished in this evolution and I never will be til I finally drop, but it’s telling, that’s for damn sure.

When I first wrote Liam it was like 120k. I was 20 or 21 years old and had only written for my best friend’s eyes and my own amusement before that. Really, that was for my own amusement too, but then I started writing fanfiction and people seemed to like it. No one was more surprised than me. One of these awesome people, Sue Penkivech, asked to see my original stuff and was like, “Hey, this is good!”

(Yep. It’s her fault.)

I worked on it for years before trying a few queries (I do mean, like, five), but the response was always the same: “This is really good, but too long for what it is.” I was totally lost, of course, because someone telling you, “Just cut a few [notes] and it’ll be perfect,” when you have zero idea what you’re doing — I don’t know, they might as well be speaking Moon Language or something. How does one cut a bit? Which bit? I give up, I’m writing another book!

I did. Like, loads of them. I actually have no idea  how many books I’ve written and I fear it would horrify me to find out. The count from last year alone made me want to sleep for days. The material point is that I learned not only how to cut, but how to not write the bits that need cut (which I affectionately refer to as “the wanky bits” — the bits no one but the author gives a shit about, therefore, author wank) in the first place.

Liam had long since been pared to a svelte 85k when I finally worked up the courage to send him off to Belfire last year. This last little runthrough wasn’t even really a revision, more a bit of tinkering to take out all the times I used “felt” constructions (we know it’s Liam feeling it — he’s telling the goddamn story!) or too many -ing constructions. Tweaking some of the language that felt off, that kind of thing.

Which leads me to the revisions I just sent to my romance editor for River. It’s a tiny little magical realist love story, quite different from the other romance novels I’ve done — equally simple, but a bit more with the pretty and emo. And my revision notes from Raven and TPTB were mostly* along the lines of: “More, please.”

I’m thinking, “But… I didn’t write the wanky bits. You want me to put them in?”

And then I answered myself (oh, you know you do it too), “Those aren’t wanky, Kate. Those are character development. It’s kind of important.”

That 5k I added was already written in my head at one time or another. I had considered upping the conflict with one of the boys’ family. I had thought about showing a little more in the bedroom (if you haven’t read one of those things, I’m a big proponent of the sex scene as a window into a character’s personality — what the hell else is it there for?). I had considered writing out a tense scene that I off-paneled.** But I thought, “Nah, no one wants to read that.” With this editorial directive, I added all of it in, and oh my god, this book is so. much. better.

And so I finally come to the point — speaking of wanky bits, but hey, that’s what a blog is for. I have officially swung the other direction. All four of my romance novels this year have had similar notes. (Though I do take it as a sign that I’m improving with that, even, since the notes went from “this scene and that scene” to a general “more, please”.)

Will I find the middle ground? Of course I’ll never please everyone, but to please the people for whom I’m specifically writing and maybe even myself would be lovely. Or will I swing back the other direction and start spilling authorwank like so many (who shall not be named but yes, I am looking at you, epic fantasy) others?

I have no idea. But we all know that awesome feeling of looking back and saying, “Okay, I figured that out, at least.” So I got that going for me.

 

*The other one was: “Can the MC possibly be less of a moron at this bit?” Good point. Poor Adam, he is a bit clueless.

**I don’t know what that’s called, off-panel is a comic book term. Um… off-stage? D’oh.

Because I can’t resist a map…

11 May

I spent most of my week doing my final combthrough with Liam. It was a weird experience since I haven’t really seen it since I submitted it back in… whenever. Last year sometime. Had a great time with it, though. Getting all excited.

Anyhow, I’ve got vamps on the brain, and I’m still kind of wistful about Italy, so I figured I’d do a little combo post. One of my kind of back-of-the-brain things the whole time I was 0n vacation.

So of course the Italian word for Florence is Firenze–the outdated version being Fiorenza. In the books, the growing “family” of vampires would be the Fiorenzas, which if you’ve seen the website will be abundantly clear. A lot of times I just pick names because they sound right, but that one was deliberate. They’re from Florence originally–which is pretty rare in the US, as most of the Italians who came in the early 1900s were southern or Sicilian. A namechange at Ellis Island was standard (see the “O”s and “Mc”s getting dropped off Irish names and Italians ending up named after their hometown all over the place), but combined with their weird provenance, probably indicative that they weren’t your average immigrants, this well-dressed guy in his late twenties and his three-year-old nephew. Not just looking for a new start, but running from old troubles.

This is not why I wanted to go to Florence, for the record–I’m sure when I made up this whole backstory, I had no idea I’d ever actually go there, though I totally wanted to. I was living in a shitty frat house (no really), surviving on ramen and Camel Lights, and pretty sure it was going to stay that way until I dropped. But that didn’t stop me giggling when B told me the name of the place he wanted to stay:

Fiorenza
Seriously, he picked it, not me. Good though, look it up if you’re ever in town!

Anyhow. There’s not much about it in the books because Gianni has been long-forbidden by his uncle to go back to Italy, let alone the actual city. (Why, and why he actually listens, well, all will be revealed. Eventually.) But like all Americans, there’s a certain amount of clinging to “home” as somewhere else. So every now and then in Italy I’d see something  that’d make me stop and think of them. Because this is what being a writer is, and we all know it: random imaginary friends invading every aspect of your life, to the point where sometimes you can’t even watch TV or look at a painting without thinking, “Huh, bet Liam likes this.” Insert-your-character-name.

Rosselli's "Fiorenza"

19th C. Copy of Francesco di Lorenzo Rosselli’s Pianta prospettica della Catena, c. 1471-1482 in the Museo Firenze com’era.* If you click to enlarge and look really close, you can even see the names of some of the landmarks written on it. “The so-called Pianta della Catena, attributed to Lorenzo Rosselli, is the first known exemplar in the history of cartography which is intended as a complete representation of the city with all its buildings and the dense network of streets and squares.”**

In Liam (and all subsequent books), there’s a wall-hanging in the Fiorenza living room in New York that’s meant to be a map like this, almost exactly. I wrote it before I even knew this painting existed and was semi-famous–in Florence, anyhow. So you know when I saw this thing on every damn coffee mug, mousepad, and everything else ever while wandering around on vacation, I stopped and grabbed the prettiest print (at the Accademia, as it happened) I could find, brought it back here, and looked that shit up.

So one of the fun things I got to do with my Liam runthrough was describe the wall-hanging much, much better than I had originally.

Yeah, I don’t know, I thought it was fun.

I bought this little map too, which is super cool, but wasn’t precisely what I needed for the book. It’ll look kickass framed on my wall, though.

Okay, I’m off to WV for the weekend. Happy mother’s day, all y’all moms out there. <3

*I didn’t go to that Museum, so I had to come home and research the fuck out of it to figure out what it was and where it was from. That sounds like I’m complaining, but no. This is my idea of a good time.

**Source: Official site of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, which I did in fact visit and adore, as I may have already mentioned.

Random genderthought moment

28 Mar

Okay so! That was a wild ass week, but I survived it, and had a good fucking time while I was at it.

I also slept for like 20 hours when it was over. I regret nothing. And I have a long and rambly thoughtpost for you, now I’m back.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I have been keeping up with things in my own magpie way, which mostly involves twitter and tumblr, since I can do them on the fly while I’m actually doing work. (Not so much editing, occasionally writing, but promoing is a definite twitter and tumblr friendly activity, I find.) An interesting but unsurprising pattern began forming last week when I saw Ro Smith’s comments on the Stardust movie via tumblr:

I really like Stardust, I just want to see the film where there’s a really pretty guy who’s enslaved by the lead character and whose one strength lies in emoting reallyhard, who is only valuable to others when in love and happy, and who falls in love with the woman who started their relationship by an act of domination…

Which is something I’ve always thought about Stardust. I actually do like the book and the movie (very, very different animals), but the fact is that it feeds into something that makes me desperately uncomfortable about lit in general at times. As she says: even though it’s otherwise very entertaining, and in a world where it wasn’t echoing a history of vast gender bias along exactly these lines it wouldn’t be problematic at all. Yvane is smart and capable and Tristan is sweet and kind – I want to be swept up in their love story, but at the back of my mind, there is always this.

And that’s my problem exactly. I think that was the day Jodi emailed me to let me know Scripped had been recommended to the Tiptree panel (not a nomination or a shortlist or anything — just, they’ll read it, which is super cool) so it was kind of extra weird, because Scripped is what it is for that exact reason. But I’ll come back to that.

Today I saw an NK Jemisin post, There’s no such thing as a good stereotype, linked via Corinne Duyvis’s twitter, and it brought it back to the forefront. That one is talking about the “strong female character” type–which for the record makes me stabby. I will never forget back in like 2005 when I first queried a much, much longer, terrible version of Liam, and was told, “People want kick-ass heroines, not literary-minded boy-vampires!” I threw up in my mouth a little, thinking of what “kick-ass heroine” usually means, and that post precisely nails my reasons why.

Obviously, I love women who kick ass–both metaphorically and physically. But yeah. When a character is wholly defined by qualities that all fall into the “stereotype” category, a writer has officially stopped trying.

Related side note: for this reason, I was really annoyed with the Starz TV show Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which a bunch of friends convinced me to finally watch two weeks ago and to which I am now addicted. The women who were “strong female characters” were backstabbing and hateful toward each other, while the “strong male characters” often formed bonds between them as friends, brothers, even lovers, that were achingly awesome. There was all kinds of meaningless orgiastic girl-on-girl, zero orgiastic guy-on-guy (hey, I’m all for exhibition sex, especially when it’s so historically relevant, but dude, treat it right). The message, though unintentional, was still encoded: women are back-biting snakes who exist to compete for the affections of men. Men, on the other hand, though oftentimes complete dicks, can also be capable of such depth and bonds of emotion that they will die for another man (or a woman, but yeah, we’re talking same sex here), in the right circumstances.

Goddamn, it’s like reading Sir Thomas Malory’s woman-hating Lancelot all over again. Or, wait, half of the shit from antiquity. Nevermind, that’s another blog post.

So yeah, there were some kick ass–and not in the physical way–women, but… they were stereotypes, for all that. And the men, who so often exhibited stereotypical qualities themselves, at least had moments where they got to break those molds.

Even Lucy Lawless naked couldn’t distract me. Guys, this is bad. And only one of the issues with that show, but whatever, it’s effectively softcore and arterial spray and I love it for all that. Um, as Liam will prove, I am the last to judge badly on the basis of softcore and arterial spray.

Season two, Spartacus: Vengeance, blows that out of the water–it’s been much better about it, with the women characters operating on much more than jealousy, lust, and betrayal and being genuinely strong as opposed to catty and mean more often than not. (I haven’t seen the prequel season they did in between, Gods of the Arena, so I can’t judge there.) Cheers to the excellent writing team for stepping up their game hardcore. My point, however, is that though there are many, many other issues there, that one bugged the shit out of me with the first season because it is everywhere in our culture. Everywhere to the point that there are people of all gender identities who actually take it for granted. Many little girls grow up thinking that boys will make better friends because girls are hateful and backstabby because this is what they are fed from childhood.

Um. No. Nonononono. (Also, this is why My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, is the best thing ever. I’m not even joking. It’s brilliant. Thanks again, Corinne <3)

Now, as both Ro’s and NK’s posts suggest, there is nothing wrong with having a hateful backstabby woman character or an emotionally powerful but ultimately submissive girl-hero. Especially when they’re not utterly defined by these things, as Yvaine, just as an example, is not, or when those things are explained as the nuanced and strong characteristics they truly are, as a submissive or supportive (not the same thing!) personality really is. I love many, many novels with these types in the spotlight, because that is not all there is to these characters, and other types are presented alongside them.

I don’t generally have my heart set on a gender identity, be it binary or not, when I first think of a character. But this all made me think, as I say, of Jonah from Scripped. (Me me me–sorry, told you it’d come back to this.) I guess if you’re familiar with him, it won’t shock you to hear that I actually plotted the thing with him as a young woman. The reasons he ended up a man will be kind of obvious after the above rambling, but I’ll lay them out and try to go light on spoilers:

1. I had it in my mind that the female fairy, Sela, must be the kidnapper/captor/torturer. (Yes, I like her best, it’s true.)

2. I had no problem with a woman capturing a woman, and said woman experiencing what amounts to Fairy Stockholm Syndrome–pretty much the whole point of the book–as a result of coming to understand and eventually love her captor.

3. I did have a slight problem with said woman-captive regaining her freedom (that needs air quotes, see also: you can never go home) and self as a result of an independently thinking man’s interference and help.

4. I also had a huge problem with said woman obsessing over… well, with how it ends, which I’d rather not say because that defeats the purpose, but let’s just say there’s a lot of lack of agency going on with Jonah at one point.

I sincerely couldn’t bring myself to write a woman in that situation. There wouldn’t have been anything wrong with it, and I’m sure she would’ve been just as interesting and infuriating as characters go. But that’s all I ever saw, growing up, and I didn’t want to do it over again. It didn’t make a single bit of difference to the plot itself, to the story, to the end result, whether that character was a man, woman, or genderqueered.

But it definitely changes the way it affects the person reading it, which is the most important half of the equation. I chose male because it didn’t rub my sensibilities the wrong way–and because the character was amenable, admittedly. (The bisexuality was non-negotiable, but hey, no complaints.) And though that might seem totally arbitrary, it’s the thing I’m happiest about with that book. And, to bring it full circle, what made me happiest about someone recommending it to Tiptree, because I was like, “Holy shit, they totally felt me, there!” Which is what every writer secretly wants more than anything ever, so yay.

So okay, now I finally come to the point: do you all ever catch yourself thinking about this stuff when you write? I love it; I mean, I feel like the whole point of writing is to question these societal constructs, subvert and challenge them by playing with expectations through fiction. I love this kind of shit, and I know I’m not the only one.

But I know some people will be annoyed by the idea, say it shouldn’t matter, or something to that effect, all of which is cool. I’m just interested in the opinions of the people who actually check out this blog because, well, that means I check out theirs, and I know y’all are smart. So hit me.

If you like.

Oh, and just for the record, I know I don’t get this shit right all the time. But I’m having a good time trying.

Vampire Science With Professor Giuseppe

21 Feb

So last week, after I grossed out all the muggles and got pats on the back from all the magical types (y’all know who you are) for my Adventures in Blood Painting, I did a post on Superpowered Science over at Katey Hawthorne’s blog. Partly because talking about that incident must bring up the battle cry, “It’s for SCIENCE!!” that came out of the incident — at least for me. That was Reenie’s reaction (that and the one I mentioned in the comments, “I want to see the painting!” We do these things to ourselves on occasion, but come on, it’s for science!

And of course that must remind me of a hobby of hers — of ours, really, though she’s the one who actually knows what she’s doing, and I am extremely codependent about it. Superhero science! My personal inspiration for this fascination, at least in its current, sharpened, rather more critical form, can be traced to Ultimate Fantastic Four — and that’s what the superpowered love post was about. So if you’re into that, hop over there and have a look at the post, because it’s kinda fun, though I say it myself:

The Fantastic (Or Why I Love Superhero Science)

It’s really about the suspension of disbelief, and how a few factual details can make all the difference. I mean, if you pick up an urban fantasy, paranormal, or magical realist type book, you’re prepared to suspend — but isn’t it so much easier when the excuses the author gives you are plausible, in a sense?

If you’re saying yes, awesome; you may also enjoy Vampire Science, a sub-field of Superpowered Science, also pioneered by Reenie some years ago while I was first trying to beat Liam into shape. Thing is, Liam himself… I mean, he’s book smart, but… okay, the guy’s kinda dumb. And Gianni, the big bad vampire, doesn’t give a shit — he’s way too busy eating people to care how he does it. He’s fucking good at it, and he makes it look fucking good — what more can anyone want from him, for the love of all things unholy?

Enter my very own mad scientist vampire, Giuseppe Fiorenza (later known as “Papa Joe” to those who love him). He spends his long nights in his basement laboratory, trying to find the answer to how and why vampires happened. He also gives a good, brief Vampire Science lesson:

“And so,” Giuseppe went on, “our bodies have developed a mechanism for absorbing the nutrients and red cells in blood plasma directly through absorptive walls in the stomach and intestines*. And that’s how we’re, ah, ‘screwed up’.”

I smiled. For a nerdy old man, he knew how to put someone at ease. At least, as much as I needed to process his point without turning into a bawling child. “Okay, so… why don’t the red  cell progenitor guys get hopped up on Elixir like everything else?”

He looked so pleased, I half expected a That’s a good question, Liam. You get a gold star. “That’s precisely what I hope to discover. If I knew, I might find a way around our dependence on foreign sources of blood.”

Whoa. Immortality without the murder. It seemed wrong. “That’s seriously far out.”

“Rather,” he agreed, with disarming enthusiasm.

Well, Jesus. Why hadn’t Gianni just said all that in the first place? Speaking of — “But, wait. If we inject our own Elixir with the bite, why doesn’t it hurt to drink from the same human?”

After it was out, I hoped that wasn’t one of those things you weren’t supposed to admit to having done in front of someone’s venerable scientist uncle. Some vampire kink thing. We’d only done it once or twice, but–

“The amount injected is minimal as it passes through the mouth, just enough to allow your system recognize it. Little enough that another vampire might assimilate it with no difficulty.”

“But if you shot up with another vampire’s blood –?”

“It would be rejected, just like anything else. Very unpleasant experience, I should imagine.”

I paused. “What if you drink from another vampire?”

That time, I actually flushed. Speaking of potential vampire kink…

“It’s inadvisable. Too much of another’s Elixir mixing with your own is, ah, well, potentially dangerous.”

Huh. Slightly embarrassing, but a good thing I asked. “So it’s another weakness? Like garlic?”

“No, nothing like that,” he said slowly, as if trying to remember. Or, I got the sudden impression, trying not to. “But it creates certain bonds that cannot be broken.”

And yeah, there’s a reason for the garlic thing, too. But don’t worry — no skin was broken in the creation of Vampire Science 101. Er, at least… not that Reenie told me about.

Right, by the way, that whole vampire thing is happening late in this year. Belfire Press. Word.

*Over half of Papa Joe’s lines in this scene were written by Irene Ballagh. Word for word. Told you I was codependent.

The Magical Source, Baby

12 Feb

The magic in Scripped is kind of an understated thing. Yeah, it takes place mostly in another world just over the edges of ours — Appalachian Faerie, right? But the magic the fae themselves perform is very small and often accidental. Whether that’s because they don’t know their own capabilities or because they have no real use for it is anyone’s guess. They tend not to ask questions, as is sad but perhaps expected in a population that’s been oppressed for a century.

Jonah — who’s been faerie-napped and is being taken apart piece by piece (both literally and figuratively) — doesn’t remember what normal is/was for  him. Faerie amnesia sucks like that. But he does know that none of  that shit is remotely near to it, and is desperate to understand how and why, unlike his captors. Letting him unravel pieces of it (while they’re unraveling pieces of him…) was part of the fun of writing it. And in a book like that, you take all the fun you can get.

Most of it is typical faerie magic. Magical food, an aversion to running water, fairy hills, but tweaked out on Appalachia big time, so they’re not quite what one might expect. Some of it was just a matter of shit that I saw elsewhere. Like the source — or at least the central part — of the fae company town’s magic, the crystal cave. Yeah, best believe I read Mary Sewart as a kid*, plus I’ve spent years stuffing my head full of new age and various other sorts of magic on the subject — hell, there’s even a theory in the paranormal/ghost hunting world that a high concentration of quartz/gypsum or crystal underground might account for residual hauntings.

So when I saw this article on crystal caves under the Chihuahua Desert in Mexico in National Geographic… how could I not go there? Seriously, check out the photo gallery. It’s amazing.

From Chapter 7: Regression Therapy

He’d thought the main cavern above impressive, and it was in its own way, but this was something else.

It was smaller, not as high or long, but completely natural. Stalactites dripped from a visible ceiling, and large pools of water collected here and there. The sound of dripping water came from everywhere, faint and elusive; the smell was sharp and metallic, like copper. Like blood.

None of that mattered, though. All that mattered were the heart-stopping crystals that grew out of the floor and walls, crisscrossing the cavern like shining white stairwells in a funhouse. Jonah reached for the wall and leaned against it, trying to take it all in over Tal’s shoulder. Their radiant glow struck him again as something impossibly pure, difficult to look at after the dark of the tunnel. Their hugeness dwarfed him, even standing above the ground, looking out and down on the cavern. He thought he should be spinning, but he wasn’t, not really.

His heart was in his throat. He could believe this might be the source of everything, all the magic in the company town, easily. “It’s beautiful.”

Tal looked over his shoulder, his face half-lit in that weird light.

It didn’t suit him; it was too bright, and Tal’s eyes were too dark. They ate the glow up hungrily and barely reflected anything back.

“Might be,” was all he said.

And I’ll stop there, since this is kind of the moment that changes everything. But yes. That’s where it came from. Thank you, National Geographic! :D

You can still invite a guest to the party and get entered to win a copy of Scripped, plus some other cool stuff, before noon on V-Day!

*Also everything Arthurian EVER. Thanks, Dad!