Saturday, March 8, 2014

Wedding Planning and All The Feels

So I've been quiet lately -- which is not particularly abnormal -- but this time I have a better excuse than normal.  You may recall that I got engaged just before Christmas.  The initial plan had been to spend a year leisurely planning a wedding and get married under some blossoming trees in early March 2015.  But, as things often do, life got in the way and circumstances required us to accelerate things quite a bit.  Now we have to get married this summer, and in a different venue than I'd anticipated. 

None of this is bad.  In fact, it's pretty exciting.  The venue is gorgeous, the food will be phenomenal, and getting married this year means I never again have to face the high tax penalties associated with being single (thanks, government).  But it also means that all of the planning is happening at the speed of light. 

I was expecting a certain degree of stress.  Planning a big event requires logistics, and there's family obligations and requests to bear in mind. 

What I was not expecting was the enormous rush of feels

That was silly of me, of course.  Just because we've been together nearly six years doesn't mean that getting married isn't still a huge step.  I'm suddenly the center of attention, receiving outpourings of love and support from every corner, and it's overwhelming and awesome and honestly a bit unsettling.  And the act of wedding planning itself is by its nature reflective and introspective (at least, the way we're doing things it is).  You have to examine traditions and discover where your values stand in relation to them.  You have to look carefully at yourself and your relationship and sort out what's important to you and why. 

And as a writer, it's quite possible that I'm over-thinking this entire thing.  Because I'm approaching this wedding situation very much the way I might approach a new book: I'm looking at theme, and every step of the way I'm cross-checking to make sure that the "message" of this event is true to my intentions. 

The whole thing is exhilarating and exhausting, and it's filling up my head with so many thoughts and feels that I can hardly concentrate on anything else.  Which, let me tell you, is making work pretty difficult.  It doesn't help that I have an absurdly heavy workload right now anyway.  I was stressing about it before I fell face-first into wedding planning.

Anyway.  I suppose all of this is a way of saying: I've fallen into a black hole called wedding planning, and it may be a long time until I resurface.  Wish me luck ;)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Read an Ebook Week!

All this week, Smashwords is running a special promotion to urge more people to give ebooks a shot.  So, until March 8, all of my books are totally FREE on Smashwords.  If you've been wanting to pick up a copy but haven't had the chance yet, now is a good time to do it!

To find my books, click here.  Then, when you check out, apply coupon code "RW100" to get your FREE ebook.  It's that easy!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Blog Tour Pause and Some Real Life Madness

Apologies for the radio silence lately.  The blog tour (and its associated giveaway) is still going on this month, and you'll be seeing a lot more about it very soon.  Things had to go on hold for a few reasons, though, among them technical difficulties, scheduling conflicts, and some real life drama.  Nothing particularly important, but mentally and emotionally exhausting in a way that leaves little energy for working.

But, never fear, for bubbling up beneath the surface is an awful lot of inspiration, and I expect a burst of creativity to follow once I've recovered.

Until then, be sure to check out this review of Nezumi's Children, and be sure to enter the giveaway below for a chance at a prize! 


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Friday, February 7, 2014

What Does a Draft Look Like?

Among writer circles, it's common to discuss your process -- especially the "plotter vs pantser" question.  There's a lot of insecurity about drafts.  And I totally get that.  When you're writing a rough draft, sometimes the only thing you have to compare it to is another person's polished, published work, and it's really easy to get discouraged.  It's easy to hear "Writing is editing, don't worry about the rough draft" but a lot harder to put it into practice. 

I myself write with a combination of outlining and pantsing, a process I call my "zero" draft.  Basically I write one super loose draft (often long-hand) that's more outline than finished product.  I write it off the top of my head with minimal planning and let the story go where it will.  Once the whole story is finished, I go back over it and create an outline or scene list based on what I have, edit the plot from that outline (ie, "oh, we need a scene here to explain this" or "that scene should go in this chapter"), make those fixes, then go through it paragraph by paragraph fixing the language, adding description, etc.  Once all that's done, I have a serviceable draft that I can send to a beta reader/editor.  Once I get feedback, I apply that, make another pass through to handle copy edits.  Then a final pass to format and proofread. 

But you might be wondering, what does all of that actually look like? 

So let me show you exactly what a "zero draft" looks like, alongside its finished version, with an excerpt from Nezumi's Children.  I wrote Nezumi in 28 days during Nanowrimo, and looking at the zero draft, I think you'll be able to tell ;) 

Zero Draft

    They were coming.  Bitey didn't need any usoothe to tell her that -- she could feel them.  Smell them.  Hear them.  They consumed her senses and she trembled.  She was in the bottom cage -- the dog kennel -- ​alongside Smeeze, Monster, and Ukeki.  the others were above, in the large ferret cage.  Cookie had managed, somehow, to squeeze in.  Above, they were all huddled together, awaiting the inevitable.  Below, the guards were restless, wandering or pacing or grooming, none looking at each other.  Outside the bars, the ferrets wrestled with each other, or else hid.  They toowere alive with nervous energy.  

   They waited this way, for a time, restless, hearing the inevitable approach of the Ukeshu's army.  they had to cross the store in the open in order to reach them -- their tunnel system not reaching across -- and it slowed them.  Rats, even those on a mission, can never let down their guard, can never forget that they can at anytime become the prey of nearly everything else.  S​urvival and caution first.  Anger and violence second.

  The approaching rats skittered allong the walls as they came.  They paused, uncertain, sniffing the air -- smelling the ushu, perhaps.  Many attempted to turn back but were caught by the strongest-hearted guards and forced forward with teeth and claws.

   The Ukeshu had assembled as fine an army as any on such short notice.  They totaled maybe twenty in all -- all males, and many heavily scarred from prior battles.  Some were giant and surly, and a few were small, wiry, and had shrewdly conniving looks.  All of them reeked of maleness and the promise of violence.  

    The ferrets -- whcih had been looking bored with the whole situation and had seemed willing to leave just moments before -- suddenly perked up and a harsh predatory gleam lit up in their eyes.  They leapt forward, muscular bodies springing into action not from any loyalty to Nezumi and the others but from a simple joy of slaughter. 


 

The Same Section from the Final Draft


    They were coming.  Bitey didn't need any usoothe to tell her that -- she could feel them.  Smell them.  Hear them.  They consumed her senses and she trembled.  No matter how well they had prepared for this moment – no matter how inevitable it had felt – she wasn't ready.

    She stood just inside the wire of the bottom cage -- the larger kennel -- ​alongside Smeeze, Monster, and Ukeki.  The others were above, in the smaller cage.  Cookie had managed, somehow, to squeeze in, and she was in surprisingly high spirits considering the circumstances; once given the task of building shelter inside, she had happily taken to weaving nests from scraps of plastic, paper and fabric brought by the others.  By the time Bitey and her retainer had returned from their journey, the cages almost looked like home.

    Good thing, Bitey had thought.  If we'll survive this, it will be home.

    Above, the rats were huddled together, awaiting the onslaught.  If they were lucky, the fight would not go that far. Not a rat among them was truly built for battle, though Dumbo was able to hold her own.  They may be able to ward off attacks through the bars, but if the Ukeshu's guards broke through, it would be over quickly.

    All the more reason to make sure that doesn't happen.

    Below, the guards were restless, wandering or pacing or grooming. None looked at each other.  Smeeze shifted uneasily from one paw to the other and kept casting uncertain glances up at the top cage as if regretting her post.  Only Monster seemed unfazed; her blood-colored eyes were glazed and distant.

    Outside the bars, the ferrets wrestled and bounced, chasing each other around the cage.  They seemed to be enjoying themselves.  Bitey was glad; she wasn't certain that they knew what they had been brought here for, and she feared they may leave if things stretched on much longer.  They didn't seem to be particularly patient creatures.

    They waited this way for a long time.  The sounds of the Ukeshu's army grew nearer, but did not become more urgent; the warrior-king of the wild ones was confident and unhurried.  Besides, they had been forced to cross the store in the open, and their progress was slowed by caution.  Rats, even those on a mission, can never let down their guard; they can never forget that they can at any time become the prey of nearly everything else.  S​urvival and caution first.  Anger and violence second.

    The approaching rats did not quite march.  They crept along walls or darted across open spaces.  They pressed themselves low to the damp tile and moved with the cautious, jerky footsteps of those on unfamiliar ground. A few, scenting the shujisk, started and tried to draw back.  The rats behind them, though – the largest and most powerful of the party – nipped at their haunches and urged them forward.

    They were an impressive army.  They totaled perhaps twenty in all, each one as large and heavily-scarred as any in the Ukeshu's service.  The smallest of them were gaunt and angular with shrewd faces; the largest rivaled the ferrets in size. All of them reeked of maleness and the promise of violence.

    At the rear of the group, moving with the terrible deliberation of one who has never known fear, the Ukeshu stood a head taller than any in his army.  His sleek dark fur caught hints of light, illuminating his muscles, and the twisted scars that crossed his sides stood out in stark contrast to his sleek pelt.  As they came within sight of the domestic colony's stronghold, the Ukeshu rose to his haunches and hissed out a warning – a wordless threat that made even the skin of his allies crawl.

    The wild ones halted at the sound of their alpha's cry.  They stood in a tense line, a jumble of bodies that seethed with tension, and waited for a signal.  At their paws, an expanse of two feet stood between them and the cage where Bitey and her kin had chosen to make their stand.  Between them there was only an empty expanse of tile – and a small handful of shujisk.

    The ferrets – who had seemed listless and ready to leave just moments before – suddenly snapped to attention.  A harsh predatory gleam lit in their eyes. They whipped their blunt heads toward the approaching rats and gave out a piercing, joyous cry.  Before the wild ones could react, the first shujisk had darted forward with the speed and grace of a demon, and the others soon followed.  Some, attracted by the sound, bounded free of hiding places beneath shelves or within cages.  Creatures who had moments ago been playing amongst themselves were suddenly converted to a single purpose: violence, for the simple joy of slaughter. 

Obviously, There's a Big Difference

The zero draft is all about knocking out the high points of the plot -- who's standing where, what's happening.  A lot of those elements remain in the final draft (in this scene, anyway -- there's a whole lot of sequences in the zero draft that you will not see in the finished version, and vice versa), but the narrative has been stretched to provide more information, more character, more sensory detail.

You'll also notice  that there were a lot of typos in the original draft.  That's because I wrote it in a program called Zoho Writer so I could access it on the Cloud (I was writing at work and couldn't use dropbox) and it was very laggy.  So that introduced a ton of errors that had to be fixed. 

Anyway.  Hopefully this little glimpse in my process is helpful -- and at least gives you something to compare  your own rough drafts to :)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Trigger Warnings and Whatnot

Because people have asked -- and because I will always honor these requests when asked -- I wanted to talk for a moment, honestly, about what you might expect when reading Tagetraum

First: I would not call it a horror. 

I mean, there are bits that are undeniably creepy.  There's a character who is essentially a mix of human and spider.  There's things that go bump in the night, literally.  But there's little chance that anything in this book will give you nightmares, even if it's a story that deals directly with nightmares.

It's also not particularly violent.  There is some violence in it.  Some characters do die, sometimes in grisly ways.  But it's rarely graphic, and much of the violence is almost cartoonish.  Imagine something on par with, say, the movie Stardust and you'll get pretty close. 

And many of you Nezumi's Children readers will be relieved to know that there is no sexual violence in the story.  In fact, there's not really any sex at all.  There's some innuendo.  There's some very sensual lesbian faeries.  There's a brothel, and the heavy implication of things going on there, but it's never portrayed in detail. 

A character does get essentially "mind-raped," having his thoughts read against his will.  It's intrusive and disturbing, and he comes away feeling exceptionally violated, but it's not precisely a sexual act. 

There is a description of a child dying.  It's painful to get through (and was very difficult to write) but it's not super graphic.  There's some descriptions of child abuse and neglect, but again, they're not particularly over-the-top. 

And...I think that's pretty much it. 

My intent in writing Tagestraum was to create a story that was simultaneously a lighthearted adventure, a creepy atmospheric piece and a frank glimpse into the very normal, very broken mechanics of an abusive home. 

So if you've been uneasy about my other works, Tagestraum is probably a good place to start.  It's not as brutal as Nezumi's Children, and it doesn't have nearly the squick factor of The Beast in the Bedchamber

As a note:  I will always  provide honest trigger warnings/assessments of my stories if asked.  I have a lot of friends and readers who I value deeply, and it is never my intention to ever hurt anyone unintentionally.  I know you can't walk around with your book to explain it away to people, but if you need to ask about anything specific, know that you can always approach me about that.  I won't judge, I won't lie, and I won't make fun of you.  It's really the least I can do.

Monday, February 3, 2014

I'm Angry About the Coke Superbowl Commercial, But Not for the Reason You'd Think

Superbowl happened yesterday.  I went to a party, but didn't really watch it (as is usual for me).  I sat in the kitchen, gossiped with my in-laws and stuffed my face.  I read a good chunk of The Golem and the Jinni on my Kindle, made some commentary about the halftime show, and watched a couple of the commercials.

One commercial in particular raised a lot of discussion around the country.  You probably saw it.  If not, here's what you missed:


It's heartwarming: A multi-lingual rendition of "America the Beautiful" transposed over images of American families of several races, cultural backgrounds and sexual orientations.  It's a powerful image, and a beautiful version of the song, and a lot of people started complaining about it instantly.

Maybe your Twitter feed lit up with racist comments. Maybe the people you watched it with looked at each other uncomfortably and said, "That sure was different." Or maybe you didn't give it a second thought.

But me, it made me uncomfortable.  Not because of the message of celebrating American diversity.  That part is great.  We are a culture of immigrants, a nation built uniquely on the promise of new beginnings and opportunities.  Anybody who takes issue with celebrating our diversity is a fucking idiot.

No, what made me uncomfortable is that, beneath all of its inclusivity, the real rhetoric of the commercial is this:  "We're all people united by a thread of consumerism.  Drink Coke." 

And seeing that message -- "Drink Coke!" -- plastered around the faces of ethnic minorities rubs me the wrong way because Coca-Cola is a business empire that has repeatedly drawn its strength from exploiting workers and citizens of developing countries.

Coca-Cola's Invasion of the Developing World


Mexico is the biggest Coke-consumer in the world.  In Mexico, it's easier to buy a Coke than it is to get access to clean, safe drinking water.  Mexicans are spending $14.3 billion on Coke every year and diabetes is the biggest disease in the country and a leading cause of death.  (for reference: Americans only spend about $2.9 billion on Coke -- and we're obviously a much richer country).  They're also the most obese nation on the planet -- fatter even than the United States.  In Mexico, there are little children literally dying of obesity while at the same time suffering from malnutrition.

But Coca-Cola isn't satisfied.  See, it can't sell more Coke to the countries where the market is already saturated.  Even when we're drinking more soda than anything else, we can still only drink so much.  Even when we're pouring Coke into our baby's bottles, we're not drinking enough to satisfy Coke's bottom line.  So it's expanding out, and finding more people to preach its sugary message to -- like the folks in Kenya, India and China.

Like missionaries of old, Coca-Cola representatives are plowing their way into the developing world and spreading their Manifest Destiny caffeinated beverages far and wide. 

But what's wrong with that, you ask?  What's so bad about a brand selling its product to people in another country?  It's not like anybody's holding a gun to their heads and saying, "Drink Coke or die," or anything, right?

Tell that to the India Resource Center, who's seeing first-hand how Coca-Cola is devastating its country.  Coca-Cola is pulling so much water from the ground to make its product that it's literally creating a water shortage for the people living there  This isn't just a problem for drinking -- it's also devastating the agricultural economy there.  Oh, yeah, and Coca-Cola is pumping its waste into the rivers and fields, poisoning whatever groundwater there was left.

Oh yeah.  And let's not forget the way that Coca-Cola factory employees in Colombia, Guatemala and other nations are literally being kidnapped, tortured and killed for attempting to unionize.  And even right here at home, Coca-Cola is widely known as one of the most racially discriminating employers in the country: In the year 2000 alone, Coke was sued two thousand times for racial disparities in pay and promotions against African Americans. 


My Anger Has Nothing to Do With Language


I can keep going.  I can sit here all day and tell you more about how evil Coca-Cola is.  None of these evils make it unique in the corporate world, unfortunately.  Its behavior is actually pretty par for the course.

But when I see a company whose business model is literally based on invading foreign markets, getting an impoverished and hungry population of young people addicted to an unhealthy product, and systematically destroying that country's infrastructure along the way -- I don't see something to celebrate. 

So before you think, "This commercial is so great!  Coca-Cola really values diversity!  They really care about people!" Realize that you have been taken in by a carefully executed marketing ploy.  Because the truth is that Coca-Cola doesn't give a shit about diversity any more than any other corporation on the planet.  Coca-Cola cares about its bottom line, and it will do absolutely anything to grow that number -- even convincing a bunch of us sentimental Americans that they value exactly what we do. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

One Author's Ongoing Attempts at Intersectionality (or, "Hey, Be Part of the Solution")

The blogosphere has been alive with discussions of gender in spec fic recently.  First, Alex Macfarlane introduced her plans to spend some time at Tor discussing binary gender in Sci-Fi.  Then Larry Correia posted his rebuttal, which was then dissected by the indomitable Jim C. Hines.  And then, of course, there was the A-to-Z listing of Non-Binary Genders over at Shattersnipe (a blog which you should follow, because it's excellent).

Anyway, with all of that churning around, of course I have to jump in the middle.  I've never been one to walk away from a controversy.

Today I don't have the energy to tackle another author's choices or arguments, though.  I'll have to save that for a time when I've had more sleep and no swine flu-induced fever dreams.  What I am feeling up to, though, is a little introspective journey.  Because while I certainly can't begin to speak for every speculative fiction author, I can at least explain the choices that I've made in my fiction, and how those choices represent my (ever-growing) awareness of intersectionality.    


Tagestraum 

The main character is a cisgendered white male.  So white, in fact, that he's a ginger.  But I purposely toyed with gender norms in a few ways.  For one, he holds a job (social work) that's not necessarily male-dominant.  For another, he's not exactly a paragon of masculinity, and time and again he ends up in the type of danger a woman might be expected to face: He's kidnapped, ogled (very uncomfortably) and later literally sold as a sex object.  He cannot walk alone at night in this world.

Females outnumber males in the world, and you run into several strong women -- for varying definitions of "strong." The fairies are physically stronger than him and also hold political power (of note, one is a queen, another is an influential merchant, and a pair of lesbians are fairy law enforcement officers -- just to name a few of the people he meets).

Also of note is Adrian's mental health.  Although never expressly named as such, he suffers from OCD, and that was an important thing for me to characterize because it's something I share with him.  All too often, OCD gets mishandled in fiction, and often trivialized.  I didn't want some over-the-top Monk stuff happening in this book.  But I did want to showcase his anxiety in a way that felt authentic.  You see him drawing comfort from ritualized behaviors...and, well, let's just say that obsessive thought patterns can cause a lot of trouble in a world where nightmares become real.

Nezumi's Children 

Aside from being rats, the cast of this book is overwhelmingly female.  There are four named male characters, and of these one is essentially a eunuch.  Because of their unique circumstances, the domestic rats of Rocco's Pet Emporium are matrilineal -- and their discovery of the very patriarchial (and significantly more violent) wild rat culture is the impetus behind much of the story.

Of course, readers will know about the troubling rape scene in Chapter 17.  Troubling not just because it's rape, but because the values dissonance between species creates an added layer of problems to an anthropomorphic narrative: Human consent does not necessarily carry over to the animal kingdom, especially in a species that practices despotic polygynandry.  But in the end, I chose to give the character some agency in this.  It's up to the readers to tell me whether this ambitious attempt succeeded.  

Moving Forward...

In the past, I've often shied away from including too much intersectionality, in large part because when you deviate from the "norm" it becomes easier for the story (or, anyway, people's reactions) to become about the deviations.  Part of the reason I write speculative fiction is so that I have better control over the world I write about -- like a scientist controlling variables -- and I don't like introducing variables whose interpretations could lead to unintended consequences.

I'm growing bolder, though.  My current WIP (which is about self-aware zombies and government control) features a bisexual protagonist, his gay best friend/it's complicated + his girlfriend, and a lesbian couple.  None of which is necessarily relevant to the story.  It's just sort of how things worked out.

Reading that list of gender-binary-alternatives on Shattersnipe's page, though, I can't help but realize how much opportunity there is to mine there.  Clearly I need to do some more research and see what kind of world I can incorporate some of that into.

So, anyway.  There's a brief look at how I've handled intersectionality in my own work.  Care to share how you've tackled the issue (or whether you've even given it thought)?  I'd love to hear your $.02 in the comments.

(btw, there's an ongoing raffle happening all month -- you should totally enter!)


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