Some event updates

I’ve been playing a lot of catch up the past two weeks following my vacation and in advance of some upcoming deadlines. As you know, the audiobook for Mother of Creation is out October 1st. What you may not know is that I also am working against a deadline for the rough and first drafts of Daughter of Madness, the long awaited second book in the series. That deadline exists because the book needs a cover that I can use for marketing and promotional things, and also I need some time to do rewrites, etc, before an early 2017 release date. That date is To Be Determined at this point in time, but I promise to keep you updated.

In other news, given that schedule that I’m working towards I have decided to forgo World Fantasy Convention this year. WFC has in previous years been a lovely trip, and I’m going to greatly miss all of the people I usually see there, especially the Clarion West crowd. One of my great dreams is to give them my money and attend a Clarion West workshop, actually, but 6 weeks off is probably not something I’m going to have all in a row anytime soon. I generally have attended WFC previously as a way to connect with other writers and to pitch editors and agents for traditional publishing projects. I hope to attend larger conventions in the future to do just such activities, but right now I need to focus on the next step in my self-publishing career and also on my home life (i.e. remember that time I’m buying a house? Sometime soon? Whose idea was that?)

Anyway, no WFC this year. If anyone is interested in purchasing my membership before end of October, do let me know.

However, I have some exciting news! I have been notified by MystiCon that I will be a guest this year! MystiCon is held in early February in Roanoke, Virginia. If there is a panel topic you would like to see presented on, I encourage you to contact me, since I need to get some ideas together to pitch to the organizers pretty soon.

I will also be at Roanoke Author Invasion in April, as previously announced. So those on the east coast still have two chances to catch up with me and buy some books this spring!

I’m hoping to have an audiobook sample and some other fun stuff to post up here soon, so keep you eyes and ears open.

 

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Vacation!!

This past week, I took three whole days away from writing and nine (NINE!) away from the day job. It was a much-needed respite. We spent a lot of time cuddling kittens, some time swimming in the river, cooked and ate a ridiculous amount of good food, and traveled down to North Carolina along the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the Biltmore, which, if you are not familiar, is basically America’s take on a French chateau. Also I snagged some crazy types of honey and lots of good beer. And some iris bulbs. Wins all around, friends.

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So many pictures. So much fun. No beach involved.

In any case, I thought you might enjoy some pictures from my journey this week. We’ll be back to our regularly programmed meditations on books and writing and all that jazz next week, but everyone deserves a vacation. Check out here if you’re not into scenic views or crazy architecture.

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Traveling the parkway.

We took the parkway down, which took us a ridiculous amount of time but was surprisingly soothing. Along the way we had several adventures, including finding a random alpaca farm (so soft!) and picnics. We also took the parkway back for part of the trip, doing a hike. My favorite photo from the trip is of that hike, which is at the end of this post.

 

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Baby alpacas!

Once we got to Asheville, we ate at the best little tapas bar called Cúrate. Tapas are a Spanish style of food involving small plates and lots of wine or other beverages, and Cúrate was the best Spanish food I have had this side of the Atlantic. No pictures because I consumed it all too quickly.

The next morning we headed to the Biltmore.

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From the front lawn.

The sheer scale of this building is impossible to describe. Just huge. Hundreds of rooms, one of which contains a swimming pool. Impossible levels of architecture. We started our wanderings in the gardens, of course.

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Just one of several private nooks.

There is even a lake on the grounds (called the Duck Pond) and a working dam. We wandered the gardens for a few hours, then headed back to the main house to tour the ground floor before lunch.

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Lions stood on either side of the main door.

The house was amazing. We had lunch in what were the former stables, then headed up for a guided architectural tour. I have too many pictures to show you of that, but here are a couple.

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Close up of some of the stone work and roofing.

Truly a masterpiece of engineering. The top of the roof is made of brass, but the sides are slate tiles. The tiles were hand-bound to the scaffolding of the roof with copper wire from the inside. They are the original tiles (with exceptions for places where storms have broken some).

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An external view of the main stairwell.

The stairs were another crazy thing to learn about. They have no internal supports, but are free floating. They’re apparently modeled off a similar staircase in a chateau in France. They are held up by the weight of the walls sitting directly on the stairs, which extend to the outside.

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What is this crazy flower?

There were also greenhouses on the grounds which we ambled through.

Afterwards, we spent another half day in Asheville sampling honey and beers, then headed back up the parkway as I mentioned. That is where we found the Craggy Gardens hike, which is only about .7 miles and pretty easy. It lines you up for an amazing vista, though. Here is my favorite picture from our trip.

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That’s the S.O. up there being super duper photogenic on that crazy cliff.

Alright, folks, I hope you’ve enjoyed! I’d be happy to answer any questions about the architecture and all, but for now I’m out. Until next week!

Parallel worlds

I try not to talk about my day job too much. Granted you could probably figure it out if you dug, but generally I try to keep the writing half of my life somewhat separate from my other pursuits. But I’m going to talk about it a little today, because I have some thoughts I want to share about the worlds that are often right next to us.

One of my weaknesses as a writer is my world-building. I get caught up in the characters and the action and forget to think about the world it is set in, or at least forget to tell you about it. This is likely a symptom of my own way of moving through the world. I live in my head a lot, and places can be somewhat fuzzy for me. One of my tasks in my day job is to make maps, and I like to joke that it’s regrettable because my spatial awareness is not the kind that fits neatly into a grid of latitude and longitude. Luckily in this day and age we have computer systems that plot that for you. Making a map can be an eye opening experience. Things I thought of as linear are suddenly curved. Things which I didn’t realize were connected are of a piece. It changes the way I think about my city and my valley, almost on a daily basis.

One of the other things I do is ride the bus.

Okay, you’re wondering about that. I’ll give you a brief overview. My job, sometimes, includes riding a bus to count how many people are on it. The time and route are generated randomly. The counts are used to help argue for better bus services. It’s good work, and it has taught me a lot.

When I first moved to this city, I wouldn’t go near the bus station. Most relatively privileged people don’t here. The station is located downtown, and often there are a lot of “rough” looking people hanging around it. Rough is in this case code for poor POC. I’ve grown a lot since then. But I still had only ridden the commuter bus – a high end coach that takes one to a neighboring city – before I started this new job. I rode it when I was in graduate school and didn’t have a lot of options. That seems to be when most people ride buses. They do, after all, cost one extra time. Time is an even more precious commodity than money for many.

Anyway, this job changed that. I have now been all over the city by bus. I am riding the bus as a relative outsider – it’s my job to observe – and let me tell you. It is very different from what I had observed as a passerby.

Before my first bus ride, I had this idea about how buses worked. The bus stop is, as mentioned, downtown. It takes up the whole first floor of a building owned by the bus company. There is a small lobby. I remembered the lobby as being sort of dark and dingy and crowded. I remembered the actual station as a broad, concrete space. Both of these are…sort of right. The lobby is small, but the walls are white. There are metal benches throughout. It’s not in the best repair, but you can tell they try to keep it clean. There are usually a handful of people inside, and right before the buses go out – they leave every hour – there can be a lot of people waiting, especially in the winter.  But most of the time it is relatively quiet. Those “rough” folks hanging out on the street always say good morning to me, or good afternoon as the case may be. The bus station itself is poorly located, and floods after a hard rain sometimes, stalling the bus service. The buses pull up into their relative lanes, all of which are marked with brightly colored signs indicating the route number and general destination. People from all over the city and all walks of life rub elbows here. It is colorful and vibrant and alive – not a dreary industrial space, as I had thought, but a space made living by the people who use it.

Is it always a comfortable space? No. I am still, after all, an outsider. Someday I might take the plunge and use the bus system as a rider, but for now I’m still the paid observer, dipping into this world and leaving. Being around other people is messy, too. A bus station is a type of urban commons, and there is no method to deny others entry. Being faced so abjectly with my privilege every time I go can be disheartening.

But back to writing, since that’s why you’re here.

Setting is a thing made of details. Each character might perceive their setting differently. I certainly perceive my time on the bus differently now than I would have two or three years ago, and even differently than I did just a month ago. As we know a place better, it changes. As a writer, to make a setting live, I need to bring that into my writing. There are whole parallel worlds within my kingdom or town that another character might never perceive. I should, however, know what those are. My perception of the setting should not be myopic, as my characters’ might be, but should encompass it in its complexity. Communicating that complexity to readers is a challenge, but if done well the world breathes and fidgets and generally feels real.

It’s something I’m still working on, but I think I understand it better every day.

Likability in ASOIF

I’ve spent a lot of time this week reminding myself that I don’t have to be likable. In a way, writing Liana in The Creation Saga has been an exercise in writing an unlikable female character for me. That isn’t to say that I don’t want humans to commiserate with her, or understand her. The opposite, really. I want them to understand all of it and feel that same sort of dysphoria that she feels. I should be able to do betterI must be able to live up to their expectations.

There’s a point, when you are obsessed with likability, where you can slide into this kind of thinking. And it is easy to be obsessed with being likable as a woman. It offers you a sense of protection, however inaccurate that sense is. Likability is a kind of social capital. Politicians rule by it, at least in part. Celebrities live by it. It is a kind of power.

It is, however, fickle as powers go. A person must build their worth on other stuff. Cersei shows us this in A Song of Ice and Fire, as does Arya. Neither of them are cuddly sorts. We might admire Cersei’s competence at times, or her pure madness, but we certainly don’t like her. And while we pity Arya, hope that we would be as strong as her in the same situation, admire her skills and her bloodthirsty nature, most of us would not be able to hold a conversation with her. We’d be appalled when she slit a man’s throat without explanation. She is stunning and devious, not likable, despite the fact that we, as readers, like her.

The most likable character, in fact, is Sansa. In terms of being someone who could have a conversation with you, entertain you, someone who is generally beautiful and, if not kind, at least not cruel, your best bet is Sansa. Despite this, Sansa is usually the least liked character in the books, at least by readers. This is because Sansa has no power.

I may seem to have contradicted myself there, so let me unpack that.

A person’s worth doesn’t come from the likability, much as we are taught otherwise as women. Sansa swallows the princess narrative hook, line, and sinker. She thinks that if she can just be pretty and witty, she will be safe and cared for. She thinks that beautiful people on the outside must also be beautiful on the inside. We hate her for this, because we recognize very early on that the good do not win in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire. That good people have already spent the one quality which might help them to survive, which is ruthlessness. But if we met Sansa on the street, we would probably consider her an upstanding girl, a cute little thing. She would be the kind of person we would hope to invite over for tea. We would talk about stories of knights in shining armor and fair queens.

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For the record, I don’t watch the show. That said, here’s Sansa in Game of Thrones looking innocent.
We dislike Sansa not because she is unlikable, but because she has no power to affect her world. She has traded that power for the very likability that we teach little girls like her to strive for every day, with promises that it will protect them.

In some ways, I think Sansa’s character and her development is the most transgressive element of George R.R. Martin’s work.

In my own life, I spend a lot of time trying to cultivate other kinds of power. Not necessarily power over others, but power over myself. I try to be fearless in situations where fear does not help me. I try to be rational in making choices that are best for myself even when those choices may inconvenience others. And, most importantly, I try to quell the need for likability that sometimes comes clamoring out of my gut. When I make decisions to accomplish given outcomes, I recognize that I might be navigating my boat unevenly, listing towards positive reinforcement, begging for someone to recognize my sacrifices. This wastes valuable energy, but it is a human thing, too. We all have inconsistencies, foibles, weirdnesses that make us what we are.

It’s not bad to be kind, to be charismatic. But when it takes you into dangerous waters, you turn that boat around. When your self-worth becomes tied up in how people receive you, you will lose it. Remembering that, as a woman, is hard. Remembering that brief social buoyancy will not protect you from your status as feminine in a society driven by masculine values can be soul-crushing.

After all, it is so easy to want people to like you. But the most interesting people are often the least likable ones.