Inspiration for THE CREATION SAGA: Music

Every writer has a playlist. Or twelve. I wrote Mother of Creation ages ago, so I can’t really tell you what I was listening to at the time. Probably a lot of Motion City Soundtrack, knowing me, but who knows. I did something a little different for Daughter of Madness and actually made a (couple) of playlists that were just for this book. So I thought I would post some of the songs that inspired me the most while writing the current draft, which is only some hard rewrites and two more chapters away from being done. This post will be part of a series on inspiration for The Creation Saga. It’s not going to be a consecutive series, per se, but you’ll be able to find the posts through The Creation Saga category, under Book Releases. They’ll also be tagged. Some other posts you’ll likely see will include discussion of books, movies or anime, history or mythology, and Pinterest boards (yes, I have those).

Oh, and stay tuned to the end of this blogpost for a quick summary of Daughter of Madness, as it will appear on the back cover of the book!

So without further ado, what music reminds me of The Creation Saga?

I have to start out by saying that 9 out of 10 songs are going to be centered around Liana. Most people who read the books find that their favorite character is the seer, Nicola. I love Nicola desperately, but Nicola is not the character I connect with the most. She is a witness to much of what is happening around her, and it changes her. But the stakes are not as high for her, in many ways. Witnessing – that’s something powerful. We’ll talk about that a bit more in a later post, but suffice to say the role of the witness is one that speaks to me.

The catalyst, the main protagonist, is Liana. She moves the story forward. The main plot is about a princess who is overthrown, and the vacuum of her absence. She is the fulcrum upon which the world turns, unfortunately for her. So the musical choices below largely reflect her perspective as the source of my inspiration. Here are five (because I had to stop somewhere) amazing songs that make me want to write my socks off.

I. “Which Witch,” Florence and the Machine

Just so you know, Florence is pretty much on every playlist I have, along with Grimes. Those two don’t sound like they go together, I know. Anyway, this song of all her songs is the most like Liana in Daughter of Madness. “Been in the dark since the day we met/Fire, help me to forget.” If you need proof that this is a Liana song, well, just consider the demo cover.

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II. “Yellow Flicker Beat,” Lorde

Yes, this song is already part of a soundtrack. It’s specifically from the soundtrack for on of the Hunger Games movies (I’m not sure which one, though it sounds like it should be from Catching Fire.) This to me speaks pretty strongly of the princess as rebel, the princess as exile. “They used to shout my name, now they whisper it.” The beat helps. Basically most of my writing music when I’m really trying to make wordcount is going to have a beat.

III. “Oblivion,” Bre-l and Grimes

This version of this song is not the most popular. It’s a pop-punk reimagining of Grimes’ trademark style. The pop-punk is like coming home for me honestly. That was about all I listened to for a long time. But I am a huge fan of this song in its original context as well. Grimes is currently one of my favorite artists. Sometime I’m actually going to make it to one of her shows.

IV. “Operator,” Vanessa Carlton

This song has a softer tension, and it honestly reminds me the most of Jessa. Jessa is actually one of my favorite characters who are non-viewpoint. She goes through an important transformation in Daughter of Madness. Because it reminds me of Jessa, it also reminds me a bit of Nicola as well. There are actually lines in this song that remind me of all of my characters in this book at points, which makes it a very good song to include on this short playlist.

V. “Blood on Me,” Sampha

There’s a lot of fear in this song. The atmospheric vocalizations, the sense of pursuit, the pattering of the drum like a panicked heart. There’s a lot of fear in Daughter of Madness, too, the kind that comes after terrible crimes have been done to you. Fear gives rise to courage, but it also gives rise to monstrousness.

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So that’s the end of my short list here. I hope you enjoy all the music and continue to look forward to Daughter of Madness, which will be out sometime this year, preferably before June because really. I’ll post a date on the website as soon as I have one! We’ll also have a cover reveal coming in the next blogpost!

Feel free to chime in with your favorite writing tunes, or the songs that remind you of your favorite characters! And now, without further ado:

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Text for non-sighted persons:

Liana has lost much to Herka’s manipulations, though nothing so precious as her sanity. Emerging from her madness, she finds the world changed – her body wasted, her son gone, and her kingdom still beyond her reach. Only the fires of vengeance remain, and she will build the flames high.

Daughter of Madness tells the story of a princess and her twin, a soldier and his king, and an oracle who is more than she seems.

I am SO EXCITED.

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Some upcoming dates

Early post this week to update you on some upcoming events! And while we’re here, some discussion of what’s been going on in my life! You’ll get a regular post on Friday about some fun Daughter of Madness inspiration, but stop in with me for a moment to get up to date.

This weekend I will be at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, networking with other local writers. Maybe I’ll come out of it with a new critique group, or a lead on one! MystiCon is also coming up at the end of February, and I’m very excited to be on several panels for that con. I’ll remind you again closer to time. As always, all of my upcoming events are on my events page. Really, this reminder is the reasons for this post! I’ll likely have some books for signing, so if you see me, snag them while I have them!

In other news, things have been busy at the start of the new year, which is perhaps unsurprising. These separations are mostly artificial, after all. I’m happy to say that the house hunting is on the back-burner, for now, leaving me juggling Daughter of Madness (nearly done with a first draft, more on that soon) and wedding stuff mostly, in addition to the day job. This is a welcome state of affairs.

On the wedding front, in fact, we are making great progress. I’ll be getting married end of May in a rather informal affair, but we needed to check some basic boxes for sanity’s sake. A venue for people to gather in, since there wasn’t one big enough in the family that anyone felt up to volunteering, and a caterer to feed folks. Those, happily, are pretty much firmed up. There’s more to do – decorations are a huge thing, rings to order, and just generally coordinating an event like this is a big deal. So there is a lot more to do, but I finally feel like I’m moving instead of just standing still waiting for the train to hit me.

We also had snow at the beginning of the month! Followed by MLK day, it means that I’ve had a lot of time off recently to cook and hang out with folks. It’s been great for my writing productivity, honestly. These are the things that help me make words, after all. Good food, good time with friends, tea and beer and time outside. I even went for a run a few days ago, which was monumental!

 

A picture from one of my snow hikes.

 

In other news, I’ve been reading a lot and watching a lot. I devoured Dusk or Dawn or Dark or Day by Seanan McGuire this month, chewed through Earth Logic, sequel to Fire Logic, by Laurie J. Marks, and have also enjoyed The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod. I’ve also been chipping away at Upside Downa collection of short stories put out by Apex Books. I promised them a review when I’m finished, but I forgot how slowly I read short story collections. I’ll have to keep that in mind for ARCs I snag in the future, since it’s not nice to keep folks waiting. It’s just hard for me to digest a story and move on to the next one – I can only read about three short stories in a day at most. The completion is the best part, after all.

Other story consumption has included watching Mushi-Shi with the S.O. He has really enjoyed it. The animation style is very clean, and the stories are eerie and whimsical and sometimes tragic. Some of it has unfortunately gotten stuck in my head – I’ve had a couple of Mushi-Shi inspired nightmares, actually. That said, it’s solid storytelling, and refreshingly original – or, at least, based so thoroughly in another culture that it feels original, which is just as good for a devourer of stories like me. We’ve also been watching Cowboy Bebop still, which is a very different anime of course.

For Christmas I got The Cat Returns, which is one of the few Studio Ghibli films I haven’t seen yet, so that is on our to-watch list. We’ve also got Grave of the Fireflies now, though that’s going to have to wait for the right time to watch since I know we’re both going to cry through it. That movie is so gut-wrenching, but it’s definitely worth watching. It gives great context to the effect of WWII on the Japanese, and it is beautifully done. So those are in the pipeline on the anime front. I’m excited to see what the S.O. thinks of them.

I’m also hoping to read March soon, since I got it for the S.O. for Christmas as well. He says its really good so far.

What have you been reading lately?

 

Horror and hope 

I’ve been reading a lot of horror recently. My reading taste tends to get darker in the winter months, I think, when the wind is blowing and the cold is getting into everything. Some recent horror titles have included Invasive by Chuck Wendig and The Family Plot by Cherie Priest. I loved both of these, though they were very different books. Unfortunately I read them after I had put out my best of 2016 post but before we officially kicked over to 2017, so I thought I’d write a special post about these two books and some of the things I, as a reader, like to see in a horror story. I’ll try to go light on the spoilers, but there may be some so stop now if you want a pure reading experience for either of these.

One of the things that makes a horror story unlikable to me, whether it be novel or movie or short story, is a blanket sense of inevitability. This is going to seem a little counter-intuitive. After all, horror is not necessarily a thing of happy endings. But whether the ending is happy or sad, horror only works with tension. And tension can only provided if either I, the reader, or the characters themselves believe that they can escape from their situation. They or I must have the hope that it is possible. That there is some way to succeed. Whether we are right or wrong has almost no bearing on whether the story is a good one – after all, being disappointed in that hope can be quite satisfying.

These are two very different books, as mentioned. One is the story of a woman who is profoundly isolated from her family, though she has friends who help her throughout the book. She sees too clearly all the ways things can go wrong, and it has left her with an anxiety disorder that verges on debilitating. She is afraid, all the time, but she is angry, too, and determined. Her name is Hannah Stander.

The other story is led by a woman who is bound entirely to her family and seeks to better their fortunes, potentially at the expense of her own. She is strong and capable and, while not overly optimistic, not fatalistic either. She believes she can conquer what life throws at her – though it is, perhaps, a desperate belief. There is stubbornness and denial in her. Her name is Dahlia.

Both of these women are intensely strong characters. Their strength lies in their competence in their chosen professions, in their compassion, and in their determination to survive. All too often, these things are lacking from horror heroines. It is what makes me so disgruntled with the genre in movies. Women are monsters or objects, as I’ve discussed previously. They are not given nuance. It was refreshing to see that oversimplification of women turned on its head in both of these novels. Honestly, I think that the hope that pushes these women along is the source of their strength. Hannah hopes very broadly. She hopes for proof of a better world. When that fails, she hopes to make the world a better place by defeating the things that threaten it. Dahlia hopes more narrowly. Her hopes are for financial security and escaping the haunted house that has trapped her and hers. The scale of their hopes are relative to the scale of their motivations. This is as it should be. We all have multiple things that move us. Many things that we fear to lose.

To be honest, perhaps the reason that I appreciate horror with hope in it is because of nothing more or less complex than good writing. Good writing means rounded characters. It means elevating the stakes. It means a certain level of unpredictability, too, that feeling of not knowing for sure what will come next.

Who doesn’t want to read a book like that? Who wants to spend the whole time in a story that is nothing but gore and screaming? That’s not the horror for me.

Anyway, read these books. Read Invasive for a near-future/current technological thriller with lots of gruesome imagery and ants. Read The Family Plot for an evocative, creeping ghost story with Appalachian charm that clings like kudzu. Just read, friends. There is plenty to escape from, and so many twisting realms to escape to.

 

 

The fierce optimism of anime 

Recently, I’ve been getting back into anime, and it’s been remarkably nostalgic. My tastes in anime are eclectic, ranging from shoujo romances to action packed horror stories. I’ve been watching anime off and on for a long time, starting as many in my generation did with an early induction via Adult Swim. Anime such as Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, Wolf’s Rain, and InuYasha were early influences, though, being a child in the early 90s, I also caught the dubbed Sailor Moon when I was only five or six. So me and anime have a long history.

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Recent anime that I have watched and loved include Princess JellyfishSeirei no Moribitoand Your Lie in April, among many others. I’m also watching Bloodivores, which is honestly a terrible title but so far a really interesting premise. There’s a surprisingly aware critique of predatory institutional systems within the world-building of this anime, even if the primary emphasis is the action. I’ve also been following Watashi ga Motete Dousunda, which, while engaging in a fair bit of bodyshaming, also manages to embrace some pretty intense nerd-culture. You take the good with the bad with anime, unfortunately, but not without being mindful of what is good and bad. There are anime I will recommend with little reservation, and then there are anime I will watch, love, and critique thoroughly if you ask me. Though to be fair I probably grant more leeway with anime than with any other medium, because it holds such a special place in my heart.

Despite the fact that some of these anime were and are incredibly problematic in their representations of race, gender, and sexuality, their fierce optimism never fails to lift me up. There is a clarity and beauty to their portrayal of the world, even if it is only the beauty of a first kiss. It seems innocent. It’s not – anime often deals with profoundly deep and dark concepts, underneath the glitter and sparkle. Take Ouran High School Host Club for example. I usually watch this one every spring, when the cherry blossoms are blooming. It just seems an appropriate time to watch an anime whose core themes are about young love and becoming the adult you will be. But Ouran also delves into dark things beautifully – bullying, classism, sexism to some extent, and, most importantly, the darknesses we each carry in all of us. That is, perhaps, the greatest lesson to take from the stories told in shoujo. Our darknesses define us, but we need not become them. We can own them, but not be lost to them.

Some of my favorite anime of all time include this theme. Movies from Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon remind me of the beauty and absurdity of life respectively. One of my favorite animes of all time, Akatsuki no Yona, walks this line like a tightrope. The main character, Yona, is a spoiled princess at first, who quickly falls into a nightmare when she sees her father murdered by the man she planned to marry. Saved from the same fate, she escapes with her childhood friend and protector and finds herself caught up in a dramatic quest to save her country and fulfill an age-old prophecy. Yona loses everything, and she is very conscious of that loss. She never lets go of it or seeks to erase or forget it. It doesn’t hold her down, either. She is strong enough to carry it with her and allow herself to be forged into something new by its weight. Still, the creators of the manga and associated anime adaptation never forget humor – amidst all the darkness, there are numerous cheeky interactions between Yona and her traveling companions which warm the heart. Those moments of levity make the tragedies all the more poignant, for me.

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Anime contains stories of improbable redemption, of clear sight, and of moving forward. We are taught to advance, to not stop laughing, to admire the fleeting beauty of life. To understand that the darkness and flaws of living make it more admirable, not less so. Sometimes I just need those stories to remind me of what matters. They give me the strength to get up and go when my spirit is flagging. I am incredibly hopeful that I might create something, someday, that has the same effect on a reader. I want to speak to someone so deeply that it helps them keep going when they are perhaps not sure why they are trying.

So, do you watch anime? What kinds of anime are your favorites? I’m always looking for recommendations!

 

2017: Looking forward

It’s a new year – indeed, it’s been a new year for about a week now. That newness has a lot of worry and strangeness caught up in it for me and mine, but also a lot of excitement and forward-looking hopefulness. There is the prospect of marriage, of maybe moving, of traveling. There is no doubt to me that 2017 will be a time of upheaval, much as 2016 was. Not all of those upheavals will be bad – some will be wonderful. But this will not be a year of placid waters, in all probability, anymore than 2016 was.

In 2016, I got engaged. I moved up in my day job. I published an audiobook, which was a weird and edifying experience. I mostly wrote a first draft, though I’m not quite done yet, and finished a few short stories. I read so many books that I’m a little baffled at how I found the time, and grew a whole mess of tomatoes successfully for the first time. I became a cat-mom, which has been incredibly rewarding. Mostly, though, 2016 has felt like paddling upstream, like fighting a current. In the last slow weeks of it, I found some peace with that. I’m ready to float downriver.

I grew up on a river that’s renowned, in places, for its rafting. I’ve canoed or kayaked it often, waded, swam, and generally frolicked in the at times treacherous waters.One of the keys to successfully navigating white water, in my experience, is to know where you are going, and to aim to go where the flow takes you. It is so important to have goals in this new year, so important to look forward – down the river, not back up it. To keep your eye on your destination, even knowing you might get shunted off to the side. You might scrape rocks, you may miscalculate. But the water will carry you down the river regardless, and as long as you know where you are going you can regroup. Don’t get thrown from your boat. If you do, float as far as you can. It’s not without its perils, navigating troubled waters, but it can be done with resolve and skill and a vision.

So, enough with fighting the river. I’ll look at where it’s taking me, and enjoy the ride.

These are my goals for the year of 2017. They’re a mix of personal and writing goals. I look forward to being able to tell you all about them in the coming months.

  1. To make this marriage thing stick. To get the wedding plans planned and then let it go to be what it will be. To continue to remember that relationships are work and require cherishing just like any other small, precious, hopeful thing.
  2. To find us a home and plant it with flowers and fruit and all good things. To experiment with growing sweet potatoes and lemon trees and mangoes, because I can.
  3. To attend all these conferences I’ve signed up for, and most especially to make it to WFC in San Antonio in October. Selfishly, I’m most excited about seeing my family there, but also super jazzed about Martha Wells being the head honcho for this go-round.
  4. To finish Daughter of Madness and get it to my readers, sometime this year, no matter that I’m behind. To not feel guilty about that behind-ness. To give you an outline of next steps with this, I need to: finish the rough draft, send it to beta readers and/or an editor for a look, and then do second rewrites as well as deep line edits. I’m also in the process of doing the cover design which will hopefully be finalized this month sometime, so be looking for that! (I am focusing on being excited, so excited, to bring this book to you and not intimidated by all the to do’s that still need doing.)
  5. To re-issue Child of Brii, taking it back to my original vision for it, before I got caught up in word counts and mess.
  6. To start something new – either the last Creation Saga book, which I’ve honestly already got about 10,000 words of from cuts from Daughter of Madness, or the Child of Brii prequel I’ve got planned, or maybe both. Ideally I’d get the roughs for both finished this year but realistically it’s probably one or the other. And maybe…
  7. To start something entirely new – it might happen anyway if I’m being honest, because I’m excited about a great many projects right now. There are octopuses and mermaids and werewolves and princesses and warriors all begging for my attention at the moment, so you’ll know as soon as I do what I pick up next.
  8. To put honest work into querying a project that I have previously referred to as ‘The Zombie Book’. This requires putting together a synopsis, since that’s the last element I’m missing, and updating my agents list for queries. I’d also like to finish the spin-off story from that novel, and hopefully find it a home, or maybe hold onto it until it’s time.
  9. To love and care for those important to me. To visit my brother finally, and to make time to travel with my soon-to-be husband.
  10. To never stop believing in myself and my work. To continue to try to find homes for my short stories. To write new ones, as the mood takes me. To write for the sake of writing.
  11. To take care of myself. To make sure I eat well and exercise, which is hard, and that I get enough sleep, which is easier but still doesn’t always happen. To climb some more mountains, and float some more rivers, and spend some time under the stars.
  12. To fear less and try harder.

It’s a hefty list. No doubt I will struggle with it at times. But I think it’s doable for the new year. I’m not worried about losing my seat in my boat, or rather, I can worry about it. But it won’t affect my resolve.

It’s 2017, folks. Put those paddles in the water, because here we go.

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Photo from Abingdon Outdoors.