Welcome to November

Good morning everyone. We are officially one day in to National Novel Writing Month.

Excuse me.

*Screams in writer*

Okay, that’s better. So yeah, NaNoWriMo is here, and this year I have a personal goal to finish this WIP. I will finish the first Black Roses novella in November or die trying. There is enormous probability of the latter, but such is life.

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I’ve never successfully done NaNoWriMo to the national standard. I mean, I’ve written 50,000 words in a month, but only when I was unemployed. It was awesome. When I think back on that time of my life, I recognize that I was in some ways miserable (I ate a lot of soup) but in other ways close to reaching some kind of writing enlightenment. My average wordcount when I’m unemployed and writing full time is about 1700 words a day. Which is…really not a lot of words when you get down to it. About five pages, give or take.

By the way, that’s just over what it takes, every single day of November, to get to the goal of 50,000 words.

So yes, I’ve never successfully finished NaNoWriMo in November, not least because it occurs right as we are ramping up into the Holiday Season, which means that I am very busy with the required efforts to connect to distant family members and friends that this time of year entails. I will definitely not make it through 50,000 words this year, and I know this. But I’m hoping for a good 20,000, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. Which, by the way, is still a really daunting number for me with all the writing I do for the day job, even though it comes in at about 667 words a day. All of it depends on how long this story wants to be told of course. It’s totally possible that the first draft will come out longer or shorter than that. I’ve given up trying to predict the exact number of words in one of my drafts. Ballparks of plus or minus about 5,000 words are safer.

Anyway, Welcome to November. My blog posts may be a little bit short this month. They do not count towards wordcount, after all. Good luck with all of your writing endeavors, if you’re setting your own goals for this month. And if you’re trying to reach those 50,000 words, you are in my thoughts.


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The great vampire vs. zombie debate

Hi, everyone. This week I’m going to weigh in on an important spooky issue, one that arises every year at this time. That issue is: whose undeadness is more potent? The vampire’s? Or the zombie’s?

To answer this question, we must first establish a baseline. What kind of vampire are we talking about? Is the vampirism magical, or viral? We must also answer this question for the zombie. Accordingly, I’ve outlined some possible scenarios below using some of my favorite examples of the undead. Enjoy!

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Magical vampire vs. Magical zombie*

For the past two decades, when people think of vampires they are far more likely to think of Anne Rice’s lithe, cold Lestat than they are to think of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In both cases, however, there are some established rules. The vampire is dead, first of all. In Lestat’s case, that death means that he remains unchanging throughout eternity. Lestat also has a maker. Most vampire novels posit some sort of bond between a master vampire and the vampires he or she has brought into existence, often one that results in near unbreakable obedience, at least until the vampire gets more powerful.

This is an attribute shared with the magical zombie. In contrast to a magical vampire, it is debatable whether or not a zombie brought back by magic understands or evaluates its world in any meaningful way. The zombie has no will of its own. If there is a will, that will is hunger only. Typically, however, the zombie is controlled by a master of its own – a necromancer, who has been responsible for raising it. The zombie continues to rot, and does not contain anything like blood.

Rules established, what happens if a vampire bites a zombie? Probably nothing. A rotting zombie has no blood to attract the vampire, or with which to be turned. It is possible that consuming the blood of a zombie, at least in the world of Anne Rice, would kill the vampire, but that is highly debatable. The zombie’s death has already found it, so the vampire is not following death anywhere by taking the last drop, even if said vampire could be induced to attempt it. I imagine it would be like eating putrid fish.

If a magical zombie bit a vampire, a similar lack of reaction would probably occur. Depending on the type of vampire, there may be damage of a permanent kind or damage that is immediately healed. This is assuming that a zombie could get close enough to actually manage to bite a vampire, of course, since they tend to be pretty fast and zombies (at least the magical kind) are not fast.

The only way, probably, that a magical vampire could become a zombie would be to be taken over by the necromancer. In Buffy, for example, both Spike and Angel show that vampires are susceptible to magical influence on the part of witches and other magic users. Depending on the world, it might be possible for the necromancer in question to pilot a vampire (more on this below). This would render them functionally zombie-esque.

Magical vampire vs. Virus zombie

As discussed above, vamps are dead and unchangeable. The dead can’t catch viruses. An exception to this rule rises in the Sookie Stackhouse novels, where a kind of vampire HIV can be transmitted from living humans to vampires. It is debatable whether a virus which could live in a zombie body – i.e. one that is actively rotting excepting the nervous system, as in Resident Evil – could be easily transmitted by a vampire biting said zombie. On the other hand, a zombie bite to a Trueblood vampire might have unfortunate and new consequences. It is hard to tell how they would react.

Virus vampire vs. Magical zombie

This match-up is a difficult one because virus vampires quickly start to look like zombies for all intents and purposes. Some examples of a virus or other pathogen creating a vampire include the Immortuus pathogen in the Kate Daniels novels and the creatures in The Strain.  In both cases, early exposure results in a mindless killing machine. In the case of the vampires in Kate Daniels, it is additionally possible to control those vampires as if they were zombies. Navigators bear many resemblances to necromancers. In essence, this question may be a moot exercise. If it’s dead, a necromancer can pilot it. If it’s still alive… things get a little tricky, and the rules of the world kick in.

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Virus vampire vs. Virus zombie

The classic zombie that comes to all of our minds is probably not the one piloted by an outside will, but the one that is driven by a virus, bacterium, or other pathogen that just wants to spread itself around. For a good example, look no further than your classic Dawn of the Dead zombie, more or less revived in recent franchises such as The Walking Dead. These guys have little of their humanity left. They’re actively rotting, and they just want to eat everything.

But, as mentioned, the rotting bit is probably the only thing that distinguishes them from a Kate Daniels vampire, minus the ability to be piloted. In a battle, who would win? I would guess it depends on how much the original infection has transformed its host. If a vampire from post-Shift Atlanta were to bite or otherwise expose a human who lived to its pathogen, it’s likely that human would become a vampire, of course. But a zombie has already been transformed pretty significantly from the baseline human body. Things like body temperature, circulation, and alkalinity can all change to make the zombie’s body much less amenable to infection from another contaminant, and that’s assuming that the pathogen is passive to the new invasion. My hypothesis is that, in both cases, these infections would simply cancel one another out. That is to say, there would be no result from a Kate Daniels vampire biting a Dawn of the Dead zombie or vice versa.

That said, the vampire is going to win the fight the minute it pulls the zombie limb from limb.

That’s all I’ve got! Enjoy, and let me know if you disagree with who would win below! Happy Halloween!

* There’s one last vampire/zombie dichotomy of interest worth mentioning in the magical vampire vs. magical zombie debate, and that is the Black and Red Courts in the Dresden Files. While it’s true that Black Court vampires share many elements with more traditional vampires, their rotting bodies do certainly evoke a zombie-esque physique. On the other hand, Red Court vampires lose all appearance of humanity, becoming demonic in form, but share many of the more recent elements of magical vampires, including the ability to seduce and enthrall their victims. It’s hard to tell for sure where these two groups fall in the debate, but one thing’s for sure: they are both hard to kill.


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Loss and telling you story

October is, in the traditions I was handed down, a month of joyful harvest. It is also a month of reaping. This is the month that fields die. It is the month where the veil grows thin, and the dead come to visit.

The first book I ever finished I finished in the wake of loss. In 2008, my grandmother passed away. For over a year I had been noodling on yet another project that no doubt would have ended up shelved, but watching her die catalyzed something in me. It made me want to finish the work.

Since that time, I have written many stories that my grandmother appeared in. I don’t know if this is healthy or not – I only know that she is alive in me and my stories. That when I feel the press of infinity, I write. When I feel alone, I write, and I write too when I hear her whisper. I write so as not to be dead, as the great author Bradbury said. But I also write to know death. To understand this world we live in and the ways we must move through it.

Earlier this month, we lost a relative in our extended family. The death was gentle as deaths go, expected and yet quick as a butterfly’s fluttering. I didn’t get to say goodbye, not really. When I got the call, I sat down and wrote for hours. When I finally forced myself to stop, I still felt the need for pen and paper. No doubt she will end up in a story, too.

I don’t have any point to this post, per se. I could talk about how writing is a kind of self-cannibalization, chewing all of your emotions and experiences up and spitting them out on paper. I could talk about how writing has helped me process griefs I did not think I would ever process, to digest them at last and make them part of me, no longer a foreign object lodged behind my breastbone.

But I think I want to sit in silence for a moment, and just be grateful for this life. It is so short, and there are so many beautiful people in it.


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Doubt, desires, futures

This week, I’ve been reminding myself that you can look back, but you can’t go back.

I’m a self-published author, and when I started this gig I had no idea what I was doing. It is possible that I still don’t. Periodically, I will remember this. Writing could, easily, be a full-time gig. There are always more words to put to paper, and once something is drafted, more editing, more submissions, more research. This is very hard without a team to support you, and self-publishing means that the team you have is one you pay. No one should have to work for free. It’s a direct contrast to the traditional publishing mantra of “money always flows to the writer.” I have heard self-publishing described best as a business, with a large initial investment and a hope of payback.

Of course, when I started this gig, I didn’t understand any of that really. I was certainly not where I needed to be as a writer and marketer and business person to make things work. I’m still learning. All of life is a learning process, but the learning curve in this business is steep. Even with the insulation of traditional publishing, the pitfalls outnumber those in most careers. I can guarantee this, as I’ve bounced through several. For the most part, if you show up with halfway decent skills and a desire to work and learn, you can at least scrape by. It may not be pretty but it’s enough to get you to the next week.

Writing often doesn’t feel like that for me. Perhaps it’s because I have never paid into it as deeply as some; perhaps it is because I don’t have a great head for business, or at least didn’t six years ago. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of hours in the day – I’ve given a lot more hours, most likely, to developing my career at the dayjob just by dent of having a degree in it, no matter that I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen. But despite my natural propensity, writing as a job feels like climbing uphill in a snowstorm. I have to give 100% or there is no momentum. I’ll stand there and freeze.

I’ve thought a lot about what my goals are for the future and how best to get there. There’s no one path in this business, at least that’s what everyone says, but there are more well-trodden ones. At this point, I’m in a place of introspection. I don’t need my writing to live. I would like to be in a place, someday, where I didn’t have to juggle it with a whole other career, but I don’t hate my dayjob – the opposite, most days. In my dreams, I write full-time. All the stories that are inside me make it to paper before I inevitably return to the soil. Writing full-time isn’t about making money, necessarily, but birthing those stories. It’s about having the leeway to do that, to get the words down on paper, without sacrificing all of the other good things in my life – the time with family, the mental and physical health, things that can give a little now if you’re willing to pay for it later. And you will pay for it later.

Anyway, I keep thinking about where things go next. I keep thinking about the best use of my time. I keep thinking about all these worlds jostling about in my head, how they slosh over sometimes without me telling them to. I haven’t figured anything out yet for sure, except that, while I can change what I’ve already given the world, I’m not sure it’s the best use of my time right now. I can’t go back.

I need to move forward, to become.


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In defense of Sokka

Since I’ve been re-watching Avatar, several people have asked me what kind of bender I am. The S.O. opines often that I am a firebender, but to be honest I’ve never felt completely connected with any of the bending disciplines. The character that I feel the greatest connection to, actually, is Sokka.

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(For the record, the S.O. is definitely an airbender. If anyone was wondering.)

Sokka is the weak link in the Avatar team. Actually, I only use that term because I was listening to the Revisionist History podcast recently and Malcom Gladwell was talking about weak link versus strong link thinking. Specifically, what he said was that some people focus on improving the strong link in a team (in this case, Aang) because they think that will give them the best chance of success. But often, success in a given community or sport will hinge on the weak link – the character that, at face value, has the least power or strength. Despite his skill with a boomerang, Sokka fits.

At first blush, it looks like the plot of Avatar is all about leveling up Aang. He’s the main character, he’s the chosen one, and he’s the person the plot revolves around. But on the rewatch it quickly becomes apparent: Aang can’t succeed at anything on his own. Yeah, the kid is hella powerful, but so what? Power is not the only thing that wins the fight. No matter how much Aang levels up, he can’t do it on his own.

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You need strategy. You need your team.

Sokka is not a bender. He’s the oldest, but he’s not the best with people either. His greatest strengths are, ironically, his pessimism and his ability to come up with schemes. Sokka is concerned with the basic aspects of living – money, food, a place to sleep. He’s practical. He’s loyal, too. When he gets the chance to join his beloved father at various points in the series, he chooses not to, knowing that Aang needs him. It is Sokka who discovers the Day of Black Sun, who pushes for them to invade the Fire Nation at that time. It nearly works, too. In the final battle, it’s Sokka who focuses on the bigger picture – preventing the Fire Nation soldiers from destroying the Earth Kingdom – playing an instrumental roll in the action.

Sokka isn’t the only non-bender with exceptional physical skills. Mai and Ty Lee both show that benders are not the only power on the battlefield. He’s also not the smartest non-bender we see. The Mechanist is far more skilled in inventing, though Sokka does his share. He is a generalist, and while that doesn’t mean that he is flashy, the breadth of his knowledge is its own power. Sokka knows what his team’s skills are, and he comes up with strategies that play to those skills. They may not always work out, but at least he has a plan – and he’s always quick to come up with something else. He is not the leader of their group – Katara comes closest – but he is the brains behind the operation, even if his friends sometimes take potshots at his logic.

(And his propensity to drink cactus juice.)

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Could Aang have won without Sokka? It’s possible. More likely he would have been captured by the Fire Nation long before without Sokka and Katara’s help. But even assuming he survived, and won the battle with Ozai, Aang would not have been able to protect the people he was fighting for without Sokka’s strategies and support. He may be the weakest link, but that makes him no less integral.


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The only way out is through

This past weekend was Labor Day, and therefore I got a long weekend. The S.O. and some friends had planned to go on a hike sometime in late summer or fall, and they invited me along. I was slightly skeptical, but I went. I’m glad I did. But that was a humdinger of a hike, friends.

For those unfamiliar with hiking, there’s a couple of different breeds. You have your dayhikers, which I usually count myself among, casual hikers who go for a particular destination and take their time doing it. They rarely sleep outdoors and often take little in the way of gear, hiking in tennis shoes and leggings, secure in the knowledge that a hot meal and shower is waiting at the end of the day.

Then there are thru-hikers, the hardcore hiking aficionados, sometimes soul-searching, sometimes just walking for the fun of it. If you live off of a major trail like the Appalachian Trail of the Pacific Crest Trail, you have met them, or at least seen them on the side of the road. These are the guys and gals with huge packs the size of their torso, infamous appetites, and a general sun-burned and bug-bitten appearance.

In between these two extremes, you get overnighters.

There’s obviously a lot of variability between going on a hike for a day with a bottle of water and some snacks or your packed lunch and hiking a trail for three months, but a common overnight lives up to its name – one to three nights on the trail. At first glance, a backpacker on an overnight may look a bit like a thru-hiker. The packs are large, for example, and there’s a lot of sweating involved. However, an overnighter is better fed and cleaner, as a rule. That’s not saying a lot at the end of summer, with mud everywhere and sweat pouring from every inch of your skin, but it’s saying something.

This weekend, I spent three nights and three days on the trail. By the end I had over twenty bugbites on my exposed arms, ankles, and throat. I had sweated all the way through my clothes, continually, for three days, and the smell could have literally knocked someone over. My feet were blistered, my joints were aching. When I stood up I had to lean on a stick and waddle until the pain could work its way out enough that I could take a step again. There was a point on that trail where I seriously contemplated lying down and not getting back up. That was about 20 miles in. We went 45 miles, all told, over three days.

I didn’t lie down. I didn’t give up. I did this because there was no other choice. I was 20+ miles by foot from any quick or easy fix. There were no ways out except to hitch up the pack on my back and keep moving. The only way out was through.

When I got home, I got a rejection on a story. There are rejections, and there are rejections – I’m sure, if you write, that you know what I mean. Writing means rejection, and some of them are almost expected. There comes a point when, despite all the work you’ve put in, you know you’re just tossing darts blind. Spinning the wheel of fate. Whatever metaphor you want to use, there’s no control there.

Sometimes, however, you get your hopes up. You’re so damn sure that this story, this one, it’s meant to be with this market. They will love this. This will be your sale, guaranteed. And it isn’t. And they don’t love it. And the form letter comes in the mail. The trail is still stretching on forever. You have not reached the shelter. You have not found a summit. There’s only forward, forward, forward, up the mountain.

I do have a choice about giving up on submissions. In some ways, that makes it harder than being on the trail. But I don’t think I can ever stop writing, whether I want to or not. So perhaps it’s not so different in the end.

Hitch up the pack. Keep moving.


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A work-life balance, also trees

Authors are human, and most of us are barely chipping away at things. I know that’s what it has felt like for me for a long time – that no matter how fast I write, I can’t write fast enough.

Last week, I took the week off of the dayjob and off of writing. It’s the first time I’ve had a full vacation for…..you know, I really don’t know the last time I wasn’t doing one of those things. In April, I went on “vacation” but that meant flying across the country for a writing workshop. In November, once more, “vacation” meant flying myself to Texas for a conference. There were some delightful moments and experiences packed in there, but none of those substitute for rest.

And rest is definitely something we need. Without it, we start losing focus.

Ironically, I’m not good at resting. Even though I didn’t have any writing or working planned, I still spent a good chunk of my week off doing chores. When we bought the house last September – another vacation that doesn’t quite count, where I took three days off of the dayjob to paint walls and move – the lot featured large swathes of invasive volunteer trees. They were quick-growing elms that have come over from China or somewhere. The trees are beautiful when they get big, but boy do they get big. The biggest one I’ve seen was at least 50 feet tall – a large canopy tree for sure. It took several days for our neighbors to have that one taken out after a storm split it down the middle, luckily missing their house.

So these are not the trees we wanted growing in the yard, obviously. Don’t get me wrong, I love trees. But most of our backyard is already taken up with a large, established maple, an ailing scarlet oak, and a lovely black walnut. There is no room for invasive elms in that picture.

While there are still a few volunteers that were too big for me to take out with the tools I had, I’m happy to say I have mostly cleared the small forest that had popped up. You may be surprised to hear that I’m happy about that. I did mourn the trees, who were doing the best they could. But I have plans. Specifically, plans for shorter bushes and medium sized trees that can produce buckets of delicious fruit. I’ve already procured elderberry and haskap starters. My goal was to plant those last week, but unfortunately the only things I got into the ground were two dwarf peach trees. I’m hopeful they survive the winter.

As you can see, I’m not good at resting. But sometimes rest just looks like doing something different – changing things up. For the first time in a long time, I got a lovely idea for a story last week and felt excited. So I must have done something right. I scribbled down the outlines of that story in a notebook and spent most of a day tasting it on my tongue. Then I went back to digging.

There’s never enough time to write all the stories. There’s never enough time to rest, either. Sometimes, you have to simply decide to make the time you need.


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Photo by Markus Spiske (temporausch.com) from Pexels.

Eek! I missed a week!

Sorry for my silence last week, friends. It was my birthday, and I was off gallivanting. I ate a bunch of good food, planted peach trees and moved iris bulbs, killed a bunch of invasive elms (hopefully) and poison ivy, destroyed some boxwoods because boxwoods don’t DO anything, and climbed a mountain. Overall it was excellent. I alternated between being incredibly sore and being so full of food you could roll me home. An ideal week.

Random cool announcement: This Saturday I will be participating in the downtown Roanoke Sidewalk Sale with Book No Further, visible to the public in full author regalia at 1 pm. Come see me!

Back to regular programming on Friday!


 

And now we return to your regularly scheduled programming

Friends, I am so glad to be home! Metaphorically, I mean. I missed my blog a lot.

Housekeeping! If you missed my blog tour, here are all the stops along the way. Take a moment to get caught up, if you care to. My favorite stop was the last one, which involved a playlist! Plus a really long, in depth interview that answers all of your Creation Saga questions.

And of course, you can now buy the first two volumes of the Creation Saga. I’ll be diving into the third and last volume soon, but I’m taking a break to explore other projects. It’s outlined, so the roadmap is there. But I realized once I finished Daughter of Madness and got it out in the world that I was burnt like crispy toast. I needed a break to regroup. So minus the blog tour and edits to APM, I haven’t been writing much for the months of June and July except when I get inspiration. Got to let the well fill back up, as it were.

Speaking of APM, that goes on submission in the next couple of weeks. Traditionally published processes are a little less transparent for various reasons, so I probably won’t mention it on here again for a while, but it is something taking up some of my brain space.

So yeah, break is a relative word that just means I slowed down for the summer, as we all like to do. What have I been doing instead? Well, I managed some river time recently, I have accrued my fair share of mosquito bites (15 at last count), I actually cooked dinner once, and I’ve been gardening a lot. Also continuing aerial silks and gym classes. So I’m staying busy with hobbies that help me relax and replenish for the first time in….oh, I guess a year. It has been a really rough year for me in a lot of ways which I won’t go into on this blog, and this is the first time I have felt like I could breathe for a long time. There are still things I would like to fix and change, and still projects to be working on, but I’m taking some time to be still.

That also means I get time to read! Just the past few weeks I’ve finished TRAIL OF LIGHTNING, IRON AND MAGIC, A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, and some other fun reads. I also slammed through VIOLET EVERGARDEN on Netflix, to my tear ducts’ dismay. I have not sobbed so hard and so consistently for a while. It was like YOUR LIE IN APRIL with guns, and the animation was excellent.

With that, I hope you enjoy a lovely river picture. Until next week!


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