MystiCon Recap: Shakespeare Edition

Hey folks! MystiCon last weekend was a blast, but it’s got me pretty wiped out this week. I’ve been scrambling to keep up with all my obligations, which is nothing new. Happily, I had some free time this morning to knock out this blogpost for you this week!

I had a great time at MystiCon this year, largely because some friends joined me and I got to do a lot more of the weird social stuff. I still did lots of writer things, too, though, including being on four panels! My favorite panel, surprisingly, was our discussion of Shakespeare and the Supernatural late Saturday night. We had some great conversation, which I will attempt to describe here.

My exposure to Shakespeare has largely been as a watcher and reader, and I’ve had relatively little wish to analyse Shakespeare’s work. I wouldn’t say I’m the most widely read either – I have seen The Tempest, an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (multiple times), Julius Caesar, and Romeo and Juliet. I’ve acted in A Comedy of Errors, and seen and read a good portion of Hamlet. One time I visited Stratford-upon-Avon. So that’s my whole Shakespeare career, pretty much. Everything after that is cliffnotes. Yet I was blessed to be part of a group that had apparently read a LOT of Shakespeare critique and analysis. They had the cultural context for the life of the poet I lacked. It made for some great discussion!

One of the things that we came away with during this panel was the Shakespeare’s time was very different than our own. Superstition was pretty rampant – the King at the time had a treatise on the supernatural and witches that he had made up, and witchcraft was a crime punishable by death and tried in the courts. So it makes sense that witches were generally bad people in Shakespeare’s works. If nothing else, he would have been run out of the country otherwise. The exception to this, possibly, is Prospero – who is, for all intents and purposes, a witch. We didn’t go into this too much, except that it’s fair to say that Prospero is a bit of an anti-hero in the Tempest. Your sympathies are somewhat with him, but mostly they are meant to be with Miranda, the young innocent, and her Ferdinand. I think this is why so many adaptations of the Tempest focus on her story, and not Prospero’s, but I digress.

Spirits and faeries, on the other hand, are the fun characters. They are forces of nature more than people, and so they aren’t subject to the same rules of morality as the human characters on the stage. Like nature, they often throw the humans around them into chaos, and can be either benign of malignant. Think of Oberon changing his wife’s lover into a donkey, or Puck being…Puck.

Lastly and most forbiddingly, we have the ghosts. A witch is bad news, but a ghost spells certain doom for the main character. They are the embodiment of fate, and all fates end in the cutting of the cord. We had a long debate on if ghosts were more or less “real” to people in Shakespearian England. I personally think that, despite our modern ideas that ghosts are just psychological echoes of our own trauma, ghosts are still a real thing, but I felt like other people in the room were a little less superstitious than me. They felt that views had changed pretty drastically on ghosts since Shakespeare’s time, and they were probably right. One thing we agreed on was that within the play Shakespeare’s ghosts were their own elements – they existed independently of the characters’ psyches, despite their impacts there.

I hope everyone goes out and reads some Shakespeare after this! It’s so much fun to get to dive back into the words of a person who was so prolific in their time.

Until next year, MystiCon!


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MystiCon!

Early post because this weekend is MystiCon! I’ll do a recap post next week, but in the interim please stop in and say hi if you’ll be there. I’d love to meet you!

You can use MystiCon’s handy scheduler to find out more about where I’ll be. I’ll mostly be around during Saturday’s sessions, but I will have one panel that I’m moderating on Sunday. It should be a great time!

Saturday I will also be doing a signing in the hall at 4:00pm, so if you have a book you need signed or just want to chat about my work, this is the time.

I hope you all have a great MystiCon!


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Multi-tasking, finishing, other

Hey folks, MystiCon is next week and I’m pretty caught up with preparing for that and my other projects, so no analysis posts in February. But I’ve been watching a lot of anime and probably you’re going to get a lot of anime recommendations and reviews in March, so hold onto your hats.

I think a lot of writers are multi-taskers, and I’ve been reading a lot lately about the importance of NOT doing that. Which is a little frustrating given that the deck is stacked against me.

For Christmas, I bought myself a book called The 30-Day Productivity Manual, which is, as you might guess, a book about how to become more efficient in your use of time. The premise is not that you should put more time into the thing to get it done, but that you should accept that you only have so much time in the day and develop routines and coping mechanisms to streamline your workflow. I got this book because I was feeling absolutely overwhelmed, mostly at the dayjob. This is because while I tell everyone I’m a mapmaker, and that’s true, I also do a lot more complex stuff, including a lot of writing of very long documents.

Sound familiar? (Really, let’s just assume everything that holds true for my dayjob is also true for my writing career. Except the meetings. So far no meetings as a novelist. YMMV.)

Unfortunately for me, writing something that’s very long and based on research, while quick once you’ve done all the research, is very hard to do between all the other smaller tasks I have. It’s also really hard to focus on the broader vision for such a large and bulky project when there are all these smaller projects vying for your attention. Managing my workflow in an effective way is essential. But it’s allowed me to reflect some on my writing processes as well.

It’s really easy to never finish something. For example, I give The Zombie Book, a project I drafted seven years ago.

(Sorry, I had to check the math there.)

Anyway, seven years ago I first sat down and wrote The Zombie Book. At the time it was a rip-roaring adventure and, I was sure, the best thing I had ever written. (Does this sound familiar?) Anyway, I pitched it to a few folks, they asked for partials and fulls, it was summarily rejected. Then I had grad school finals and finding a job to worry about, then I started writing DoM….suffice to say it was summarily trunked. But I always had it in the back of my head that it was a good, fun book and that I wanted to revise it and bring it back to my submissions folder.

Cue my 2019 New Year’s Resolution. I’ve been chipping away at this revision since December and… folks, I’m pretty sure that at the sentence level this is the… actual worst thing I’ve ever written. Oops. This doesn’t mean that it won’t become the best thing I’ve ever written. But it’s going to take a lot of work.

Meanwhile, it’s been a lot more fun to draft two new projects. Oh, and I’ve also been trying to polish up some of the short stories I wrote last year and submit them to magazines…. Plus I get to keep up with this blog, and the Patreon that theoretically pays me for doing the blog, events, and my social media….

Add to that the fact that I manage anywhere from 14-20 separate projects a year for my dayjob (which translates to actually working on four or five a week usually, because I’m human) and we can see that my brain is going literally everywhere at once. Plus, I really like to do a good job on things. I don’t want to let it leave my table unless it’s at least halfway decent.

Anyway, this is a lot of what I’ve been meditating on as I contemplate my life going forward and maintaining a healthy work-life balance with what is essentially two jobs that both require the ability to juggle multiple tasks. And it’s something to think about for both readers and writers that are interested in the writer’s process and why we can’t get that next book out when you want it. There’s just a lot going on, and finding enough focused time to knock out a single project sometimes seems impossible. As my productivity manual informs me, though, finding that time is up to me.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you writing isn’t hard work, friends.


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A brief bit of personal and a story announcement

Oh man, friends, this year has gone so fast already. We’re in February!

February! Where I just….sold my first short story? Already achieving my NYE goal? Somehow?

So yeah, I have a story called “At Love’s Heart” coming out in Luna Station Quarterly on March 1st. It will be available for free online for a week at their website, then will be available in ebook and print zine format. I am very excited. And I’ve already submitted two more stories to other markets, because I think it would be fun to get a bunch of rejections anyway this year.

Other than that, most of my writing time has been spent working on a new project, editing an old manuscript, and polishing short stories for submission. So I’ve got a lot of irons in the metaphorical fire. I’ve been using Tools for Writers by Christie Yant to track my progress towards each of my goals, which is a Google Sheet . So far this year I’ve written 12,000 words! It’s kind of amazing to watch those words build in the spreadsheet.

On the personal side of things, I’ve been happy to see the days get longer. Imbolc was spent getting a massage and soaking in a jacuzzi, in a true observance of this renewal-focused holiday. I’ve also recently subscribed to Hulu, which is apparently where all the anime is. It’s been lovely. There’s a lot of pressure coming down on me from my dayjob right now, but I’m trying really hard to make the time for the things that make me human.

Anyway, so far I can’t complain too much about 2019.


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Upcoming events!

I wanted to go ahead and let everyone know what events I will be at this year so far.

Roanoke Regional Writers Conference (tentative), January 25-26

I don’t have any panels lined up, and this will largely be a networking conference for me. If you’re interested in the craft and business of writing and want to meet other writers in the area, this is a good conference to attend!

MystiCon, February 22-24

MystiCon is a fan convention, and I’ve already got my schedule for the year. Feel free to come by and check out any of my panels, or come buy a book! I’ll also have free stuff to give away.

  • Balancing the Geek Life with Mundane Adulting,Saturday, 11 am
  • Signing Table, Saturday, 4 pm
  • Let’s Take Flight, Saturday, 9pm
  • Ghosts, Witches, Wizards, Magic: Shakespeare and the Supernatural, Saturday, 10 pm
  • Beyond Western Europe – Other World Cultures for Fantasy (M), Sunday, 2pm

Roanoke Author Invasion, April 6th

This is the annual signing and book sale. I haven’t figured out exactly what all I will be bringing to this event yet, but I should have more information before April!

Hope to see you there!


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Falling down the hill

It’s nearly the end of NaNoWriMo and the Thanksgiving season has begun. So far I have attended three Thanksgivings of one stripe or another, and I’m crazy behind on wordcount. I’m convinced that whoever placed NaNo in November did it specifically because they thought only children and college-aged folks would be interested. Adults spend far too much time in November cooking for other people to be able to summon the creative juices to write 50k.

Luckily, I am not writing that much. My NaNo goal was only 20k. I could conceivably do that in four (terrible) days if I had to, and I have already gotten pretty far along so I won’t have to do that to myself. And, despite being behind, there’s good news!

You may have seen this post, so let me explain what this means.

My writing process is sort of strange. As with most people, the process changes from book to book. However, with most stories I hit a moment when things start to cohere. Last weekend, as I was sitting in a restaurant waiting for a friend, I realized that I had finally discovery-written enough that things were starting to come together.

You see, I’m not a pantser, but I’m not a planner either. I’m more of a baker of stories, when it comes down to it. I plan out the ingredients according to the recipe I come up with, and then I start mixing things together. The end-goal remains consistent but sometimes the steps can be malleable. As any good baker knows, there’s usually a point part of the way through where you’re not sure if you’re doing it right. Maybe you didn’t add enough water or milk, and it needs a little more. Maybe you didn’t add enough flour. Whatever it was, you need intuition to take you in that direction, to get you to the perfect consistency of dough or batter.

And once you have that consistency right, the rest of it is just patting and rolling the story into shape.

Anyway, it’s an imperfect metaphor, but I’m living proof that you don’t need to outline 100% or to free-write 100%. I’m pretty sure if I did either the story that would come out would be dead, lacking the spark that makes it worth reading. For this story, I had a clear idea of the two main characters, parts of the setting, and the end I was working towards. I knew the bones. As I have written, I’ve been adding flesh and color in ways that, honestly, often surprise me. The story is beginning to take on a life of its own, and that means I’m doing something right.

Just in time, too, since NaNo is nearly over.


 
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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.

welcome to november.gif

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!

lestat.jpg

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.

zombies

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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