Character names and titles

Character names and titles are important in fiction (duh!)

Different genres have different naming trends and types, if not outright rules. A clever writer can exploit or twist those, while a tone-deaf writer can suffer for them. Of course, it helps to read massively and currently in your target genres.

I have a perennial problem with names. Many of my characters go through name changes during their story’s evolution (Tel from ‘Bloodshadow’ has had five different names). Or they’re called by different names by different people or groups (Moro from ‘Moro’s Price, poor lad.)

Some characters will stubbornly keep their names, no matter what plotty bribes I throw their way.

I’ve got two naming problems right now, with two separate projects.

My editor felt uncertain about a 52nd Century character calling himself ‘Bill’, with a given name of William (which he hates, hence the nickname). Realistically, linguistic drift and culture changes should result in very different name structures.

But this is a smutty M/M space opera, not literary fiction with scholarly linguistic projection.

The character has good reason to go by a jaunty, unassuming nickname. So I left him as ‘Bill’.

I gave him an Eastern European version of ‘William’ that links back to part of his family’s heritage. He still hates it, because it makes him look even more like a rich mobster. And, like the rest of the book, it offers an indirect political comment on RL current events.

My second name problem is an honorific, a job title, a threat, and an insult…applied to one of the founding characters in my secondary-world high-fantasy Lonhra Sequence books. I’ve had this (mostly background) immortal character in his/her/their current form for over three decades. (What happens when you worldbuild as a hobby.)

That character’s given name changes often due to marriage and politics, but their title is a bedrock of Lonhran history.

Imagine my reactions when I read today about a new YA author using almost that same title in her fantasy book! After the initial jolt passed, I examined my problem logically.

I doubt she ‘stole’ it, even though my version has been trade-published since early 2012. The title is a combination of two common English language words. It’s likely many people have used it.

Could I use the Lonhra language version: Tilurak? It means the same thing. I like both, but the longer English version is more familiar and approachable for me.

If an agent or editor brings up the coincidence, I’ll have to explain and justify my reasons.

Until then, that character title stays.

The lesson for other writers? Names can be a battleground. Be prepared to fight for, alter, or jettison them as needed.

Blood Orange and Jasper Magic Wand

Or: faux inlay technique on wood.

I make artifacts and jewelry, along with book art and a ton of other largely useless but fun things. I belong to a loose-knit group of like-minded souls who, upon occasion, will make Harry-Potter-inspired magic wands as props and cosplay pieces.

This newest piece is made from a Blood Orange tree twig woodburned and painted, with a lanyard of braided waxed blue-gray polyester cord strung with Picture Jasper and Blue Lace Agate beads. The stick is about 14″ long and .75″ at its widest.

I’ve had the twig for 15 years. It came from a Blood Orange bonsai attempt that died at two years old. The corkscrew end is part of the root, and shows the stress on the tree. (I am never starting another bonsai again. It’s cruel, the tree equivalent of foot-binding.) I kept the dried-out little trunk because it was beautiful in its frozen misery, and a stern reminder of boundaries I shouldn’t cross again.

When I decided to make a prop wand from it, I stripped off the bark with a Dremel sander tip, then polished with successively finer sandpapers up to 600 grit. 

I did the spiraling design on the twig freehand with a temperature-controlled woodburning pen with a chisel tip. That allowed me to sink deep, precise marks along the wood. The resulting resins got scrubbed off with 90% alcohol and an old T-shirt. This cleaned off the soot and oils that could otherwise retard paint and varnish. The stick looked like this…

Painting time! I mixed a blue/turquoise/gray acrylic paint slip and worked it into every burned line, then painted a layer over the whole stick. That got to dry for a day. I chose blue-gray because it’s a color out of a fantasy series I’m working on, and I want do do some book covers in this look eventually.

(I can imagine that an earthwitch out of my Lonhra Sequence books might use a version of this thing.)

orangwwood wand detailWith another old T-shirt and more alcohol, I rubbed off most of the paint, until the buttery-yellow bare wood showed and the burned lines were filled with blue-gray paint. Once that dried for another day or three, I sanded again with fresh 600 grit black wet-dry paper.

This leaves a general effect of bare wood + colored inlaid lines bordered with the dark brown burned edges of the design. Covered with an oil-based or clear resin varnish, the effect looks even more like inlay. I use this technique a lot on wood book covers, because it adds subtle, precise surface detail.

The lanyard is Gray 4-ply waxed polyester cord from Maine Thread Co, in a triple-strand braid. The tan/cream/brown Picture Jasper rectangular tubes came from a $4 thrift store necklace I found last week. From The 30-Year Stash, I already had tumbled nuggets of Blue Lace Agate with the right mix of gray-blue and white banding and tan matrix.

On pyrography: Some folks do woodburning on leather (I don’t like the smell, or the result, but that’s only my take on it.) You may not get as deep or as controlled a brand line as you might on wood. Be careful when scrubbing/sanding off the top layer, as you can ‘suede’ your leather accidentally.

If you want to try this look, you can use the regular hobbyist single-temperature ‘soldering iron’ type of woodburning pen. I’ve found that my variable-temp professional pyrography unit with multiple tips is an amazing drawing tool. It’s more than paid for itself in the decade-and-a-half since purchase.

What am I going to do with this wand? Hang it up to look at for a while, maybe sell it later. It’s a proof of concept. The value for me lay in the crafting, so I can apply the look elsewhere.

When writing goes exceptionally well

I’ve been at a plateau for a while on the big fantasy project: polished, but not quite gleaming. This weekend, three things happened:

I wrote a decent pitch for an upcoming pitch contest.

Image result for ronan dance off GIF

I tightened the first chapter, and bridged new and old versions with really strong scenes. I forced more emotion into one character, and more agency into another.

Image result for maleficent cartoon GIF

Both beta readers on this project (who are neither lazy slouches nor easily won over) have given me their vast approval.

So even if the pitch contest doesn’t work, I’m far more confident about this book than in its previous versions. It’s not wasted effort, if it improves the manuscript.

The only catch: it all has to be done by Friday the 24th. That’s when the pitch contest begins…but more importantly, it’s when I have to start work on a major art project AND wrangle incoming edits for the brand new, shiny version of Moro’s Price (coming from NineStar Press this summer).

New version of Moro’s Price coming soon!

 

My debut novel MORO’S PRICE, a M/M space opera erotic romance, was first published in 2012. I’m pleased to announce that a newly revised version will be coming soon from NineStar Press.

If you liked the original version, I think you’ll love this one.

If all goes well, you’ll also be seeing the direct sequel to MORO, as well as a spin-off M/M novella featuring two side characters.

Thanks for your patience and support!

Valier, digital pastel, 8-26-2016

So, since I didn’t get Singer In Rhunshan into PitchWars (and knew it would be a longshot), I’m back to the revisions on Moro’s Price.

For those of you who didn’t know, the latter is a big space opera-ish M/M erotic romance set against a futuristic but by no means scientific background. When wrote it in 2011, I deliberately placed it into the far future of the Lonhra Sequence. Bits of ‘Firefly’, ‘Dune’, ‘Bablyon ‘5, and the Vorkosigan saga inspired it; since then, I’ve been watching ‘Killjoys’, ‘The Expanse’, and ‘Dark Matter’ intently for more inspiration.

I get to do crazy wonderful things to this book, now that I have it back from the original publisher. Fun things. Like substantially change the opening chapters, condense some of the dragging middle, and weave it better into Moro’s Shield, the sequel, and The Leopard of Saba, a spinoff novella set before and during Price.

It helps to know what people look like, while I write them. This round of revisions, I changed Valier Antonin, with slightly stronger facial features and curlier hair. Makes sense: his mother has major curls, and she’s the stronger genetic donor in the mix of people who made Val.

This isn’t the teenage Val I had been sketching, but the man in his mid twenties, when Moro meets him.

Val 2016 for blog

My Pitch Wars bio

So, apparently I’m doing this thing called Pitch Wars next week. I have my first chapter reasonably polished, hammered together something that might pass for a hook, cooked up an 800-word synopsis, and achieved a query that didn’t make my current CPs barf. I am exhausted but happy.

For people stalking my mms, there’s plenty on that buried in the rest of this blog. I’ll make it simple. It’s a big secondary-world high fantasy quest/romance novel about music, ancient bio-weapons, sentient amnesiac black holes, oppressed populations, incipient civil wars, and three people who really need to talk honestly to each other more often. Like I said, simple.

For people stalking me, I’m really rather boring. The most interesting thing about me right now is my hair, which is partly cobalt blue right now. And my terrible taste in socks.

I’ve been a commercial and fine artist for a couple of decades. Some of my areas of expertise chosen obsessions are silversmithing, beadwork, embroidery, acrylic painting, costuming, couture clothing, masks, book art sculptures, and digital art.

I’ve had art in some national exhibitions and fancy coffee-table art books. My book art pieces are represented by two incredible galleries, who sell my work to collectors around the world. I have art online at a few sites, both for display and for sale.

By day I write marketing and catalog copy for an international jewelry-making supply firm.

In my spare time, I write science fiction, fantasy, fanfiction, and original erotic romance. I’m apparently not supposed to let on how much I’ve written.

Some of it has even been published by royalty-paying publishers.

What do I want out of Pitch Wars? Nearly everyone wants an enthusiastic, skilled agent and maybe a very nice deal down the road. But my years in art have taught me that the outcomes and odds can be so improbable that you’d better be doing something you love. That you would do anyway. That you cannot not do. That the journey itself may be more important, and lead to even more amazing places than you ever dreamed.

So I’m hoping to connect with some more mentors who will become good friends, that maybe I can help as much as they could help me. Even if I don’t make it into the later rounds, just doing this has helped me clarify my goals.

Onward!

 

Moro’s Price first edition 2012 to 2016

I say ‘first edition’ because I have several future paths for my first published novel, now that its association with Loose Id LLC has come to an end. Moro’s Price no longer exists as an ebook on Amazon.com, or on the Loose Id website. Over the next month or so, it will leave AllRomance Ebooks, Barnes&Noble, and its other vendors.

If you see it there and want this version, this will be your last chance.

I’ve enjoyed working with Loose Id, and wish the company and its authors the very best going forward. For me, rights reversion came at a good time, letting me revise the story to better fit its planned sequels and the larger universe it inhabits.

Moro Jade Disc

What happens next to the story of Val and Moro? That very much depends on what happens with the (very slightly) related mms I’m currently shopping. I have a lot of options, all of them interesting.

When I know, I’ll pass the word.

My deepest gratitude to Loose Id for taking a chance on the book in 2012, for Cherry Weiner for going to bat for me over contract issues, and all the people who read, enjoyed, and reviewed the book.

Carnelian Collar

I’ve always loved the red-orange tones of carnelian: 1) Grew up in northern New Mexico. 2) A kidlet obsession with ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.

While designing the worldbuilding for the Lonhra Sequence, I somehow got fixated on the idea that the Dana homeworld’s vegetation was primarily red to purple (I blame Barrayar for that, probably). So of course, the stones and gems associated with Dana settlers on Lonhra would be red and purple: red jade, marbles, granites, ruby, amethyst, spinel, garnet, jasper, and carnelian.

I found a gorgeous carnelian bangle bracelet at the Tucson Rock & Gem Show last February. For $10, it was a bargain. And then I made the mistake of starting to source other carnelian components. Because of course I need another necklace.

This happened:

Carnelian collar for blog

From one local bead store, 8 carnelian fan-shaped sets of 13 top-drilled beads. From a great shop in NC, the big 50mm axe-head bead in deep red carnelian. From my personal stash gathered over years: carnelian accent beads, and two big carnelian arrow points with a clean Deco design. Sterling silver findings from Plazko.com include extender chain, crimps, crimp covers, wire guards, a bunch of 3mm closed jump rings, and a big swivel lobster-claw clasp.

The jump rings provide just a whisper of silver between the carnelian stick beads, and make for easier movement and less drag. I may have to remake this piece to add details to the chain and loosen up the beads, but I’m 90% there with a piece I love.

I like the subtle militancy of the axe and arrow points. Especially considering that the Dana on Lonhra have adopted a superficially peaceful reputation, to downplay their role in an almost planet-busting war.

Worldbuilding, meet jewelry.

#SFFpit: the epilogue

So a few days have passed. I did about as well in #SFFpit as I expected: one of the small publishers I know and trust liked my entries, as well as a few other people. It was a long shot with some hidden value beyond the pitch day, so I wasn’t that worried for the mms’ sake.

However – and not to diss Dan Koboldt or any of the other many people who made the June 2016 #SFFpit happen – it seemed largely a wash. Part of that may just be summer doldrums, and a one-day event sandwiched between the twitter juggernauts of QueryKombat and PitchWars later this summer. Part had to have been the Brexit vote and its aftermath, sucking up all air on the internet during Thursday. Part may simply be twitter-pitch fatigue.

I looked across my categories of interest: fantasy, epic fantasy, high fantasy. I saw some great entries that I wished were available books. Many of these pitches were YA, but not as many as I’d feared earlier. Most of them didn’t get a single agent or editor ‘like’; the best entries seemed to gather only (low) single digit-likes.

Not a lot of play visible from major agents, but the usual small-press/vanity/new company suspects were out in full force. I’ve already written about similar companies and their strategies in ‘Filigree’s Rule’, so I won’t go into a dissection here.

It was a fun experience, but I doubt I’ll do it again in December, or take part in other twitter pitch contests for this particular fantasy mms. I have already queried and had rejections from most of my target agents, with only a few stragglers left on my list. By December, I hope to either have agent representation or (more likely) be working on the process of self-publishing at least 4 novels.

I’d still recommend that every unagented author with a completed and polished mms try at least three twitter pitch events. I’d also recommend they use a scheduling program like HootSuite or Tweetdeck to automatically send their tweets at the right times during the contest hours, especially if they have a life outside Twitter.

The greatest thing about twitter pitches? The incredible community. The second greatest thing? Developing and honing twitter pitches leads to better elevator blurbs, loglines, and teaser copy.

When I considered #DVpit (Diverse Voices) in April, I wasn’t sure I could manage to create a single pitch, let alone three or four. Turns out, those pitches sucked: I used Classical mythology references that younger readers and agents didn’t get, I used 15-year-old or older comparison titles, I relied too much on pop culture shorthand, and I didn’t drill down into the conflicts of my story.

Here are my first three #DVpit attempts:

1 LGBT secworld Orpheus: a warrior, a bard, and the genderfluid Hades who must keep them alive. McKillip+Lee’s Flat Earth #DVpit #highfantasy

2 Sword&planet Orpheus: a warrior, a bard, and the genderfluid Hades who must keep them alive. McKillip+Lee’s Flat Earth #DVpit #highfantasy.

3 The tyrant rules only while her mortal consorts live: LGBT Orpheus #highfantasy #Adult McKillip+Kushiel VivaLaVida the novel #DVpit

They were riffs on a description that had gone over tolerably well in a couple of online writing forums, but suffered when condensed to 140 characters. I didn’t know the approved abbreviations for SFF subgenres; I should have used #HF for #highfantasy, for example.

People were unfamiliar enough with Classical themes that they thought ‘Sword&planet Orpheus’ was the title, instead of a theme. My comp titles were so old that only a few agents even recognized them. Using a Coldplay song, while sort of accurate, probably hindered more than it helped. Worst of all, I had no detailed sense of the book’s conflicts.

Out of DVpit I got one agent’s interest on a partial; but the book had too much romance for her, so that went nowhere (I’d already queried her agency in March and had a rejection, so no surprise.)

I noticed a lot of agent likes and editor retweets across the board in fantasy, epic fantasy, and high fantasy…even if a lot of them seemed to be in YA. It was a lively day.

Before stumbling onward to Brenda Drake’s #PitMad (Pitch Madness) on June 9, I participated in Kyra M. Nelson’s #MockPit on June 2. This one-day event is a kind of practice run for #PitMad.

I used the old pitches and got roundly trounced; this was an event dominated by YA authors and agents, and they showed me the deep faults in my pitches. (Though I wasn’t ready to really see or admit them yet.)

On to Pitch Madness!

I refined my pitches to the following:

1 LGBT Orpheus: a warrior shedding her humanity, a bard transcending his, and the genderfluid Hades who must keep them alive. McKillip+Lee’s Flat Earth #PitMad #A #F         

2 Sword&planet Orpheus: a warrior, a bard, and the genderfluid Hades who must keep them alive. McKillip+Lee’s Flat Earth #PitMad #A #F

3 Rebels plot murder: ageless tyrant rules only while her mortal consorts live. LGBT Orpheus McKillip+Kushiel meets VivaLaVida #PitMad #A #F

I was still stuck on those beloved old comp titles, even knowing they had to go, but I was getting a little better with my subgenres.

By some rare miracle, a great publisher and a really good agent liked my work. The publisher is one of two I might consider in lieu of self-publishing. The agent now has the full mss. (The agent is old enough to have liked my comp titles. Whee! For that, I can wait another 8 to 10 weeks.) The same usual suspects chimed in, plus a few trolls.

#PitMad was interesting in general because it had the same relatively high agent/editor participation that #DVpit had. Lots of YA, even with many agents specifically asking ahead of time for adult work. This event covers many genres, so it’s very big.

I hoped that #SFFpit would let me narrow my pitches to legitimate agents and editors in my subgenres. With that in mind I threw out most of the old pitches, and decided to take advantage of #SFFpit’s generous 10-pitch limit.

Here are the tweets I used, roughly once an hour from 8am to 6pm EST, plus their character count and the MST times launched:

1 Rebels plot. An ageless tyrant rules only while her mortal consorts live. Her lovers just won’t do protective custody #SFFpit #FR #LGBT                               135                         5:05am

When his wife flees from humanity, the last bard of a dying race thwarts a secret war and ancient gods to rejoin her  #SFFpit #FR #LGBT                          135                6:07am

3  A warrior sheds her humanity and a bard transcends his, for love of a genderfluid sorcerer whose life is tied to theirs #SFFpit #FR #LGBT                   137           7:13am

His wife outcast from humanity, the last bard of a dying race thwarts assassination and ancient gods to rejoin her #SFFpit #FR #EF #LGBT               136             8:22am

Ageless tyrant rules only while her two mortal consorts live: one has known from birth, the other is a sworn enemy #SFFpit #A #FR #LGBT                         135                     9:14am

A warrior exiled from the bard she loves; for her, the bard gives up everything but the sorcerer destined for them both #SFFpit #FR #LGBT                              137                 10:26am

Forbidden shapeshifting magic may reunite a bard with his exiled wife, after she sends him to win an enemy mage’s heart #SFFpit #FR #LGBT                    134                    11:07am

8 The last bard of a dying race thwarts civil war and ancient gods to join his outcast wife; a Dark Power loves her, too #SFFpit #A #EF #LGBT                      139                     12:19pm

Rebels plot. An ageless tyrant rules only while her mortal consorts live. Her lovers just won’t do protective custody #SFFpit #EF #LGBT                                         137                       1:08pm

10  Immortal tyrant rules only while her two mortal consorts live: one has known from birth, the other is a sworn enemy #SFFpit #FR #LGBT                              133                   2:21pm

After the day was done, the most likes I got was 4. No retweets. Only a few of the likes from known publishers I trust.

Even so, I think the experience was valuable, in that I have ten slightly different but accurate pitch lines, for when I’m doing advertising pushes for the self-published versions. I have better ideas about plot and sequels. I met some great people: writers, agents, and editors whose conversations have enriched my life.

A good result for a little typing and auto-scheduling, I think.

Even though I can’t participate in it this round, I’d like to do a shout-out for The Knight Agency’s first ever agency Twitter-Pitch event. You can find out date and time here, if you’re interested.

 

 

 

The Wattys are here

After some hours of delay, assumed coding problems, and many thousands of panicked writers around the world…the 2016 Wattys are up and running.

The Wattys are Wattpad’s *huge* annual writing contest, split among many countries, languages, and genres. It’s a fascinating way for me, as an American, to see some of the best of the best of international writing outside the fanfiction and commercial venues I normally frequent!

Bloodshadow for Wattpad

For my part, just to see if anything would happen, I chucked Bloodshadow into the mix. From now until August 31, if you have (or want) a Wattpad account (they’re free), please stop by and give my old trunk-novel a look. It’s well beyond commercially publishable at this point; all that I can do is heavily revise and self-publish it, and I’m planning to do that anyway.

Yeah, that moment

You know the moment when something, even the tiniest something, finally goes right?

I’m querying a mms that might as well be a roller-coaster, for all the ups, downs, and death-spirals it has gone through in the last three years. This current round of querying has only been a month-and-a-half, nowhere near the two years I spent ineffectually hawking Bloodshadow.

Sometimes, an offhand email request opens unexpected doors. A publisher I knew only in passing, is suddenly revealed as A Good Publisher. A publisher already dealing with many of the very good agents on my wish list, so just from that I can infer that both sides are of decent industry standing. And the publisher is actually viable, considering my weird mix of genres that might be homeless anywhere else. Not too small, not so big, a good mix of principals who seem to not only know but adore their business.

Thanks to that one email response, I’ve gone from crickets, slamming doors, and numb exasperation, to a small amount of hope for this new book. My query countdown has been given overtime. It doesn’t matter if no one else says ‘yes’ or even ‘maybe’. I have two alternate plans now, not just, ‘Well, then I’ll self-publish.’ Of course it’s not a sure thing – nothing ever is. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Bloodshadow on Wattpad

 

Bloodshadow for Wattpad

Say hi to Bloodshadow, finally.

On the savage world of Lonhra, its Sleeping Goddess has been genetically modifying human colonists into the long-lived, psi-gifted Sirrithani race. She can’t physically leave her prison inside the planet’s core, or the vengeful living planet might destroy all organic lifeforms on its surface. Her strongest ally might go insane and kill his ordained mate at any moment. An interstellar empire that has been looking for Lonhra and its people for thousands of years…just found them.

To act as her champion and spy, the Goddess picks Tel. It’s not mutual. The halfbreed shapeshifter wants to find her absent father, and answer questions about the dark, horrible magics she can barely control. Along the way Tel plays Sirr rebels against offworld spies, fears the one man in the world meant only for her, and tries not to lose her soul when she helps him keep his.

I have this nearly 20-year-old manuscript (if you count all of its revisions.) It’s loosely set in the same universe as Moro’s Price, but far distant, many thousands of years earlier, and with (mostly) different characters. Since it has only a sweet romance, and no direct LGBTQ content, it’s unsuitable for Loose Id, Moro’s publisher. While the protagonist is an 18-year-old woman, the book itself is not really YA – I get into some dark stuff, even if there’s no graphic on-page sex.

Bloodshadow StalkingDue to market uncertainties, it’s unlikely this particular story will ever get picked up by a large publisher. It was a hot mess until just a revision ago; I hope it’s less awful now. Even so, under the earlier title ‘Blackfire’, it won third place in the Del Rey/Spectra Suvudu writing contest in 2011.

I might self-publish it someday via Amazon. It’s not the best or fastest book I’ve written, but it has some good points. Like my fanfiction, it’s a marker of where my writing has been. Since it’s original fiction, it doesn’t really belong with my fan writing over at Archive of Our Own. So for now Bloodshadow can live on my Wattpad page.

It’s complete and gawdawful huge, so I’ll be splitting it into smaller Wattpad-friendly chapters. I’ll try to update chapters weekly, if not sooner.

(Cover image is my own digital art, via Painter.)

Cool whistled language article

Turkish has a whistled version, used often in the mountains of northern Turkey. It’s eerie and lovely, and seems to do interesting things to the brains of people who listen to & understand it.

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/whistled-language-uses-both-sides-brain?tgt=nr

Why am I excited to blog about it? I have another data point for ‘singspeech’, my made-up Sonnaroi constructed language. Think four separate vocal cords and big chest cavities, as well as long nasal passages and tongues to help modify sound. I ‘hear’ this non-human language as a combination of higher-pitched whistles and deep-toned calls. The language goes higher and lower than humans can usually detect. A human, standing in the middle of a Sonnaroi tribal conclave, would probably only hear a little bit of the debate going on around her. She might ‘feel’ more of it, just as we can feel the deep rumbles of elephant calls.

a Sonnaroi female

Sonnaroi, in my made-up universe, are deceptively primitive hunter gatherers. They’re a bit shunned and discriminated against by the more human-seeming civilizations on their planet. But Sonnaroi keep a lot of very important secrets, including a verifiably-accurate spoken history going back more than a million years.

This, right here, this is why I tell new fantasy and science fiction writers to read and watch more non-fiction. We can build so much more vividly from solid, real-world foundations! 

Happiness, part whatever

For now, revisions are done (again) on the fantasy novel Singer in Rhunshan, at least until my agent and possibly some editors wade in.

This is what the manuscript looked like last September:

Singer mms for blog

 

This is what it looks like now: gone from 54K to 91K, plus sequel and series synopses.

Singer mms 6-4-2015

As I was in the final stretch I got word that Tanith Lee had died. Without her ‘Flat Earth’ series as guide and good example 30+ years ago, my work would probably not exist. There are many threads in the tapestry of that inspiration, but Ms. Lee was a major part.

Note added 6-13-2015: For better or worse, the mms has been mailed.

 

 

opinions on the new header

Over two years in, I decided it was time to change out headers on the Blue Night blog. I’m curious: all five of you who regularly read this thing, which header art do you like?

Here’s the old one.Black iron header Dusk to Dawn 3

 

Here’s the new one.cropped-Illarhun-header-for-blog2.jpg

Same world, same motif, probably the very same night – just different landscapes. The theme has meaning in the context of the epic fantasy series I’m currently writing/editing. But I’m not going to explain more than that.

Added: because I cannot leave stuff alone, I tightened up some details on the header image.

Windmills, albatrosses, and self-erected barriers

C’mon, you know we all have them, in writing, art, work, and life in general. Those choke points where we stall, lose our grip, and can’t seem to drag ourselves away from old or even harmful ideas that hold us back.

To be human is to exist in a fog of imperfect awareness, willful ignorance of our own faults, and a general inability to comprehend our universe. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Greek philosopher Democritus is as well-known today for his ideas about atomic theory as his cheerful good nature (dour Renaissance analysts later took his humor to mean that he laughed at mankind’s folly.)

I’d like to think that he just understood that in a universe of atoms, chemistry, and math, human are fairly hilarious and irrational beings. It’s just that in the middle of our irrational violence and hatreds, we sometimes come up with irrational beauties and rational epiphanies.

Before I wander off into Deepak Chopra-land, allow me to stress this: just because we don’t understand something, that is no excuse not to try. We have a brain, therefore we should use it. How we use it is up to us. We can build bridges across chasms, lift lamps to pierce darkness, or we can raise insurmountable walls.

Where am I going with this? (This very argument is one of my own choke points, I’m afraid.) A conversation with an old friend reminded us of all the authors we know who are imposing limits on their achievements. Some really strange limits. Here are two:

Person A wants to write a kind of novel ‘found only in X country’, and usually published only by X publishers and authors. Person A is not of X nationality or culture, and has just enough knowledge of the target genre to be dangerously certain about that hard limit. Person A has also fixated on some outward aspects of the genre, without really getting some of the underlying themes which make it unique. I’ve heard statements like ‘Americans won’t buy this stuff, and the X publishers won’t take me because I’m not X!’

That’s not Person A’s problem at all. They’re* not a good enough writer yet. They simply haven’t read enough across several other genres to see where other authors have blazed trails. Being ‘different’ and proud in that difference – is not the same as being ill-informed and afraid to admit it, because that might fracture an entire self-image. I know this because of all the other posts Person A has made on several online forums. They distill down to ‘I know what I know, I’m not going to change, now will someone please tell me the magic shortcut?’

Person B is a writer I’ve known for decades. Relatively skilled, with a breathtaking grasp of real history and secondary-world creation, yet prone to unedited and wallowing prose, this person might not be able to work with any editor in the known universe. I’ve seen the hysterical meltdowns. I can’t even beta read for Person B any more. There’s no point. Nothing gets changed.

Worse than that, Person B has an albatross. A windmill. (If you don’t understand my allusions, go read the Wiki entries for Coleridge and Cervantes.) Person B’s baggage is an obsession not with a major historical figure now either reviled or celebrated (depending on who you ask), but that person’s child. Person B has dedicated their literary life to different versions of stories ‘rescuing’ that child. Up to worrying about the afterlife, and meeting that child’s spirit, and being blamed for somehow making things worse by drawing attention.

Oi. That’s an albatross**, folks. There are some killer, incredible space operas that will probably never see the light of day, because they’re not strong enough to compete with the Martyr Child in Person B’s imagination. I’m not a psychotherapist, I can’t begin to guess at the transference happening there. But I can mourn what probably won’t happen, and what probably will.

Do I have a windmill? Sure. It took me twenty years to either demolish most of mine or turn away from them. I was proud, as many new writers are. I was naive. I believed in one writing friendship too long, and not enough in another, and regret losing both. I was an avid reader, which helped by osmosis. But I’d skated through public school English classes with enough dumb luck and cunning mimicry to disguise my unstructured writing. Creative writing in college did little for me besides ego-boost; the things I learned in technical writing save my ass to this day.

The damn Lonhra Sequence is an albatross I may never be able to ditch completely. It’s a 32-year-old worldbuilding experiment I began as a hobby, and it took over a large portion of my brain’s processing and storage power. I know I can write standalone fiction. But I always get a combined thrill/chill whenever a new story slots neatly into the Lonhra universe. Because my brain says: ‘Oh hey! I know where these people fit! Cool!’ and ‘Oh crap, it’s back into the Lonhra stuff again, which means I may not be able to do anything but self-publish this pile of rubbish…’

We keep our windmills and albatrosses because they satisfy a basic need. They’re easy, they’re safe, they belong to us alone. If we shroud them behind proud obscurity, they can never be torn down and challenged by other people who aren’t in love with them. That’s deep comfort to writers for whom the inner story is more important than any outward validation.

* I dislike impersonal pronouns, but I need to use them in these cases.

** One way to get an albatross off your chest? Humor. Instead of murdering your darlings, put them on stage at a slimy comedy club and roast the hell out of them. Parody them first before anyone else does. See them from another angle, and they might surprise you by being more resilient than you thought. I like starting out with this Monty Python skit.

The most recent time I tried the self-parody trick, I ended up with a Dark Lord nicknamed Hayfern, and a much better story.

 

Past Future Present 2011 anthology

In 2011 a group of spec fiction writers (who mostly knew each other from SFF.net) got together on a modest digital anthology: Past Future Present 2011, from Copper Publishing. Some of the authors are major award-winners with stories at well-known magazines and publishers; others are talented hobbyists and up-and-coming writers with much bigger projects in the works.

We never intended this collection to set the spec-fic world on fire. This was a labor of love and friendship. Even so, I think it turned out fairly well for a $.99 download. Copper reissued the book in 2013 with a different cover.

Here’s a teaser of my story, ‘Needle and Sword’. It’s not directly related to my Lonhra or Moro stories, but it is set within the same universe. I wrote the first draft in 1991-1992, and illustrated it for a free fanzine put out a year or two later. This version is far better than that, and slightly different from the anthology story. There’s a novel buried somewhere in here, as well as my obvious love for characters who make things…

***

Blurb: A tailor and a warlord make a pact to protect the city they love.

Chapter One

On the highest balcony of Kytheu Keep, Talai drew her old cutlass and leveled it against an imaginary foe. Her hand shook. Only hawks and pigeons ever saw her weep and spar with the wind, in this lonely spot.

She looked south beyond the wavering blade. “Damn you, Grandfather!” she cried. “You waited too long!”

Southward, the river Kytheu dropped from blue and white peaks, twisting a serpent’s path across eighty miles of farm terraces. Behind Talai’s back, Kytheu City fanned north below its Keep:  a jumble of bell towers, narrow streets, roofs tiled in coral, cream, and slate-blue. Half-hidden gardens cast squares of green shadow. Canals looped from the dock-fringed river. A merchants’ road followed the river north, where Talai never looked by choice.

After three minutes, she dropped the blade from stinging fingers. It rang and rattled on the granite floor. Talai followed it down, crouching on aching knees.

edward-lear-parrot“You waited too long, and I’m an old woman,” she whispered to the cutlass.

A hawk shrieked overhead.

Talai looked up, wiping tears from her stern face.

The hawk squabbled noisily with something bigger and brighter than a pigeon, then flapped off, favoring one wing.

A Channel parrot perched on the eaves, its long tail a gaudy emerald and blue banner against muted tiles. One mad pale eye glared down at her. The bird’s beak half-opened, as if it meant to speak.

“If you’re just a parrot, you’re five hundred miles from home. If you’re not, then go away!” Talai yelled up at it.

The parrot screeched bird-laughter at her, and sidled out of view around a corner of the roof. She didn’t see it fly off.

#

“Keem, where is everyone else?” Sivonie asked, closing the workroom door.

“Whacking dust out of Keep carpets,” laughed the seamstress. “Or hiding. I’d be hiding, too, but this silly quilt must ship tomorrow, a birth-gift for some big upriver family. Is that Lady Migian’s mantle?”

Sivonie unrolled a shimmering bundle. Pearl-shell spangles weighted a deep border on silver silk mesh. In the center of the mantle ran a stylized design of swirling river currents and oared ships gliding among the waves.

“What kind of little magic will this one do?” asked Keem.

Sivonie shrugged. “If Migian’s too angry, not much. But she’ll feel prettier, wearing it. And she is, when her lips aren’t pinched in a frown. Maybe that husband of hers will see it, and say so.”

“Seen Damo pieces like that, down at the Guildhall museum,” said Keem, setting her own project aside.  “Last time I saw this, you’d just started it.  Sneaking off to that drafty old chapel, again?”

“The Guildmistress gave me permission.”

“After you scrubbed the place clean, and took a white-lamp down for light. At least it’s quiet. No gabbling girls around to sigh over handsome squires.” The seamstress gave Sivonie a sharp look. “Any squires sighing over big green eyes?”

“I’m not meeting anyone there. It’s just peaceful. A Damo place. Helps me think.”

Damo! Sivonie silently breathed the word into a prayer, a plea, a thread of subtle magic.

Farmers sometimes tilled up Damo gold on the terraces, or turned over stones carved with ancient, sinuous scripts. Kytheu Keep itself sprang from a Damo foundation. Deep at its heart lay a fane quartered by long tables. Rumor made the cellar chapel a torture-chamber. The masked statues in the corners were strange, nameless, but not cruel to Sivonie’s eyes. They held carved objects to their lips, as if breathing upon them:  a smith’s hammer, a stoneworker’s caliper, a scholar’s scroll, a weaver’s drop-spindle.

“Don’t need thinking to sew,” Keem said, bending over her work again. “Do you notice anything that isn’t Damo-wrought? You found the only two carved blocks in the dormer walls, first night you were here. And remember Migian’s husband, last week?”

“Keem!  I never –”

“Of course not, girl, you were only looking at his cloak pin, the one Damo thing on him!”

“Damo work seems more real.” Tall, sturdy Sivonie glanced at the workroom mirrors. She flipped the mantle over her dark-brown hair, brought up a fold to cover her nose and mouth.

“Sivvie!” Keem hissed. “Don’t you dare leave a mark, or any long dark hairs! Lady Migian’s hair is dyed yellow as dawnlight. Want her fine husband explaining himself? Again?” Keem’s stern voice faltered into giggles.

“I’m not likely to ruin it,” said Sivonie, smiling under the sheer fabric. “Or set a quarrel between two families. Wouldn’t be fair to Migian’s husband’s maize, letting good grain rot in warehouses up south.”

“Not his grain, anymore.”

Sivonie lowered her voice. “My uncle Haptin says Migian’s folk traded shipping contracts for grain and a handsome young husband. The wrong hair on clothing, once too often, and he’ll be sent south in disgrace. Then half of Ten-Mile Terrace’s maize rots because no barge captain wants to anger Migian’s family. The rebels don’t get grain for their horses and cookpots. No rebels to stall the islanders, and eventually war spills downriver to us.”

Keem looked dubious. “You hear all this, sewing in the cellar?”

“I hear it at my aunt’s inn,” Sivonie said, wrapping the mantle in clean muslin. “At the docks, when my father brings another barge from the south. In the halls up here, after the councils meet. Kytheu’s restless.”

“Then why not leave? You could already teach in any town between here and the mountains. Sivvie, why are you still paying apprentice-fees to sew quilts and pretty mantles with the rest of us?”

“I’m not finished learning. In three more years, the coin I earn from these will be mine, not the Guild’s. Then I can go find even better teachers.”

“Pity,” said Keem, patting the packet of folded muslin in Sivonie’s hands. “That mantle looked proper on you. You could always make your own.”

Sivonie shook her head, holding the muslin to her lips. “Where would I wear it? It’s just a toy with a tiny bit of magic. I wish I could make something important.”

“Maybe you’ll be chosen to sew honor and valor into a Queen’s coronation robes, eh?” Keem teased.

Needle and Sword for blog

A slight different version of the complete story is available here as a free read, for now.

Adventures in novella writing

I’ve had an on-again, off-again fling with the idea of self-publishing a fantasy novella. At each stage in the game, the beast grows a little bigger. From the original 6.5K or so short story I started years ago, Singer in Rhunshan is now over 33K.

(As of 7-20-2014, it’s now at 35.5K. I think it’s finished. Of course, the beta readers have yet to weigh in, and the agent will want to take it to pieces, but right now it’s done.)

I had an honest talk with my agent about what worked in the story, and what didn’t. By the middle of June I had homework. The extra 20,000 words I’ve added this year are not padding, but careful efforts to expand the world, fully realize the characters, and strengthen the action scenes.

I tend to write long anyway, so I’ve been balancing that temptation with the firm directive to stay within a novella’s length and simplicity.

It’s a much better story now. It might or might not go out to some bigger commercial publishers. Self-publishing is always an end goal, though. It might be a shame not to use this image, or the brilliant cover designer I have lined up.

Singer cover for blog 7-19-14

But I’m also imagining what a Big Five publisher could do with my story. Fun times ahead, either way.

Show me, don’t tell me

This is a classic piece of advice for new(ish) writers. It’s also one of the most frustrating, for a couple of reasons.

Often, we simply don’t know how to do that yet. It takes time and work to gain the skills to ‘show’ instead of merely narrating important details. Even the critical reading skills to analyze other works for show-don’t-tell moments, still take a lot of reading to internalize. We often see more in our writing than there actually is, a function of being too close to the work. That’s why we need beta readers – and at the professional level, great editors.

One of my biggest failures as a writer, for many years, was the ‘flat’ nature of my characters. I might have thought I was emulating the ceremonial fable-like minimalism of Andre Norton, or the sly subtlety of Tanith Lee. But to an outside reader, my characters didn’t show much of their thoughts and emotions.

The current SFF fiction model is exactly the opposite: all emotion, all the time, as much as possible. It’s one reason why series such as ‘Twilight’ and ‘Divergence’ are so popular: they’ve hit the levels of emotions expected and needed by many younger readers. The romance genre by its very nature is laced with emotional responses.

I’m finally beginning to understand how to write what should be on the page, without taking for granted what I thought was already there. Over the last year, I looked carefully at my 6K short fantasy story ‘Singer in Rhunshan’ and expanded it to 23K. Not by padding, but by fleshing out every major scene that I’d previously narrated.

The first dry paragraph, circa 2009, looked like this:

One morning after breakfast, Eridan Singer’s big-boned wife and bodyguard turned into a female sonnaroi. 

Eridan’s wife Sfassa is the love of his life. The reason he makes such a dangerous quest later. In the first version, she’s only a cardboard symbol. Readers need to see them as real people, see how much these two love each other, and what they’re prepared to give up to be together. I’ve expanded that dull opening to six pages of post-sex cuddling, a married couple happily bickering over job opportunities, hints of the two major emotional conflicts, a bit more worldbuilding to establish place and social status, and then ripped my main character’s safe little world apart:

***

Eridan planted a messy kiss over her scar. “Breakfast, then? If you’ll settle for waterwheat porridge with nuts? I promise to at least look at the Danessa letter.”

“There better be more honey and butter, and less of your dried twigs and greens. You little Dana folk eat like herd animals,” she teased. “Of all the prices I pay for loving you, the lack of meat is one of the hardest to bear.”

“Predator,” he shot back, grinning. “You’ll just get a skewer of burnt venison or something equally horrible later at the market, and wash your mouth out with mint-water before you come home.”

“Yes, dear,” she said, without any meekness. She uncoiled gracefully from the bed, facing away from him and stretching up her arms until her fingers brushed the carved-plank ceiling. She’d sway next, into the flowing stances of her morning exercises.

He never missed them by choice.

The linen curtains were still closed, but Eridan saw a golden glow supplanting the gloom. Morning sunlight was just creeping over eastern cliffs, and down the terraces of Demuaira to the docks on the river.

He had time for one replete sigh at his life. A vague interest in the Danessa offer. Ancient golden books or not, he’d probably sideline it by lunch and his afternoon lectures. If he wanted any future chance, he’d have to draft a careful reply to the Queen of Danessa, and not leave it up to the frantic Chancellor or Sfassa’s forthright idea of diplomacy.

Then Sfassa gasped. Groaned. Stretched backward until her spine audibly creaked. “Oh!”, she said, and turned into a female sonnaroi.

***

Though it’s not perfect, I am much happier with this opening. And irked. If I’d figured out how to do this years ago, I’d be a much better writer now.

Manuscript updates 3-25-2014

It’s been a while. I feel delinquent.

This week: another 3K added to Moro’s Shield. After over two years of legal, financial, and health stresses that made it extremely difficult to write this book, I have the plot fully sketched out, I’m happy with it, and I’m well over halfway done with the projected 70K wordcount. I revise as I go. The current finished stuff reads well, even though I know There Will Be Editing after I turn it in.

I had an epiphany on the main villain in Leopard’s Leap, and why in the Moro books we never meet any of Moro’s old arena assailants or partners. They’re all dead. But Moro didn’t kill all of them. Poor Mateo and Jace, they have more to worry about than substance abuse and a tanking entertainment career. Dum dum DUM…

2K added to Singer in Rhunshan. Another 2K or maybe 3K, and it will be done, probably around 25,000 words total. The characters are snarky, messy, tender people now, not symbols! It has actual sexual tension and sex scenes,too! Even more than ‘Saints and Heroes’ in the Cleis anthology, this will be a good intro to my Lonhra Sequence books. I have an amazing cover designer working on tying my cover art into something that looks more professional than I could manage on my own. She found/tweaked a cover font that is readable, screams ‘I am a fantasy story!’, and will go well with the other titles if I need to self-publish them.

Some people have asked about my marketing plan for Singer. There isn’t one. I’ll do a soft release when it’s ready, of the e-book version only, and set up a print version in Createspace if there’s enough interest. No Advance Reading Copies, no blog tours, no press releases, no deluge of Twitter or FB or Google+ spam. My fanfic readers, blog readers, and fellow romance loop people will get the first hints that it’s coming. Do I want it to be a success? Sure. Eventually. But it’s one of those odd little books that is probably just going to have build a word-of-mouth following.

Because I always, invariably, want to to do what I shouldn’t and what is lowest on my to-do list, I’ve been noodling with plot lines for Mask of Falling Stars, and swearing that it absolutely must be a standalone. It must. I’ll keep telling myself that.

I also had an idea for a serial-numbers-filed-off, M/M, 21st C version of A. Merritt’s The Face in the Abyss. C’mon. That scene where Graydon is shackled within reach of the Face, with only his willpower keeping him away from demonic possession, while he is lured by visions of a hellish paradise? Tell me that isn’t made for a M/M slant. And there’s nothing saying Suarra couldn’t be a prince, instead of a princess…

Dammit, there is another mms on my to-do list.

Note added 7-22-2015: Too many things to do, and not enough time. However, I’m alternating between art and writing these days, so watch this blog for some interesting announcements in the next couple of months.

Shield and Leopard are still in mms form, being added to and changed for continuity. Mask is in outline form. The Merritt pastiche keeps calling to me, wanting to be a Dieselpunk extravaganza. I will not be self-publishing Singer…not yet (that’s one of the possibly more exciting bits of news. We’ll see.)