Sunday, September 29, 2019

Accuracy in Fiction - Where to Draw the Line


One of the most fun things about having a book release these days is the #bookstagram world. So many book lovers make gorgeous collages with my book cover - like this one from Reading Between the Wines Book Club - and then tag me on Instagram. With THE ORCHID THRONE, I'm getting all kinds of beautiful orchids and it rocks so hard!

The hubs and I have been watching Reign on Netflix - from the beginning as we'd never seen it - and we're a few episodes into Season One. I realize I'm late to the game on this, as the show ran from 2013 to 2017. But I've seen so many people - like my editor Jennie Conway at St Martins - who just LOVE this show, that I wanted to check it out. 

And I get the appeal. 

This is the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, starting with her arrival as a fifteen year old to the French Court, where she's to marry Prince Francis. The history is familiar to most of us, kind of like watching an extended show about the Titanic - we know where this is going. And, of course, they take liberties with the narrative. Mary has her four ladies-in-waiting, making for a group of lovely, randy, and ambitious young women in the French Court. But where in history the four young women were all also named "Mary," modern viewers are spared the headache and they all have different names. They all have various love affairs, too, including with the French King Henry. 

It's basically a soap opera, a teen love and angst fest only historical. Which means gorgeous clothes! And swords! And cool political machinations. (I love Queen Catherine of Medici.)

There are also a LOT of historical inaccuracies, as one must expect. Characters have been created out of whole cloth. (Amusingly enough, some commenters list them as "goofs," and I want to ask them if they know that the show is fiction.) For the most part, I'm fine with the fictionalizing.

The ones that get under my particular skin are the ways Mary's ladies in waiting are snarky to her. The dynamic is solidly high school and the hubs and I are forever pausing and saying "No way she'd say that to her queen." But it lends to the dynamic and the drama, which makes it fun to watch.

The thing is, in telling historical and historical-feeling fantasy, we have to make choices. We want to create an accurate-feeling world, but also be true to the demands of Story. In my Twelve Kingdoms and Uncharted Realms books, I deliberately blur the lines with my High Queen Ursula. With her sisters, then her lover, and then a few friends, she begins to unbend. But she's always and ultimately High Queen - and that affects everything in her life.  

In THE ORCHID THRONE, I went to great effort to separate Queen Euthalia from even her closest ladies. That's part of who she is. She's been raised to be a queen and that weight of responsibility - and the formality her position brings - never leaves her. Though part of her character arc is peeling away her mask and exposing the vulnerable person beneath. 

In writing about the lives of rulers - whether created characters or fictionalizing historical ones - we want to create credible pressures, while still satisfying that story itch. Grace Draven and I were chatting about this and she mentioned something interesting. She said, "I did have some readers who thought Ildiko was being unnecessarily cruel to Brishen [in EIDOLON] by suggesting he put her aside in favor of a Kai consort. I was like 'Folks, that's how this kind of thing works. Look into history. It happened. Harold and Edith Swan Neck are a great example of a monarch having to set aside a beloved consort in favor of a political marriage to save a kingdom.'" 

I encountered this, too, with THE MARK OF THE TALA, where some readers felt my heroine Andi was forced into having sex with her new husband, where I felt she made the choice consciously. Yes, she wed her enemy, but she did it with the full intention of being his wife, because that was part of her responsibility as a princess and then a queen. (Besides, she was totally into him ;-) ) 

In the end, I think we all make choices to balance story drama with enough real-life truth to make the characters feel true. 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Who Can Know - Representation in Fiction

In acting school many eons ago, an instructor asked the class whether we thought actors had to be Russian in order to play Chekov. We scoffed en masse and said no! Or course not. We'd studied history and first person accounts of the end days of Tsarist Russia. With a little imagination, we could grasp the sensibilities of the time and place. No problem.

We were naïve.

We had our noses rubbed in our naiveté when a group from one of the big national theaters in Russia came to Seattle on tour. They did a show (in English) we'd all done several times ourselves. So we recognized the scenes, the situations, and the text. Yet, these people who'd lived in Russia all their lives and who'd absorbed the history of their nation and their people as lived experience, brought a deep well of nuance and resonating emotion to the play we'd never achieved as Americans and Canadians trying to reach for every sliver of meaning underlying Chekov's script. Granted. These people were professionals who had hundreds, if not thousands of shows under their belts. We were students. We were still humbled by our presumption that it'd be easy for us to get at all the richness of a script written about a culture and experience not our own.

Representation in fiction is, to me, entirely the same. No author can assume they can either know or imagine someone else's experience. The only thing any of us has to build from is what we know. Most of us have experienced alienation and deliberate attempts to cut us. Junior high, anyone? We can extrapolate from that and create characters who can speak that experience. But in no way can I conflate angsty preteen loneliness into any of the horror of having been a slave in the American South. Or a mother of color in the modern US having to bury a child who'd been shot by police. Or a mother separated from her child at a border. If I tried, I'd be that naïve college kid again, believing that another human being's deep pain was somehow fathomable.

Pretty damned arrogant.

As it is, I write from an extremely privileged position. Writing science fiction, I get to pretend that all cultures, all colors, all genders, no genders, nonbinary, and all orientations just are. I get to pretend that no one polices anyone else's existence other than being at war over resources/territory. There are still cultural clashes, yes. In fact that's part of the theme of Enemy Games. Jayleia comes from one culture and species base. Damen comes from entirely another. His species didn't evolve from apes. They evolved from a feline-like species. Their culture is based on that fact. He's openly bisexual, but no one bothers him or ostracizes him for it. The story touches more on the cultural differences between Jay and him and the main theme of learning to define family as something other than bloodlines.

In Enemy Storm, the heroine is deaf. It does play into the story and there are instances of prejudice and deliberate attempts to alienate her because of it. It's not the point of the story so I don't hit it hard (because not my wheelhouse), but it does show up. Not because I feel like I have anything unique or helpful to say about it, but because of who my characters are. That's where I think maybe one key lies - who are these people? What do they want? What do they need in the course of the story to step into becoming better versions of themselves? Edie has prejudices of her own to work through, so it was useful for her to face someone else's about her if she was going to decide she didn't want to be someone who judged other people based on nothing but where they had come from.

Will I make mistakes? Likely. I hope not, naturally. I do the best I can, and I check in with the communities I represent just to make sure I'm not being a dick. But what I Do Not Want is to pretend the future is all one color. All one orientation. Or culture. Or belief system. If the Chronicles of the Empire as a whole has an over arching theme, it is that diversity is strength and beauty. So I'll keep writing people and writing them as self-actualized beings as much as possible. Even when they aren't, strictly speaking, *people*. And I'll keep writing multiple skin colors, races, specific adaptations, sexual orientations, and identities.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Personal rules for writing diverse characters

I remember when Rogue One, the Star Wars spin-off movie, came out, there was a touching story of a young woman who took her dad to see it. Gal’s dad had a thick accent and was overcome with emotion to see that one of the lead characters, played by the talented Diego Luna, also spoke with an accent. Not just a side-character either: Cassian Andor was one of the main leads. And people not only understood him but identified with him and loved him, not despite his accent but including it. Reading this woman’s tale of her father’s amazement and tears got me all choked up, too. This story is what happens when representation works, and it is so beautiful.

It’s also really hard to pull off in a genuine way. I see a lot of cishet white writers populating stories with diverse characters, trying to capture that kind of magic, but they come across sometimes as performative. Like, see how savvy and sensitive and cool I am? No, honestly, you’re a bit cringey.

If a writer is creating characters who are just like her, is it easier? Maybe. I dunno. I’m very light-skinned, able-bodied, North American, cis-gendered, sexually uninteresting, and in all other ways extremely boring. So if I’m going to write about anything fun at all, I’m gonna have to veer outside my lane. Even if it’s whoa difficult.

I have basically two personal rules for doing this: 

  1. I don’t write the pain of someone who is unlike me. My characters can protag all over the place, but if they experience othering or discrimination, I make sure that I’m not in that character’s point of view—because I have no idea what that would feel like and cannot presume to show that pain in an authentic way—and also make for-damn sure that my character and/or her allies call out the otherizing asshole. (Note: I’m Texan and my Texan characters talk smack about where they come from a lot. But it’s all fairly good-natured, like, I can ruffle my little brother’s hair, but don’t you dare put a paw on him. Possibly this is how own voices authors feel? Regardless, it ain’t right to ruffle the hair of somebody else’s little brother.)
  2. I research the hell out of everything. If I screw something up, it won’t be because I was too lazy to read beyond Wikipedia. Honestly, this means I live in fear every time a story comes out, because I’m human and of course I’m going to get some things wrong. But it’s very important to me to get the big things right, and to not be afraid to ask for help from folks who know more than I do.

Do these two rules limit me as a writer? Um, yes. Of course they do, but that’s not a bad thing. I have lots of stories and story fragments that I’m not comfortable sharing until or unless I can get an expert to vet them and make sure I won’t hurt someone.

Because that’s the kicker, right. All of this care and attention and angst isn’t to avoid inconveniencing or even offending someone. It’s to avoid hurting a reader. As a teller of stories, a seller of books, that should be our prime directive: don’t hurt readers.

And white-washing an entire cast, pretending that the universe isn’t crammed full of gorgeous, fascinating, illuminating diversity, is essentially hurtful. To all of us.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

#Fantasy #Romance Release Day: THE ORCHID THRONE by @JeffeKennedy

Our very own RITA Award-Winning Author, Jeffe Kennedy launches a new Fantasy Romance Series Forgotten Empires today with THE ORCHID THRONE!


THE ORCHID THRONE
A PRISONER OF FATE

As Queen of the island kingdom of Calanthe, Euthalia will do anything to keep her people free—and her secrets safe—from the mad tyrant who rules the mainland. Guided by a magic ring of her father’s, Lia plays the political game with the cronies the emperor sends to her island. In her heart, she knows that it’s up to her to save herself from her fate as the emperor’s bride. But in her dreams, she sees a man, one with the power to build a better world—a man whose spirit is as strong, and whose passion is as fierce as her own…

A PRINCE AMONG MEN

Conrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, has built an army to overthrow the emperor. But he needs the fabled Abiding Ring to succeed. The ring that Euthalia holds so dear to her heart. When the two banished rulers meet face to face, neither can deny the flames of rebellion that flicker in their eyes—nor the fires of desire that draw them together. But in this broken world of shattered kingdoms, can they ever really trust each other? Can their fiery alliance defeat the shadows of evil that threaten to engulf their hearts and souls?

Available in eBook and Paperback
BUY IT NOW:    Amazon | B&N | BAM! | IndieBound

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Representation in Stories: Intention Matters

I can't believe that THE ORCHID THRONE releases this week! Feels like it was forever away for so long, and suddenly it's here. Woo hoo!

Our topic at the SFF Seven is Creating representation in our stories – how do you do it, and make sure you do it well. That last bit is key, right? Because about the only thing worse than not having representation of marginalized groups in our stories is having them in there, but in awful ways.

Yeah, we've all seen it - those cringeworthy stereotypes that only point up the problem.

The last few years have seen accelerating and intensifying conversation on representation of marginalized groups. Most everyone - with the exception of trolls and fascists (oops, is that redundant?) - agrees that representation is a positive thing that needs to happen. The thing is, authors not in those marginalized groups are nervous about doing it well.

This is a big topic, and I'm looking forward to thoughts and methods from the rest  of the crew here at the SFF Seven, and I'm going to focus on a first step.

Intention matters.

Yeah... we all know about good intentions and the road to hell. That saying comes about because simply having good intentions without thoughtful execution can go sour real quick. Also because "good" intentions often aren't. They're motivations shrouded in the appearance of goodness. Motivations that are selfish or self-serving, or plain terrible.

So, the first thing to do is examine our own intentions behind the desire to create more representation in our stories. In other words, if we're setting out to do this because we're afraid of getting in trouble if we don't, or because we're "supposed to," or because that's the hip thing to do, then there's a problem - and those are the kind of surface "good" intentions that lead to hell on earth.

One clue? If you're looking for a set of rules to follow, or boxes to tick off, then maybe you're not setting out with the right intentions.

A better mindset is to start from a place of wanting to include characters who don't share our exact life experience. Get in the habit of indicating the skin color of ALL characters, the sexual orientation and self-identified gender of your characters, having people from a broad array of socio-economic backgrounds. Keep a list if you have to and check to see if they're all, say, het white guys. It might be equally weird if you have one each of some other flavor. Mix it up. And you don't have to put it on the page necessarily - especially if you're trying to tick your boxes for the reader - but be aware of that character's lens on the world.

Include those different people because they enrich the story and flesh out the worldbuilding. Think about what makes a fully realized world - do you have people of all ages and degrees of ability? Are there those in your world who have chronic diseases or disabilities? How does your world handle the nurture of children? Please don't just stick them back at the village with their mothers. Likewise, don't bury the disabled in their huts - they should be out living their lives, too. A lot of people fall somewhere on the spectrum between straight and gay, so flavors of bisexuality can be part of who a character is. Skin color is a descriptor, but making the choice whether that has political implications should be thought out and part of the worldbuilding.

See what I mean? It's a complex effort, sure, to incorporate greater representation in our books. It requires careful thought to move past our knee-jerk recapitulation of our own experiences.
It also requires the best of intentions - the authentic kind.


Saturday, September 21, 2019

Examining the Story Starters for My Science Fiction Romance Novels


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our most frequent story starter -- idea, milieu, character, theme, what-if, trope, editor request, etc.

As usual, I don’t think I can break this down into a neat answer. Right off the bat let’s eliminate writing to market (what’s currently hot in other words), which I never do, or writing something in response to an editorial or agent request. I don’t have either of those individuals. (Yes, I hire freelance editors to do  edits on my books but it’s not the same as an editor at a traditional publishing house telling an author what they’d like to see written for a contracted book.)

My mantra is pretty much “I write what I write and I write what I like to read.” Fortunately for me, there are quite a few wonderful readers out there who seem to also enjoy the way my Muse works in crafting stories! Thank you, readers!
Now that we’ve cleared up those issues, back to the topic of what inspires me to write any given novel.

Looking over my backlist in order to write this post, apparently the majority (not all) are situation-driven. My first ever published science fiction novel with romantic elements, WRECK OF THE NEBULA DREAM, is basically “Titanic in space…” as one reviewer said, inspired by the events of the Titanic’s sinking, but set in the far future, on an interstellar luxury liner. So I had the basic story idea and then I worked to identify who the hero would be (a Special Forces soldier) and why he was on the ship at all. The same for the heroine (a businesswoman) and all the other characters.

STAR CRUISE: OUTBREAK - what if there was an epidemic on an interstellar cruise ship? STAR  CRUISE: MAROONED  - what if a group of passengers went down to a planet for a day and were suddenly abandoned?  The Alien Empath series, like DANGER IN THE STARS – what if alien empathic priestesses from a less advanced planet were kidnapped by the interstellar crime syndicate and forced to commit crimes? TRAPPED ON TLANQUE – what if an Ancient Observer was left behind by her people thousands of years ago, and still sleeps in stasis?

In each case, the situation leads naturally to who the characters need to be and what kinds of things will happen over the course of the novel.

My award winning science fiction romance series Badari Warriors (Sectors New Allies) started as a situation – genetically engineered soldiers held captive by the alien scientists who created them and now joined by an entire colony of humans, kidnapped by the same scientists for experiments. The books within the series are now driven by the main character for each book and what adventure that person will have, as well as the overarching series arc I have going on.

One standalone novel, MISSION TO MAHJUNDAR was sparked in part by two photographs.  Here’s what I said in a post explaining why I wrote that book: “First, in college one of my best friends was an amazing woman named Cheryl, who had been blind since birth. I’d never known anyone who was blind, prior to meeting her, and Cheryl was awe inspiring, amazing in her refusal to accept any limits. She taught me many things, particularly how to use the other senses when one sense is denied. I always wanted to honor Cheryl by imbuing a character with her spirit and determination. …one day I saw a photo of a windswept, abandoned temple, standing alone on a plateau, somewhere in the Middle East. The image remained with me and I pondered – as one does – what adventure would bring people to this remote location and what would happen to them there. What would they be seeking? Would they find whatever they needed? This became the temple of the Mahjundan Ten Gods, where Shalira must go on her wedding journey, to seek a key to her mother’s long-closed tomb. ..Third, and this was the key thing that put all the other elements together in my mind and set off the plot, I happened across a perfume ad in a magazine. The illustration was very dark in tone, with a woman in a purple-and-gold hooded cloak holding a beautiful crystal bottle that glowed golden. The light from the bottle illuminated her face. And I thought, that’s it! That’s Shalira inside the tomb. Then I needed to know who would be there with her…and my Sectors Special Forces soldier, Mike Varone, told me he would be, of course!”

Sometimes my novels are inspired by the character. Looking over the list of 35 or so books, that seems to happen mostly when I want to write a sequel. As with HOSTAGE TO THE STARS, the sequel I wrote for Johnny, a secondary character in MISSION TO MAHJUNDAR where it was already established he was a Special Forces operator.  Here’s what I said in my “why I wrote” post: “Johnny had more story to tell… the good friend and loyal team mate, but I kept wondering what he would do after the adventure ended, he really was out of the military service and back on his home planet. Turns out he was restless, unable to settle down and plagued by flashbacks. I’m very fond of Johnny and I hated leaving him at loose ends like that.  He needed something to draw him out of ordinary life and provide him a new focus. A way to transition into the new chapter of his life, if you will… So I thought what if Johnny was put in a situation where he had to return to active duty for reasons (no spoilers here), to accompany a hostage rescue team, and then there were complications? So the team goes in, locates the woman they were sent to extract, and only then learns of another woman prisoner from the Sectors. The team leader refuses to go after this second person and Johnny – of course – sets off to find and rescue her by himself.

The situation was much the same for Khevan and Twilka, two survivors of the WRECK OF THE NEBULA DREAM, which readers had been asking about since WRECK first appeared.  My notes: “Once I had my cup of tea ready, removed the cat from the table and concentrated on just Khevan and Twilka, it hit me like a lightning bolt that I wasn’t interested in telling the story I had in mind. OK, that’s a bad thing LOL. So I tried to turn the entire concept inside out in my head. I asked myself what happened to the real Titanic survivors who were Twilka’s equivalents – rich, society people who didn’t lose loved ones on the ship. They pretty much went on with their lives. As I said to myself, you don’t normally have two Titanic-level events in one lifetime. (Unless you were ship’s crew but that’s a different story.) So what would Twilka have done with her life, if she and Khevan weren’t together? And of course, WHY wouldn’t she and Khevan have stayed together? That’s the key question - was it only their wildly different life styles and places in Sectors society? Or?”

A few of my stories are created based on the need for an alien pet. Four years ago, my friend author Pauline B Jones and I started the Pets In Space® annual anthology of all new SFR, with the goals of supporting a worthy charity, Hero-Dogs, Inc., and hopefully garnering new readers in the process. PISA4 releases on October 8th by the way and can be pre-ordered here

So each year I’ve had to ponder what alien pet I want to write about and then what the storyline will be. So far all the stories occur on my Nebula Zephyr star cruise liner.  Here are my comments on why I wrote last year’s story, STAR CRUISE: MYSTERY DANCER: “I started with the concept of the pet because that drives my plot for these PISA adventures. For some reason I kept seeing a mental picture of a Siamese cat, but with a third eye. But I’ve done a cat and a catlike alien before, for PISA1, although Midorri, the alien pet there actually is kind of a cross between a red panda and a tribble who acts like a cat. So I wanted something very different and I started thinking about what if the cat wasn’t actually a real animal at all? I ended up making F’rrh a ‘jenfellini’, which is something like a genie, living in a beautiful lacquered box. Visualize the gorgeous painted boxes that come from Russia.

Then, the tenuous link to Russia reminded me of the whole tragic story of the last Tsar and his family, and how they were murdered but for years rumors persisted one of the children might have survived. Various individuals claimed to be ‘Anastasia’ or another of the siblings, and of course there have been movies and plays written with that theme. I always flash back to the version with Yul Brynner (such an intense actor) and Ingrid Bergman because that movie was one of my mother’s favorites and also left the answer to the question of “Is she or is she not Anastasia?” somewhat open at the end. My daughters loved the animated fantasy version of the tale, with the voices of Meg Ryan and John Cusack, when they were growing up.

So I had the heroine – a possible princess on the run – but how could she fit into the Nebula Zephyr? Since the hero would be one of the former Special Forces soldiers who make up the ship’s security force, I had to be able to make the two interact and fall in love in a situation fraught with danger and suspicion.
I’ve wanted to do a story about the Comettes dance troupe which performs aboard the cruise liners since I wrote my very first published scifi romance, Wreck of the Nebula Dream (a sister ship of sorts to the one I write about nowadays). Dancing is a skill a maybe princess might have at a high level, right? So let her be a new member of the dancers….throw in a fabulous jewel and we have the story!”

So there we have it, a closer look at what kicks off a story in my mind and how the various threads come together to create a plot!



Friday, September 20, 2019

The Origin of Story

Story starts in darkness, in the cracks of the self. In nightmares and in dreams. Story starts in everything I believe I hate. It starts in all the self-loathing that drifts through the gray matter spiraling up and flashing like fireflies signaling for mates. It coalesces into noxious fruit I can pluck and examine. Until I learned better, I used to consume that terrible fruit and feed the monsters living inside. Somewhere along the path, and this probably saved my life, I learned to hold the nastiness in my hand and instead ask, "How is this useful?"

The answer is that it's useful in creating characters and plots and conflicts. You'd think I'd be writing horror based on this, but I'm not all snakes, spiders, and blood dripping down the walls. There's the other side of the coin - the deeply, (maybe naively) optimistic part, wanting to believe the best of everyone and everything at all times. That's where the romance and the HEAs come from. The dead bodies and violence are courtesy of the shadow version of me that loves nothing more than to stab happy me in the back with grotesque nightmares and manipulative old awful thought patterns. You know those memes about "Oh, you're trying to sleep? Here let me replay the past 20 years of everything you've done wrong, ever." That's the shadow's favorite weapon.

Grab that weapon, though, turn it over in your hand and ask how it applies to the book you're writing right now - where does my character feel like this - and the blade dulls. It doesn't hurt as much when your shadow tries to stab you with it again. Since I'm doing my best to pretend this is all totally normal and not that I might out to be trussed up in a fancy white jacket, I want to hope this resonates with readers. I hope that my characters and stories and conflicts feel true. Even if the beings experiencing them are darting around the galaxy.

Speaking of which. Guess who got a cover for Enemy Games, Chronicles of the Empire Book Two? This is the first look. Isn't it pretty?? Can I just shout out how much I adore my cover artist, Debbie Taylor?

The release date for this book is October 16, 2019. If you've read this book, I did some rewrites that altered a few scenes. It doesn't change the trajectory of the plot in any way. But there are changes. If that sort of thing matters to you.




Thursday, September 19, 2019

Where the Stories Start

It's really hard for me to pin down where, exactly, I start a story from, but I definitely think it starts with the world.  I'm a big believer in starting with the world as a whole, and develop it until it shares its stories with you. 

For example, the world that the Maradaine books are set in, I had been building and growing that world for years.  Years.  And I had a real problem finding the story for a while, in no small part due to wanting to craft a story that matched the scope of the world I had made.  Which?  Mistake.

Here's a thing I've learned: stories work better if they are in a setting where you can tell there is a richer tapestry being woven all around it.  That doesn't mean you have to do crazy, masochistic worldbuilds for every book (but you CAN), but... you want to give the sense that the world around your story also has so many other stories.

I'm not going to name names or point fingers, but there are plenty of stories-- big, notable stories-- where it's very clear that the world was crafted around that particular story.  Which is fine!  Nothing wrong with it.  But then you'll see attempts to tell more stories in that world, and it's clear the scaffolding was not built to support that.

So that's my method: first build the sandbox, and THEN start to play. 

Though with the next book I'm writing, The Velocity of Revolution, I'm pushing myself out of the comfort zone a bit by not quite doing that.  Quite.  It'll be a different process.  But I'm excited for it.

All right, back to the mines.


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Stories are freaking EVERYWHERE


What’s the seed of a story, for me? I mean, everything.

A song.

A yearning.

A thou-shalt-not.

An image I can’t get out of my mind. (Wanted and Wired’s earliest moment was Heron pulling up to the curb to whisk Mari to safety after she did a Very Bad Thing. I didn’t know what she’d done or why he wasn’t upset about it or even who those people were, only that it was raining and the world was ruined and they had each other’s backs.)

A book that almost accomplished its purpose but ultimately failed and frustrated me enough to try and do the story better.

A movie or TV show. (The scene from the Farscape episode “A Dog with Two Bones” inspired almost everything I wrote for, like, months. Years?)

Impotent fury. (I wrote Perfect Gravity in 2016. Of course it was about a powerful woman bringing down a corrupt government and taking over the world.)

Science. (On Saturn the rain is made of diamonds. Tell me that doesn’t make you want to write something.)

A might-have-been. (I’m currently obsessed with pre-colonial Africa, and not just because Black Panther made me cry.)

A news or human-interest story. (There was a Daily Beast article about a Paris apartment that had been locked up and untouched for seventy years. It was just crammed with stories waiting to be told.)

A nuance of psychology. (How is it that someone who has been abused has learned to move forward and take control of her life when the people who were never harmed are still holding life-destroying grudges on her behalf?)

Point of all that is a story can start from anything, and the suckers are literally everywhere. I can't put my finger on just one source. I mean, I dare you to stop ideas from jumping right out at you in traffic, in the shower, in a look, in a lyric, in some stranger's voice, in a broken earring wedged in your seat at the theater or a strange storm-wet stray on your doorstep when you never even knew you needed a cat. We only need to notice these magic seeds, and then, if we take our charge seriously, to nurture them into stories.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Story Starter: Conflict

My most frequent story starter...is a vague concept of a conflict. A broad view that's mushy and loosely defined. It often is rooted in emotion; be it restlessness, resentment, retribution, or reconciliation. There's usually some sort of injustice at the core (in today's real world, how can you escape it, right?).

From there it moves to character. Who is feeling these things? Who is most impacted by the situation? Who is in a position to affect change? Who stands to lose the most? Gain the most? Be damned either way, but die if nothing changes?

Then Why has to be answered.
Then Why Now.
Then How.
Then With Whom.
Then Despite Whom.
Then Where.
Then What Magic.

Then...then I have a concept that kicks off an outline around a conflict that builds a complex plot for complicated characters.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

When To Take the Market into Consideration


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our most frequent story starter -- idea, milieu, character, theme, what-if, trope, editor request, etc.

It's an interesting question because when people ask me in interviews where I start with a story, I always say a particular character or sometimes a specific image. But in reading this week's suggestion, I realized that I've changed on this somewhat. It's not that the ideas themselves don't start for me with characters in a particular situation or image - that's absolutely true - but I also have a LOT of ideas, all dutifully listed in my notes. So, as far as a story starter is concerned, I've realized that it is largely affected by the "editor request" category.

By that I mean, what editors are looking for, what my agent thinks she can sell, what my non-compete agreements allow, or - for self-publishing - what I think readers are most likely to pay me for!

In short, what "prompts" me to start a story these days is a business decision. For traditional publishing, my agent (Sarah Younger at Nancy Yost Literary Agency) and I discuss what steps might best advance my career. We talk about goals, publishing houses, possible advance money. We also have to navigate agreements with my current publishers not to compete with the books I'm doing with them. I really love that she brings this business perspective to the table, because I am trying to making a living with my art.

This is something I discuss with authors when I'm advising them on making decisions about an agent. (I seem to be doing a lot that lately.) One key criterion in choosing an agent is do you want someone who will advise you on your next project this way, taking market considerations into account, or would you rather write your next story without input and give it to them when it's ready?

Both methods are valid, and different artistic temperaments work better with each, or somewhere in between. And agents fall out on the same spectrum.

Also, with my self-publishing career, I could make a choice based on my heart - what story do I really want to get out there? - and I've done that. But when I have an eye on paying the mortgage for the next year, I have to be practical and think about what I can write that I'll love, but that my readers will love, too.

A very long time ago, when I was an aspiring writer with a few publications but not much more, a pro writer friend advised me to enjoy that time. He said being able to write whatever I wanted without practical considerations was a freedom I wouldn't have once I became established.

It was good advice, because that's largely true. As a newbie author when you're still casting about for your voice and what story will work, there IS a tremendous freedom in that, a kind that's worth savoring.

At this point, however, I find that applying practical considerations isn't at all stifling, the way he implied. Instead it helps me filter out all the many wonderful ideas. AND it helps pay the bills.

Win, all around.

****
Speaking of win!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our most frequent story starter -- idea, milieu, character, theme, what-if, trope, editor request, etc.

It's an interesting question because when people ask me in interviews where I start with a story, I always say a particular character or sometimes a specific image. But in reading this week's suggestion, I realized that I've changed on this somewhat. It's not that the ideas themselves don't start for me with characters in a particular situation or image - that's absolutely true - but I also have a LOT of ideas, all dutifully listed in my notes. So, as far as a story starter is concerned, I've realized that it is largely affected by the "editor request" category.

By that I mean, what editors are looking for, what my agent thinks she can sell, what my non-compete agreements allow, or - for self-publishing - what I think readers are most likely to pay me for!

In short, what "prompts" me to start a story these days is a business decision. For traditional publishing, my agent (Sarah Younger at Nancy Yost Literary Agency) and I discuss what steps might best advance my career. We talk about goals, publishing houses, possible advance money. We also have to navigate agreements with my current publishers not to compete with the books I'm doing with them. I really love that she brings this business perspective to the table, because I am trying to making a living with my art.

This is something I discuss with authors when I'm advising them on making decisions about an agent. (I seem to be doing a lot that lately.) One key criterion in choosing an agent is do you want someone who will advise you on your next project this way, taking market considerations into account, or would you rather write your next story without input and give it to them when it's ready?

Both methods are valid, and different artistic temperaments work better with each, or somewhere in between. And agents fall out on the same spectrum.

Also, with my self-publishing career, I could make a choice based on my heart - what story do I really want to get out there? - and I've done that. But when I have an eye on paying the mortgage for the next year, I have to be practical and think about what I can write that I'll love, but that my readers will love, too.

A very long time ago, when I was an aspiring writer with a few publications but not much more, a pro writer friend advised me to enjoy that time. He said being able to write whatever I wanted without practical considerations was a freedom I wouldn't have once I became established.

It was good advice, because that's largely true. As a newbie author when you're still casting about for your voice and what story will work, there IS a tremendous freedom in that, a kind that's worth savoring.

At this point, however, I find that applying practical considerations isn't at all stifling, the way he implied. Instead it helps me filter out all the many wonderful ideas. AND it helps pay the bills.

Win, all around.

* * *

Speaking of win!

I'm participating in the Romance for RAICES fundraiser! You can win a critique from me and genre analysis - which means I'll help you figure out the right agent for you, if that's what you're looking for. Such a great cause!

 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

House with a Library at the Heart

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There’s a line in my author bio about growing up in a house with a library at the heart, and that’s actually not hyperbole. When I was about 7, we moved from an apartment in Syracuse, NY to a house out in what was then a dairy farming and game preserve countryside and when we moved in, my parents had one room turned into an actual library. I remember the local handyman commenting he’d never been asked to build bookshelves before and how much he enjoyed the assignment. The shelves went floor to ceiling, all the way around the room, and then there was a chair, a side table and a lamp. 

I think probably the room was supposed to be the dining room, but we always ate in the big country kitchen anyway, so the library worked. I remember how cool it was to walk in there – my Dad had all his engineering and science textbooks from his undergrad work at Rutgers, plus shelves and shelves of science fiction, philosophy, Louis L’Amour westerns, thrillers, etc. It was a real library!

My Dad was a voracious and extremely fast reader. I inherited that from him, as well as my love for SF.

My mother was a reader of the classics and poetry (neither of which I inherited any love for). She liked to read and re-read, annotate, ponder, make diary entries about specific passages, correspond with her sisters and other friends about the books…she also tended toward really thick Russian novels like The Brothers Karamazov. She did read the occasional historical novel, like The Robe and I grabbed those when she was done. 

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We had the obligatory-at-the-time Encyclopedia (not sure which one we owned) as well as my grandfather’s really old encyclopedia from the 1930’s. I loved that one because it had so many entries about ancient Romans and other facts which the more modern one ignored completely. We had Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, which I loved but which frustrated me every time because they were condensed and I always wondered what I was missing. And we had Time-Life books about the ancient world, which I drooled over because my interests have always been science fiction and ancient Egypt.

Books were the thing at my house. I never had to spend my own money on books. (Our topic this week is what was the first book we ever bought with our own money.) My parents believed in the value of reading widely and they kept a flow of books coming for me. My father used to spend one night a week after work in Syracuse with my paternal grandfather and they’d always go to this huge used bookstore after dinner and pick books for me. I read so many series, like Tom Corbett Space Cadet and Trixie Belden, my Dad always knew what to get me and in those days there was no Amazon or eBay to order backlists from so if he got me volume 7 and volume 23, I didn’t care – I was thrilled. He’d come home with a bagful of books for himself and for me, and I’d be in heaven. 

I actually got to set foot in this book paradise twice as I was growing up and I still remember the joy I felt digging through all the shelves. In my memory it was a huge place – who knows how big it really was, but to a little girl set loose to find all the books she wanted in an hour, it was paradise.

Now what I did spend my allowance on was comic books. My mother despised comic books, deeming them trashy and immoral (not sure why – it all went over my head at that young age) and I remember an argument between my parents every week when we drove into town to go shopping, because I had my allowance in my plastic purse and I fully intended to buy all the new issues of as many of my favorite comics as I could afford, at the drugstore. Dad was the ultimate authority in our household so I knew I’d be allowed to splurge, but Mother was Not Amused. Every week. I was stubborn. I guess their compromise was they wouldn’t pay for comics, but if I was willing to use up my allowance, okay then.

I was really into DC superheroes, Tarzan (but mostly because I loved the B feature, which was ‘Brothers of the Spear,”) Magnus Robot Hunter, and a few others that were SF or Fantasy. One year I talked them into giving me a subscription to Justice League and I remember being so happy every month when the comic showed up in the mail! I felt very adult getting ‘my’ new issue directly, not off the revolving stand at the drugstore. Of course they wouldn't let me subscribe to more than one so I was still buying others every week and when the year was over I didn't get to resubscribe either.

So there you have it!
(We won’t talk about how much of my budget disappears into Amazon’s coffers for books and ebooks nowadays…I don’t seem to buy comic books – or manga or graphic novels – any more!)

Friday, September 13, 2019

Scholastic Book Fair Fear

My parents lived in terror, you guys. They knew that at least once a year, my elementary school was going to do a Scholastic Book Fair. They knew that when that happened, I was going to come home with a catalog of books with every single book (that wasn't about sports) marked as a must have.

In no way was my allowance going to cover more than two books.

Yet my parents, on an NCO's paltry salary, so valued books and reading that they'd solemnly take my allowance money, tell me I could pick a maximum of 10 and then they'd write out the check while I spent the rest of the night agonizing over how to finalize my order. I don't know if this kind of subsidized book buying qualifies as "My First Book Buy" but hey, I did throw cash into the pot. But yes. I was self-servingly not at all curious about why the dollar amount I had for book buying didn't match the dollar amount written on the check. Adults were so inscrutable when I was 8. I'm pretty sure that's the year I got A Pony Called Lightning. It was the book that got me started on rollicking, fast-paced adventure stories.

I have to say that looking back, the Scholastic catalog from the early 70s was short on SF and Fantasy. Horse books were the best I could do. SF was still a young-ish genre at that point and fighting hard for legitimacy. I do recall picking up some post-apocalyptic dystopian kinds of stories in later years - precursors, I think to today's YA books.

Do you know, I think I still have this book packed in a trunk. It has this exact cover, in fact. I wonder if the read still holds up to my childhood memories. <Wanders off in search of the book and a cup of tea.>

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Tiny fangirl buys book about fandom and we are all so surprised

I was five when Empire Strikes Back came out in theaters, so I completely missed out on that whole experience, but over the next few years, Star Wars (later called A New Hope) was shown on network television. We didn’t have cable in my house, but I did watch ANH, commercials and all, and was absolutely enchanted. I guess Empire was shown on cable, but I never saw it. As 1984 and the release of Return of the Jedi approached, I furiously, desperately printed letters on notebook paper — because I didn’t know how to write in cursive yet — and sent them snail-mail to the local network affiliate, begging them to screen Empire before Return of the Jedi’s release in 1984. No one ever replied, and of course it wasn’t shown.

With the clock ticking down, there was really only one thing for an eight-year-old to do. I saved up my birthday and newspaper-delivery money and bought the novelization. This was fairly heavy reading for such a young kid, and it was probably my first book completely without pictures, but I inhaled it, sighed, and then dove right back in for a second read. I memorized whole passages. The cover hung on by a splinter.

It was the first book I ever read that had kissing on the page. Crazy! Revolutionary! I didn’t even know what a date was, and here Princess Leia was kissing somebody. Whoa.

People, I was beyond ready, when Jedi came out, to stand in line to get into the theater and then wait, breath bated, to see if Darth V had been lying his mostly-mechanical booty off. (Spoiler: he wasn’t! Obi-wan, that fibber! It was unbelievable to a second-grader that the villain would be telling the truth and the hero would be lying. My world was rocked.)

So say what you want about merchandizing or movie novelizations, but that particular one initiated me into a whole new galaxy of fandom, reading, and relationship goals.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Little Me's First Book Buy

The first book I bought with my very own hard-earned chore money?

Probably an Archie comic book, one of the digest multi-issues; the thicker the better because those had the stories with the characters I actually enjoyed, like Midge and Moose, Jughead, or better still Katy Keene. Best of all would've been a Sabrina inclusion or Josie and the Pussycats. I hated Betty and Veronica for being so mean and vacuous whenever Archie was involved, then being besties whenever he wasn't around to mess things up. The whole fighting over a boy who chased anything with boobs? Little me did not get that. Old me still doesn't.

If I didn't like the titular character, why bother with the comic? It was the only series on which my sister and I could agree, and we figured out early in the allowance game that if we each bought an Archie comic book then we could switch and have two books for the price of one. Psht, I could put up with the dumb stories in exchange for twice the good ones.

Also? Archie was one of the few comics consistently stocked in the PX or the Shopette regardless of base. Yes, dear reader, I am an Army brat. 

Yes, dear reader, my sister and I still swap Archie comics because we're silly middle-aged broads who love a waltz down memory lane. Yes, Archie is still TDTL (which someone agreed with when they killed him in 2014).


Sunday, September 8, 2019

What Was the First Book You Ever Bought?


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is the first book bought with your own money.

I usually look at the topic a few days ahead, to put in the back of my mind and mull. So I've been thinking about this question for a few days. And, really, I have NO IDEA.

There were a *lot* of books in my youth. My mom and I visited the library every Wednesday afternoon, where I was allowed to select five books and no more. Sometimes I ran out before the next Wednesday arrived. But even then I had books in reserve on my shelves - ones I had already read and ones I hadn't - because people gave me books as gifts. And there were always my mom's books to get into.

I read an awful lot of books that I didn't love, simply because I had nothing else to read. Back then I had no concept that maybe I wouldn't like a book, or that a book might be beyond me at that point in time. Some of the gifted books, while well-intentioned, had likely been bought on bookseller recommendations. You know the "well, she likes fantasy" and so someone gave me the box set of Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant when I was WAY too young to understand it. I can't tell you how many times I started Lord Foul's Bane and bounced off. Same with Tolkein's The Silmarillion. I don't think anyone realized the vast distance between reading The Hobbit and that.

I started earning my own money when I was... seven? Eight? I think it was after my mom remarried (my father had died several year previous) and my stepdad believed in giving an allowance and assigning chores. I received $5/week, but I don't recall what I spent it on. Maybe I was older? I know I started babysitting when I was twelve, and that's when I had actual pocket money that I saved up. I remember saving up to buy this crystal bird on a brass hoop for something outrageous like $75. (I still have it!)

And I have a very clear memory of buying Anne McCaffrey's DRAGONFLIGHT. The book was first published in 1968, but I definitely bought this edition. (That pic is an actual scan of the book, which I also still have.) That edition came out in 1979, according to Goodreads, which would have meant I was likely twelve. I do know I spotted it on the mass-market paperback display at mall bookstore - probably a B.Dalton - and feeling that rush of sheer astonishment and joy.

See, I'd read DRAGONSONG in my elementary school library when I was ten, and loved loved loved it. I had no idea that there might be *other* books by the same author, and in the same world! Back then the world of books and series was much more opaque. Whatever was on the bookstore or library shelf was all that existed, so far as readers knew. There really wasn't much of a way to find out more. You could ask booksellers and librarians, but they only had limited means to look stuff up.

Amazing how that's changed.

Anyway, reader, I bought the book. For $1.95 - a substantial dent in my weekly allowance, but I paid it gladly. And I bought the sequels. And related books. I cheerfully spent most of my allowance on books, then threw myself into babysitting with enthusiasm so I could continue to afford the habit.

A habit that continues to this day. I very much believe in buying books. I figure what goes around comes around, and if I want people to buy my books, I should buy their books. It's always entertaining when tax time rolls around and I add it all up. I spend easily a couple of thousand dollars each year on books.

Money well spent. My twelve year old self would approve.



Saturday, September 7, 2019

Andre Norton's Influence


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is In Memoriam: a tribute to a writer you admire who has left us.

I have to concur with my fellow SFF7 member Marcella Burnard and say Andre Norton is my person, although my reasons are somewhat different, I think.

First of all I’ve written about Andre Norton and her influence on me many times. For example:
The earliest influence on my writing was Andre Norton. Her books were favorites of my science-fiction loving Dad and he gave me Catseye at a very young age. He figured cats, outer space, archaeology – why wouldn’t I love it? And I did…

I read every book of hers that I could find, intrigued by the infinite possibilities of a future civilization in space. I particularly enjoyed the glimpses and hints she gave of other, alien civilizations that came before, beings that we would never know firsthand but would always puzzle over when we found traces of their existence. She called them the Forerunners. I relished the adventures her characters had in a well-established world. The camaraderie her main characters always found with a select group of like-minded people, be it the Space Rangers or the Free Traders, made me (an only child for eight years) happy!

There was clearly not enough romance in the books, however! That’s one of the reasons I started writing my own science fiction around the seventh grade and never looked back. I understand at the time Ms. Norton was writing and especially in her science fiction (as opposed to the Witch World fantasy series), romance wasn’t a “done” thing. Thank goodness we can write science fiction romance now and have fully formed female characters who want their part in the adventure and in solving the problems to arrive at a Happily Ever After.

… Andre Norton presented her readers with mysteries and back story that often never got fully explained to the audience or to the characters. She provided tantalizing glimpses of all the other stuff, just enough to leave me wanting more. Because I always enjoyed that element of her plots so much, I try to create similar worlds to the best of my ability. For the SFRs, which occur in a future galactic civilization called the Sectors, I have a detailed backstory for myself about things and events that happened before the humans ever got out there. I work hints into the plots as I can.

When it comes to the planet-based happenings, I like to have a mix of mystery and mythology, unique to that world but also sometimes tied back to those unknowable civilizations that “came before”. Then as I write the story, I ask myself “why this…” and how does that…” and “if I lived on this planet what would I…” The novels may be science fiction, based in a technological, galactic civilization, but I want there to be that element of something else, something mystical, that can’t quite be explained. By anyone!

I never met her, I never corresponded with her, I only devoured her books, even her Gothic romances. I still have my collection of battered ACE paperbacks. Those are nearly the only actual books I’ve kept over all these years and through many moves (because I love the convenience of the kindle) and will NOT part with. I periodically reread my favorites by her.

The most significant thing to me about Andre Norton, aside from the pleasure her books gave me, was that she was a woman and she wrote books that were science fiction but not laden with technical and engineering jargon and details of how the author thought science might evolve. She skipped over all of that and got to the story. I loved her assumption that humans would get out there into the galaxy and we’d have adventures. I knew I could write stories but I also knew I’d never be any good at creating actual technical discussions of how the darn blasters worked. So for a long time I doubted I could ever get published but then I'd remind myself of all her books and know that I could.

Who cares how a blaster works? Not me. My characters use them and a lot of other nifty tech and no one - especially not me! - tries to explain the inner whatever...

In a house full of very heavy duty science fiction, and a Dad who worked as an engineer on the Saturn 1B and the Saturn 5 rockets, Andre Norton gave me permission to tell the stories I wanted to tell.

I was also thrilled to ‘know’ of a woman who made her living as a writer. Being very fuzzy on how publishing worked, my image for years was Jo from Little Women toiling away in her attic, and I never could figure out how one made a living on a penny a word BUT hey, it could be done! Andre Norton did it!

To be clear, for most of my life I didn’t dream of being a fulltime author because despite Ms. Norton, I never thought of it as a way to earn my living until late in 2010 when I decided now was the time to figure it out and give it my best shot while I still had the day job. Then in 2015 I went fulltime as an author.

Early in my career as a published scifi romance author, someone asked me why I always mentioned Andre Norton as an influence. They put it in disparaging terms, which I don’t remember exactly, something like “she’s so outdated”…well, to put it simply, without Andre Norton there would not be Veronica Scott.
And a good story is never outdated…

For a post I wrote a few years ago about some of my favorite Andre Norton novels, go here.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Legacy of Hope

My memorial post will shock exactly no one. Andre Norton. Wikipedia says: Andre Alice Norton was an American writer of science fiction and fantasy, who also wrote works of historical fiction and contemporary fiction. She wrote primarily under the pen name Andre Norton, but also under Andrew North and Allen Weston. She was the first woman to be Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy, first woman to be SFWA Grand Master, and first inducted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

I never got to meet Ms. Norton, as much as I wish I could have. She was my constant companion through out my childhood. Her books gave me glimpses of a much broader and stranger world than the one in which I lived. Her books presented diverse heroes and heroines. She served up different races, different religions and wove them into compelling aspects of the stories she had to tell. It may not have been any kind of culturally complete representation, but it was at least assurance that the future wasn't entirely white and male. 

More importantly, her books and characters gave me hope. She liked to write about the outcasts and the odd - the people and creatures living on the outskirts. I was a lonely military brat who felt pretty keenly like she was living on the edges. If book after book of characters can have happy endings even if they are weirdos, maybe there was hope for me. (Spoiler: there was. Why do you think I write books?)

To this day, I look for Andre Norton books I might not yet own. And when I had to swap out my library of paper books for electronic versions thereof (this is a much less satisfying library, btw) the books I flat refused to part with were hers. Because they mattered that much. They still do. I have an entire truck of nothing but Andre Norton books.

Yes. She has an award named in her honor. I love that. But really, when we talk about legacy, the one that I feel matters most is the fact that an author I never got to meet touched and changed my life simply because she told me a story. And kept telling me stories about many different definitions of success and of what kinds of sacrifice might be required in order to find or make my place in the world. If I get to pick what kind of legacy I leave, there is no better one I can think of than to have my books hoarded because they matter to a reader. I can think of no better legacy than to bring a little light and hope into someone else's life the way Andre Norton did for me. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Legacies We All Leave


So, while I was thinking about who I would write an "in memoriam" tribute to, there has been a discussion this past month over Joseph Campbell and James Tiptree (Alice Sheldon), and the awards named after them.  It has put me in mind of legacy, specifically the legacies we each are building for ourselves here and now.

(For the record, I am for renaming both awards, but that’s largely academic: official decisions have been made on both scores and my opinion matters not one bit. But that’s tangential to what I want to talk about.)

As I’ve been navigating this business of being a professional writer, I’ve been thinking more and more about Legacy, what we build today and what we’re going to be leaving behind for the future.  I addressed some of that in my speech at ArmadilloCon:

“We have to be able to accept that some of the great masters of yesterday might have become the forgotten trivia of today.  Just as we have to accept that the fresh new genius of today, might become the problematic favorites of tomorrow.”

In the past, Campbell’s troubling opinions and Sheldon’s final acts in this world were largely— often intentionally— overlooked in favor of honoring the impact their work had. But Legacy is never just about the work, is it? That’s why this conversation is being had now, after all.  Every aspect of the work, of their personhood, that’s a matter of record.  But the opinion of how and why those matter has shifted, and the Legacy shifts with it. This is very much a Good Thing, that the old skeletons are dragged out of the closet and re-examined.  But it’s also a hard thing to think about, especially the idea that some day, in the future, that skeleton might be your own.  

Now, I’m not so egocentric to not be aware that in my case (and in many cases), said legacy might be little more than a footnote: a bit of genre trivia, a smattering of polite applause at the In Memoriam section of an awards show. That is how it goes.

But I also think about one aspect of this business that continues to be surreal to me is how things like the Hugo & Nebula nominees has shifted from “all time giants” to personal friends and acquaintances. It’s humbling and awe-inspiring.

I mean, consider, many of you reading this, especially the Hugo & Neb noms & winners follow me: 
You might be one of the All Time Giants of tomorrow. 

Which also makes us the potential problematic faves of tomorrow. The venerated special guest at WorldCon 2059 that makes The Young People roll their eyes (or whatever Gen∞ does in ’59) and say, “That old relic? Must we have them?”

And there the things that last beyond us, beyond just the work. The notes, the communications. We hear about, say, the letter Sheldon wrote to Silverberg, held up as an example of her desires and state of mind. 

Imagine that email you just sent being given that same weight of history.

Imagine it being held up as evidence of why your name should or should not be on an award.

Imagine, my friends, the idea that your name might be on an award.  It's not that radical a notion.

I think about those future genre scholars who might some day pore through our emails and twitter rants and our DMs (OH DEAR LORD, OUR DM’S) and reconstruct us in ways we never intended. Or that someone would even care to do it.

How will our friendships, our enmities, our secret joys and bitter rages be viewed in 30, 40, 50 years?  If we are fortunate enough to still matter, in what ways will we matter?  How kindly will what we built be looked upon once we’re gone?

These are some of the thoughts that keep me up at night.

I strive to do the best work I can do; to be the best version of myself possible, in the hopes that whatever Legacy I leave, if any, will reflect the person I try to be. That’s the best any of us can hope for.

That said, if you decide to delete some of your mean or cruel DMs, I wouldn’t blame you.  You never know where that could end up decades down the line…


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

In memoriam: Madeleine L’Engle

I was a weird kid: nerdy, awkward, fuzzy-headed with black-caterpillar eyebrows and the opposite of grace or talent or athleticism. I went to a music magnet school for elementary and a math-and-science middle school, and though I diligently played violin and competed in math contests, I wasn’t a superstar and mostly flew under the radar. Other kids teased me for a variety of reasons, and I can’t really fault them. I was a mess. The lone thing I did well was write things, but I did it in private for the most part, because whoever would want to read this nonsense I was churning out?

And then one day I read A Wrinkle in Time, and it was like someone had written a book about me, for me. First, Meg, the heroine, was a girl. Second, she was different, weird. Third, she didn’t have to save the world with her brilliant problem-solving or physical bravery or derring do. She saved the world by loving people.

This book changed my life. And even more, when I read up on the author, Madeleine L’Engle, her personal story spoke to me. I mean, my parents weren’t rich and distant artists, but my sense of isolation in childhood and adolescence was very prominent. When she described the peace of her private writing bubble and talked about how it helped her get through some rough spots, I was inspired to inhabit a similar peace.

Madeleine L’Engle died in 2007, long before I published even a short story, but I credit her work and her personal life as reasons I kept going, kept working, kept hoping that despite all my strong feelings to the contrary, someday someone would want to read fantastical stories penned by a weird little girl.

Hey there, Ms. L’Engle, up among the stars: thank you.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Most Awesome Book Signing That Never Happened

Image result for judith krantz sex and shopping
In my fantasy, it would've been the most awesome Romancelandia book signing ever:

Krantz, Krentz, & Krantz

Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Nevermind that I've never published a romance novel much less entered the same authorly stratosphere of Judith and Jayne Ann. Judith Krantz passed away in June at the lively young age of 91. (Don't panic, Jayne Ann is still with us!)

Did you know Judith published her first novel Scruples at the age of 50? 50! Sure, she'd had a long career as a fashion journalist and editor of leading magazines like Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan before launching into fiction. She lingers in my memory as the unapologetic creator of high glitz, glamour, and excesses of 80s romances. Back when getting a book made into a TV miniseries for a network was a BFD, especially when the show was a romance, she had seven of her books make it to the small screen. In those days, cable TV was a newfangled thingy, getting out of your seat to change the channel was way more common than using a "remote controller." She and Danielle Steele were the titans of the time.

I remain fascinated by the woman behind the pages, the businesswoman, the proud author who repeatedly stood up to the literatti for demeaning romance as a genre and the readers as vacuous housewives. Considered a feminist by many and a topic of study in universities, she wrote heroines with agency amid sweeping sagas--think more salacious content than Margret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, but nonetheless gripping. Thirty years on, we might roll our eyes at the high drama of Mistrial's Daughter, but we'd devour the book for the privilege of following Maggy Lunel's ups and downs of love, loss, and bonus baby.

Here's to the legacy of Judith Krantz, the woman with the brass to pen an autobiography titled
Sex and Shopping.

#RIPJudithKrantz
~raises glass of bourbon~