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A few thoughts about trigger warnings

My colleagues over in NIWA are having a discussion about trigger warnings on our Facebook group tonight. I’ve added a little bit to that discussion at the level I thought appropriate, and would now like to come over here into my own space to go into a bit more detail about my stance on the idea in general.

I have seen a lot of sturm and drang about what trigger warnings actually are and what purpose they serve. There are a lot of folks out there who have negative opinions about them, but I don’t want to get into that; I already got into that in 2015, and do not need to do so again. The point of this post is to just talk about what I believe trigger warnings to be and what purpose I find them to serve.

There are two ways I can talk about this: as a reader, and as a writer.

As a reader, there are certain things that cause me to actually appreciate a thoughtfully worded trigger warning. For example, anything warning about sexual violence as a plot point. Due to my own history and that of more than one of my loved ones, the vast majority of the time, I’m really not going to want to engage with any story that involves sexual violence.

I would be overstating the matter to claim that such a story would trigger me; it probably wouldn’t, not in the way that I understand that word to be used when people talk about being triggered by things. But at the same time, I want to know before I actually start to engage with a story if there’s going to be rape involved or any other kind of sexual abuse–because if there are other aspects to that story that might counterbalance that and make me want to engage with it anyway, I want to be able to factor that in when I’m making my decision about whether to read or view that story.

Here’s a specific example. While I’m a big Marvel fangirl and have happily watched all the various Marvel movies, both seasons of Daredevil, and some of Luke Cage, I have specifically avoided watching Jessica Jones on the general grounds that I know that story’s about a woman dealing with having been sexually abused. And while I rationally understand that it’s a very powerful story and that in fact David Tennant by all reports does a brilliant job of portraying the bad guy, I also know that I would really not enjoy being a viewer of that story.

Again, it would be overstating the matter to say that it would actively trigger me, and I don’t want to disrespect the term by claiming it would. But I also will not dismiss my own less potent reactions. I know I wouldn’t want to engage with that specific story, so I won’t.

Also, let me emphasize that if I know a story has sexual violence in it beforehand, this doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not going to engage with that story at all. What it does mean is that I’ll probably go to greater lengths to find out whether it has other aspects to it that might counterbalance my distaste for that kind of plot and make me want to take that story in anyway. In the case of Jessica Jones, I read several reviews and recaps of episodes just to see whether the plot sounded like something I could deal with anyway, and to get a sense of what the fandom felt about the material over all.

With a book, I’d do much the same. If I’m looking up a book on Goodreads and I see a mention in the reviews on it that there’s sexual violence in the story, if there are other things about that book I may want to engage with anyway, I’ll take greater care before deciding whether I want to buy it. I might check it out from the library instead. And I’d go over the reviews for it in more detail, just to see what people have to say about it.

In short, a thoughtfully written trigger warning about sexual violence in a story is something I feel would let me make an informed decision about whether I want to deal with a particular story. And the key phrase here is “informed decision”.

I also don’t feel as though a trigger warning about some other thing (e.g., graphic non-sexual violence, e.g. a car crash, or whatever) would annoy me. The presence of a trigger warning on a story in general is not going to make me specifically not want to read it. It’d be a neutral piece of information for me, one that would not be immediately relevant to my own decision about whether to engage with a story. But I am totally fine with it being there for someone else to make that same informed decision.

Now let me talk about this as a writer.

To date, I haven’t written anything that I feel really warrants a trigger warning. As you might guess from the first part of this post, it’s extremely unlikely that I’ll ever write sexual violence into one of my plots. I’m not saying I never will, if a story presented itself that legitimately required it, but the bar for that story to clear would be very, very high. (In fact, as a younger writer, I actually tried working a rape plot into a draft of one of my earliest novels. It… did not work. And that’s a decision I do not feel I would make lightly now that I’m an older and more experienced writer.)

If I were to write something that would warrant it, though, I’d be thinking about how to present a trigger warning in a thoughtful way. I don’t feel like I’d make it hugely complicated or blatant–just a little note at the beginning of a story, to alert potential readers that “hey, this story has potentially sensitive items X, Y, and Z in it”. I also don’t feel like it’d be appropriate to go into too much detail, because spoilers are not a thing I want to throw out willy-nilly, but I could see myself inviting readers who do in fact need to know more to contact me directly.

Because really, at the end of the day, it’s all about that aforementioned informed decision. It might cost me a reader, who might say “well shit, I guess that story isn’t for me”. But on the other hand, it might also gain me a reader, who might say “oh dear, well, this one bit of the story sounds like it’ll be a problem, but I like these other bits so I want to read it anyway, and by the way, Anna, thank you for actually warning me in advance”.

‘Cause really, sticking a trigger warning on a story is going to cost me at most a few sentences worth of effort. Which, if you’re a writer writing a 100,000 word novel, really isn’t that much effort at all.

And if it happens to make a potential reader’s life a little easier, I certainly can’t see the harm in that.

Given the world we live in, I think we need all the little gestures of compassion we can get.


How to do change tracking and comments

This is of interest to anyone who might want to help out with beta reading Queen of Souls. As y’all saw in that post, what I need is for people to load the manuscript into a word processor that supports Office-style change tracking and comments, so that I can take your comments and merge them all into a master file.

Here’s the important thing to note: you do not need to actually have Microsoft Word on your system.

Yes, Microsoft Office is king of all the word processing, and in particular, it’s what gets used in the vast majority of work in the publishing industry. But because it is so ubiquitous, other word processors pretty much have to have some level of compatibility with it in order for people to actually get work done. This includes Pages, if you’re a Mac owner and/or an iOS device user, and Open/LibreOffice, if you’re a Linux person.

The functionality that’s of most interest to me here is the ability to leave comments, but you’ll need to turn on change tracking to get to that functionality, most likely. Here are assorted bits of instructions as to how to do this, depending on what word processor you have immediately available.

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Now joining Team Scrivener: Me!

I’ve been super stalled on my writing a lot these last few months–perhaps a combination of mental weariness (albeit a good weariness, the kind you get from having a technically challenging job) from my day job, and a bit of needing to rest up from getting the Rebels of Adalonia trilogy finished off. But this has been going on long enough that I’ve finally decided I need to do something about that. And what I decided to do about it is investigate a potential new way to shoot new life into my writing’s workflow.

A lot of authors I know swear by Scrivener, a program intended to help you better organize your writing. You can write stuff in it and do basic word processing, but that’s less of the point. The program’s a lot more oriented towards letting you organize not only your drafts of your writing, but also accompanying notes and research materials.

I pulled down the trial version on Friday night and spent some time this weekend going through the entire tutorial that comes with it. Which, I gotta say, was splendidly written and gives a great overview of the program and its capabilities. Speaking as someone whose day job is indeed technically challenging, I very much appreciate a well-written tutorial.

After I did that, I started actually trying to do some work in the program. I built a new project from scratch, pulling in the already-written words for the still-unnamed Warder universe story about psychic Elizabeth trying to help Ross discover who murdered his Warder sister.

I’ve gone ahead and paid for the program to activate it, and will be using it as my primary means of writing a draft, moving forward. Still to practice: using it to export into useful formats, like HTML for building ebooks, and PDF for saving archive copies of drafts, and Word docs for anything I need to send to an editor.

What I really, really like about the program so far:

  • The aforementioned tutorial. If you’re at all interested in checking out this program, I highly recommend doing the tutorial, just to get a broad overview of its capabilities.
  • It’s super-helpful having the notes I’d written for the story immediately accessible in the sidebar, along with the individual scenes for the story itself.
  • The dialog box for showing your project target word counts is very helpful and motivating, if you’re trying to hit a daily word count. Progress bar for the win!

I hear rumors there’s an iPad build on the way, and I daresay I’ll be buying that–because having access to Scrivener projects via Dropbox on my iPad would ALSO be super-helpful.

But in the meantime, if you’re not already a Scrivener user and you think you might want to check it out, it lives over here. If you ARE a Scrivener user, what things do you like about it? Let me know in the comments!


Seven things about my writing

Earlier this year there was a writing meme going around Facebook, and fellow writer and NIWA member M.M. Justus tagged me on it. So since this was a question that I felt deserved longer consideration than I could easily give on a Facebook post, I decided to blog about it instead. Here then are seven things about my writing, in no particular order:

  1. My friend and reader Pauline wanted to know about the motivations and inspiration for the Warder universe–not how the first two books are set in Seattle, but rather, how I decided to make everything fit together the way it does. Good question!

    The overall structure of the universe is pretty easy to trace through my own reading habits. There are Sidhe because I’ve always loved elves and stories about them. There are Warders because they are the main way I’m giving human characters a chance at holding their own against non-human characters, in magical terms–and because a lot of people will relate better to human characters than they will to non-human ones.

  2. The Rebels of Adalonia books have their origin in the first two full novels I ever wrote, which happened to both be called The Starblade of Radmynn–because this was in high school and I sucked at thinking of titles back then. At some point I will probably make downloadable versions of these available, just for giggles and grins. Because if Jim Hines can expose his first manuscript to the world, then so can I!

  3. My sister Becky wanted to know whether I had any plans to ever feature sentient nonhumans in my work–by which she meant a) protagonists, not supporting characters, and b) specifically non-humanoid, as opposed to characters like Kendis or Elessir or Faanshi or any of my other characters who are technically not human, but who still fall into the ‘humanoid’ bucket anyway by virtue of being elves or elf-blooded. Becky added that it’d be neat if they had telepathic capabilities, which one presumes they’d need in order to communicate with any humans in the cast.

    This is an excellent question. I do not actually have any current plans to feature non-humanoid characters as protagonists, but it is not out of the question. And once I finally get around to finishing Child of Ocean, Child of Stars, I can at least say that there’s an alien race in that story whose natural form is jellyfish-like. (They’re shapeshifters.)

  4. A lot of how I construct a story, whether at the level of a scene or at the bigger picture level of the plot, can be traced straight back to my history of playing on MUSHes. To this day, when I’m trying to figure out how characters interact with one another, it’s very similar to how I roleplayed scenes with others on those games. Only now, it’s more along the lines of “I’m roleplaying with myself”. Which is still entertaining, but in different ways.

    Relatedly, while I’ve always wanted to be a writer, what finally got me seriously thinking about it as an adult was how people on the games I played started telling me that reading my character actions was like reading a novel. Particularly when I started stringing the logs of my RP together by giving them intros to fit them into the ongoing “story” of what was going on with my characters.

  5. I like to say in my official author bio that I was writing fanfic before I even knew what fanfic was, and I ain’t kidding. Among the things I can remember writing in school (and which I do not, unfortunately, retain full copies of) were fanfic for Battlestar Galactica (the original), Indiana Jones (in which I was writing about the son of Indy and Marion, and that got a full trilogy out of me), and the Thundercats. The latter complete with an OC half-human Mary Sue because OF COURSE I DID. I had plans at one point to try to write Battle of the Planets fic, too, but that never actually got off the ground. And I’ve got some Elfquest fanfic that dates from just before I started on Two Moons MUSH, too.

    It is therefore hardly surprising that I hurled myself with great abandon into MUSHing, since when you got right down to it, that was real-time, multi-person, interactive fanfic.

  6. In addition to Riddle of the Golden Dragon, recently resurrected on, I have three other surviving short pieces from my high school/early college days. Two of these are arguably YA, although I’d written them before I knew what that genre was. The third is “The Sea Prince”, another of my early short pieces that I’m pretty sure is set in the same universe as the Rebels of Adalonia books. I will be adding these to my Short Stories page soon!

    I have a few other never-completed ideas from that era of my writing that I may be resurrecting as well. Particularly a story called “Cages”, which I may be adapting for the Warder universe, and a story called The Last Singer for the Rebels of Adalonia universe.

  7. A lot of writers swear by Scrivener, but when it comes to writing tools, I’m pretty basic. I use Word as my word processor of choice. I use Excel to track my word counts on novels, as well as to track my indie sales. Everything else? TextEdit in Mac OS, or whatever else I have handy to edit text files. Pretty much all of my worldbuilding data goes into basic text files.

    What’s in those text files? Character notes (loosely structured along the same lines as the character apps I used to have to fill out when applying for Feature Characters or special backgrounds on MUSHes). Language notes. Cast lists. Timelines (both for the story proper and for any important backstory–the backstory timeline for the Rebels of Adalonia trilogy is HUGE). Family trees. Technology and cultural notes. And anything else that seems like I ought to write it down so I can remember it.

    All of this at some point would probably make an excellent wiki, and there’s a non-zero chance I might actually put one up, as much for my own amusement as for the benefit of anybody who might want to know more about the details of how my worlds work. If you’re one of those people, let me know!

And there’s that then. As always, I don’t bother to tag others on writing memes. But if you feel like playing along, by all means, do so! And drop a comment on this post so people can come over and see what you’ve got to share.


Some thoughts on women, dragons, and realism or the lack thereof

So this post went up on the Mary Sue this week, referencing a recent interview George R.R. Martin has given, talking about the sexual violence against women in Game of Thrones. Unsurprisingly, the Mary Sue is not impressed.

Me–well. There are reasons I have avoided getting into watching the show, or reading past book 1 of the series, and first and foremost among those reasons is all of the sexual violence against the women in the cast. But that’s my reaction as a reader.

As a writer, I’m not going to go saying what another author should and should not write. Particularly authors who are way more experienced at their craft than I am. Every author has sovereignty over his or her creations, and is the final authority over what is and is not realistic in the world that he or she has made.

Likewise, my sovereignty is over the worlds I have made–the Warder universe and the world of Rebels of Adalonia thus far, with others to come. And for me, equating realism with women getting raped is a specious argument. I’m writing elves and magic. I’m writing healer girls who are so ridiculously powerful that they can ward off ancient beings with near-godlike abilities. I’m writing fiddle-playing mages who can take on the vengeful spirits of dead Unseelie in dragon form. And, yeah, I’m writing children who are the offspring of a mating between a shapeshifting nogitsune mother and a dragon father, children who are capable of destroying cities with their power. You could make a very strong argument that realism isn’t exactly high on my agenda.

Yet that too is specious. I’m not the most experienced writer in the world, to be sure. But I’ve read a whole hell of a lot of books, a lot more than I’ve written to date. And from both my reader and writer perspectives, it seems to me that a book’s job is to make me believe in its world. Realism in a story is important. Detail in description, coherence of narrative structure, consistency of worldbuilding, etc.–all of these things are critical to building that realism.

But at the end of the day, and at the end (not to mention the beginning and the middle) of the story, it’s the writer’s job to decide what realism means in the story they’re trying to tell.

And for me, that means stories where my female characters do not have to live in fear of being raped. Or, for that matter, my male characters. I’m just not going to go there. Period.

You could argue that I am therefore sacrificing true realism, particularly in the Rebels of Adalonia universe, where Faanshi starts off the story as a slave. It’d absolutely be plausible for her to have been sexually abused by her master. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s probable that that kind of abuse has happened to elven slaves in the history of Adalonia.

But there’s a difference between “it would be plausible” and “I should therefore include that in my story”. Particularly when it involves sexual abuse as a plot point.

Because while I want to believe in the realism of any story I’m reading (or writing), I also want to believe in the realism of a world where women don’t have to live in fear of rape. We don’t live in that world right now. I would really like us to, though I don’t pretend to know how we can get there. Yet if there’s anything I’ve learned in all the years I’ve read books, watched movies or TV, and listened to music, it’s that the real and actual world we live in can be shaped by the stories we choose to tell.

So I choose to tell stories where no character has to undergo sexual abuse.

I don’t pretend to have anything remotely resembling the reach of Mr. Martin with my work, or to have any real goal with writing novels above and beyond “because I want to tell stories, and hopefully people will want to read them, and have fun doing so”. But I know far, far too many people who have suffered sexual abuse in real life, and for them and others like them, I want to provide some respite from that. And if I ever manage to nudge our real-life world closer to being abuse-free, then y’know what?

That’d be pretty freggin’ awesome.

Book Log, Other People's Books, Writing

Book review: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into PrintSelf-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print by Renni Browne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers got recommended on the Facebook group for the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association, of which I am a member. So I decided to check it out. By and large, I’m glad I did. I’ve now written and released five novels, and I’ve worked with a couple of different editors. And a lot of what I see in this book lines up pretty well with what my best editorial experiences have taught me about my own writing.

Because yes–whether you’re planning on querying to traditional publishers or going indie, your work will require an edit pass. Probably multiple edit passes. And if you can’t afford to hire your own editor, and/or you don’t have handy immediate friends with editing skills in your social circle, you will have to do that editing yourself. This text could do you well as a how-to guide for tackling the job.

Here are some of the things the book discusses that I’ve learned about in my own editorial experiences: minimizing dialogue tags, and when you actually do need one, it’s okay to use ‘said’, really; minimizing use of dialect for effect, and techniques to capture the cadence of a character’s accent without making him or her unreadable; using action beats instead of dialogue tags to convey who’s speaking, and how; and all the various ways to think about handling point of view.

There are a lot of exercises in the various chapters as well, on which you can practice. I skipped those, just because I’ve actually gotten in a fair amount of editing practice at this point, working with my own stuff. But if you haven’t edited yourself or someone else’s work before, you might try those and see how valuable they are for you. Me, I’ll be buying myself a copy of this for reference, now that I’ve read the library checkout copy. Four stars.

View all my reviews


Writing Process Blog Tour 2014

If y’all follow more writers besides me, you’ve probably seen posts going around about the Writing Process Blog Tour, in which various writers discuss what they’re working on and how they do it. They tag the writer who talked them into it, and find other writers to participate! What’s in it for you? Getting to follow links and discover new writers.

In my case, I got tagged by Catherine Lundoff, who’s userinfocatherineldf, and the same on Dreamwidth! She’s got her own Writing Process post here on LJ and here on Dreamwidth.

Let’s get down to it, shall we?

What Am I Working On?

Priority one: Victory of the Hawk, book 3 of the Rebels of Adalonia trilogy. This will conclude my immediate obligations with Carina Press and free me up for more of my indie work.

Namely, finishing the edits for Bone Walker as well as the shorter pieces I promised my long-waiting Kickstarter backers!

After that? What’s most likely to pop off the queue will be Queen of Souls, my other currently finished manuscript, at least in rough draft form.

How Does My Work Differ From Others Of Its Genre?

My fantasy, currently represented by the Rebels of Adalonia books, is significantly less grim and gritty than a lot of the better-known and better-selling epic fantasy works these days. Which is not to say I don’t have violence or dark themes, or that I hold back from killing off characters as appropriate. Valor of the Healer and Vengeance of the Hunter–especially Vengeance, as y’all will see when it ships on the 28th–both have their share of violence and darkness. But I don’t do gratuitous darkness.

Stylistically, I hearken more back to the stuff I read when I was younger. So if you liked Esther Friesner’s early fantasy novels, or Tanya Huff’s, or Doranna Durgin’s, you might like mine.

In my urban fantasy, likewise, I’m a lot lighter-hearted than a lot of the grim grim grimmity grim OHNOEZ WE MUST SAVE THE WORLD novels out there. And if your tastes in urban fantasy slant more towards paranormal romance, you should also be aware that while I do have romantic subplots, I don’t base them on how enthusiastic the characters’ hormones get about each other. I do slow builds on romances, and if I have any on-camera sex at all, it will serve a very specific character development need. It won’t be there just out of obligation to have my characters shag. Also, I’m very likely to cut a discreet fade to black rather than spelling out the details for you.

See, ’cause here’s the thing–unlike a lot of readers, I don’t tend to put myself into the position of the heroine in whatever book I might be reading. Rather, I envision her as this awesome person whose adventure I’m following. If you’re an awesome person I know in real life, this doesn’t mean I want to actually watch you shag, you know? Same thing if you’re an awesome fictional person I’m reading about.

I feel the same way about the characters I’m writing. To be perfectly honest, the vast majority of sex scenes bore me to tears, and they’d bore me to write, too. And writing something that bores me is the last thing I want to do to a reader. I’d much rather write the things that excite me, and by extension, hopefully, excite you too.

Why Do I Write What I Do?

I often hear it said that a writer should write the things she wants to read. This applies to me, pretty much.

I write casts of characters that tend to slant heavily to having women in positions of power, because that’s what I want to see in the things I read. I write women who hold magical power, women who hold political power, and sometimes both at once. And I write casts that will have multiple female characters in play, which may in fact seem female-heavy to some readers–but I see a lot of LACK of representation of female characters elsewhere, and dammit, I want to do something about that.

Likewise, I’ll often have queer characters present in my cast. Because again, representation matters.

How Does Your Writing Process Work?

Basically, after finishing a few novels, I’ve come to realize that my writing process is pretty much “let the characters roleplay the story out in my head and transcribe what happens”.

I’ll have a rough idea of where I need to go, mind you. I’ll often take some rough outline notes, or notes on characters’ starting motivations. I definitely find sketching out a timeline of events to be useful.

But a good bit of this note taking actually happens throughout the writing of a book for me. I’ll write a few chapters, take more notes, write a few more chapters, lather, rinse, repeat. So far this seems to more or less work.

The tricky part? Doing this under deadline. I’m hoping to get faster as I get more books under my belt!

I write in Microsoft Word–specifically, Mac Office 2008. And for the longest time I was using old-school Courier New formatting, but I’ve started switching over to Times New Roman, trying to get used to following Carina Press’ style guides. I’m likely to keep the Times New Roman for working on my other stuff, too, since I just like the look of that better. What’s really tough, though? Breaking myself of the habit of indenting my paragraphs with tabs!

About the only other tool of note for me is Excel, which I use for word count spreadsheets. The vast majority of my notes are taken in nothing more complicated than TextEdit. Some day eventually I may explore something fancy like Scrivener, but honestly, simplicity seems to work for me here.

And that’s my process! If any of my fellow writers out there would like to be tagged, sing out and I’ll update this post!

ETA #1: First tag request is in! Folks, I commend to your attention Alex Conall, who lives here on Dreamwidth, here for zir official site, and right over here on Facebook. Genderqueer poet and artist and writer! (Speaking of how representation matters.)

ETA #2: Second tag request! This one goes to my pal M.M. Justus, who’s written time-travel SF with romantic elements, some historical, and even straight-up contemporary. Stick around because I’ll be featuring her on Boosting the Signal too!