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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!


Author questions: On dealing with distractions

Since I’m about to have medical joy next week, and likely will be unmotivated to type anything more coherent than “I like bouzoukis” onto the Intarwebz, and since I’ve finally gotten some breathing room in the mad dash to get Vengeance of the Hunter fit for you all to read, I’m trying to clear out my queue of backlogged Things to Deal With. One of them is this! I put out a call a while ago for amusing things to write blog posts about, and my sister gave me this one:

“How do you overcome distractions like music or instruments when you know you should be writing and the words just won’t flow?”

This is what we call in these parts a Damned Good Question.

Here’s the thing. If the words aren’t coming, I find it unproductive to try to force them out of my head. For the simple reason that for me, at least, it just doesn’t work. If I’m mentally blocked, it’s a decent sign that there’s a problem to solve in the storyline that I haven’t thought sufficiently through yet.

In this situation, a distraction is actually kind of useful. My various instruments are great that way. My flutes and guitars are usually in within immediate easy reach, and grabbing one of the flutes and playing a few tunes is a splendid way to give the front of my brain something else to do while the back of my brain mulls the problem I’m trying to solve.

On the other hand, if I know damn well I should be writing and I’m just in an I Don’t Wanna kind of mood–i.e., if nothing else is going on that’s impending my ability to work, I’m not stressed or sick or stymied by writer’s block–then that is a problem. The instruments are awfully tempting shiny distractions, and while I do love them dearly, nobody’s paying me to learn how to play Quebec tunes on a flute. (Although I’d take that job in a heartbeat.) Likewise for the shiny temptations of the various corners of the Internet (Facebook, I’m looking at you), Plants Vs. Zombies 2 (or, I suspect, Zombie Zombie Zombie from my very own workplace once I start playing THAT), or hell, for that matter, other people’s books. Mmmmmmmmm. Booooooooks.

So how do I deal with that scenario?

Simple. Carina’s paying me to write books. I therefore need to put my fingers on the keyboard and write ’em. Ditto for all the folks who pledged me money for the Kickstarter; they’re all paying customers. And now that I’m an author under a contract, with actual deadlines involved and everything, it becomes way more important to get those fingers on the keyboard.

Big Fish would not let me keep working for them for very long if I blew off doing what they were paying me for. Ditto for writing. Writing may not be my day job, but it is a job nonetheless, and I need to treat it accordingly even if I’d like to blow off the evening killing zombies with my peashooter plants.

This doesn’t mean I’m immune to the aforementioned temptations. I’m not. I’ve had my share of Fuck It I Don’t Wanna nights, but I do at least try to limit those. It helps to give myself permission to take a night or a weekend off every so often (nights and weekends being my usual writing times), because it lets me pace myself and improve the chances that I’ll keep up my love of making words.

And ultimately, that right there helps a lot when fighting distraction: loving building a story. If I’m actively looking forward to my next round of writing five hundred words, then screw it, the zombies can wait.

Great question, Becky! Anybody else got one you’d like to see me address in a blog post, let me know!


Author questions: In which I am asked about music

When I put out a call on Facebook for possible post topics for my last Here Be Magic post, I got a couple other excellent questions that I thought would be excellent post fodder on their own. One of those was on what I’m sure y’all will agree is a topic near and dear to my heart, to wit:

“How does your music influence your writing and vice versa?”

Mad props to Kaye for this question, for lo, it is a good question.

How music influences my writing is pretty blatantly obvious to anybody who’s read Faerie Blood. I mean, I’ve got a male lead character who’s a bouzouki player from Newfoundland, f’r cryin’ out loud–though to my amusement, I have in fact actually surprised a person or two when I told them that Christopher is not in fact played in the Faerie Blood Movie in My Brain by Alan Doyle.

And of course there’s Elessir, my Unseelie Elvis impersonator, calling upon the other great musical fandom of my life. Pre-dating Great Big Sea by years and years and years, even. I’m basically throwing all the music I love into the Warder universe, and that meant that it was absolutely imperative that Elvis show up somehow. (For the record–Quebec trad will also be eventually showing up. Christopher’s young cousin Caitlin is getting a boyfriend. And that boy’s going to be from Quebec!)

But in a larger sense, Faerie Blood‘s just one example of how music winds up being critical to just about all of my characters. Over in Valor of the Healer, Kestar Vaarsen (who is played in the Movie in My Brain by Alan Doyle) is a mandolin player. And back in the day, when I was active on my various MUSHes, a whole hell of a lot of the characters I played were musically inclined to one degree or another. Faanshi’s original AetherMUSH incarnation could play the lyre, and she wrote a lament in honor of her lost first love. Rillwhisper, my primary alt on Two Moons MUSH, played the flute. So did F’hlan, my bronze rider on PernMUSH. Shenneret Veery, my primary alt on Star Wars MUSH, was my bard babe with a blaster and could play any instrument she got her hands on, and she headed up the band called the Womprats for several months of my roleplay of her.

Long story short, in pretty much anything I write, there’s going to be at least one character who makes music. Probably more. It may not even be immediately pertinent to the plot–I keep thinking of one of the things I love about the Aubrey-Maturin saga, wherein one of the defining characteristics of those books is how Jack and Stephen periodically just take time out and play the hell out of the violin and cello. Because they love music that much. I want the same for my characters in my books, because I don’t get enough of that in my personal, actual life.

There are reasons that the covers of Faerie Blood and Bone Walker feature the characters with their instruments as well as hints of magic–because the instruments are as vital to them as the magic is. (And when I finally get Kiri Moth to do Christopher on top of Signal Hill in St. John’s with his bouzouki, oh, that’s going to be good.)

How my writing influences my music is the tougher flip side of this question. I have been known to occasionally write music–that aforementioned song of AetherMUSH!Faanshi’s? I wrote actual, singable lyrics for that, and I’m going to eventually turn it into a reel that could in theory be playable at a session.

But writing music is a different skill than writing prose, and I’m not very practiced at it. It’s hard for me. That said? I often find myself wanting there to be music to accompany my books. This is, after all, why Dara’s still working on the Bone Walker soundtrack. My history with filk is a contributing factor to this–I’ve heard so much awesome filk that’s about various and sundry books or graphic novels (especially Elfquest) that a big part of me would squeal in delight at the prospect of Warder universe filk.

And I keep totally wanting to filk Great Big Sea’s “Ferryland Sealer” to “Faerieland Sealer”, which is absolutely and unequivocably a Warder universe song.

That about covers it, I think! Any questions on this, drop a comment! Or any further questions you want to fling me, to be addressed here or in future Here Be Magic posts, let me know!


On handling unruly characters

I was asked the following question on Google+:

How do you deal with characters who suddenly hare off and do something you really REALLY didn’t plan?

This is an excellent question, and requires a bit of a longer answer than would fit comfortably into a social networking comment. So here, y’all get a blog post!

A lot of writers I’ve heard address this topic will swear up and down that YOU ARE THE WRITER, BY GOD, so you, not the character, are the one in charge of a character’s actions in a story. From what I’ve seen these tend to be people who have more active plans in place before they start a book, so they’ve got clear ideas at all times of what they expect a character to be doing. Maybe they’ll even have a full outline sketched out.

Me, I’m not quite that much of a pre-planner. I’ve completed four manuscripts to date, and am about to complete a fifth. So far, my way of doing this is to have a general broad picture of what the book’s supposed to be about, going in. This is very similar to how I used to do plots in my days of playing MUSHes, where we’d do things called ‘tinyplots’–i.e., a general broad, open-ended idea of a plot concept–and then the characters on the game would then roleplay the plot out. It’d often go in unexpected ways due to the live, real-time nature of the RP, and that was a known and expected thing and considered to be part of the fun.

Now that I’m writing, I go in with that same broad idea of how the plot should work and some core character concepts for the major members of the cast. I start writing, and maybe I’ll get in a few chapters or so and then take a step back and think, “okay, now what happens next?” I’ll do a little bit of planning, then write that bit, and then do a little bit more planning, lather, rinse, repeat, until the book’s done. I’ll usually be taking notes in an outline file, with chapter summaries, as I go. It’s been a very organic process for me and usually it works.

However, sometimes I will have a character go HI I NEED TO DO THIS NOW, completely out of the blue. This is usually code, in my brain, for “Okay Anna, you haven’t thought something through well enough”–either my concept of what that character is supposed to be like, or else something about the overall plot. It happened to me early on, in fact, in the writing of the book that eventually became Valor of the Healer, and what I did at that point is to just readjust what I was intending to write in the chapters in question and keep going. I was still within the broad overall concept of what I wanted to do, so I wasn’t blocked.

But in another book I’ve got that’s still a work in progress, I hit a point where I realized that what I’d written so far just felt wrong. So in that case I just ditched that draft and started a new one. I was only four chapters in, so it wasn’t quite as severe a situation as having to completely trash most of a book.

How about the rest of my fellow writers out there? How do you deal when your characters raise their hands and go AHEM I’M DOING THIS NOW?

ETA: This post is attracting comments on its mirrors on Livejournal and Dreamwidth, so I encourage readers to check those out to see what a few of my other fellow authors are saying!

About Me, Publishing, Writing

A few words about expectations management

Every so often well-meaning family and/or friends ask me questions like “So when do you get to quit your day job?” or “When do you get to be the next Tolkien/J.K. Rowling/Stephanie Meyer/Amanda Hocking/etc.?”

Which are lovely questions and I do appreciate the support, but the long and short of it is, the likely answer to both of these questions for the foreseeable future is “I don’t”.

For a writer, especially these days, getting to a point where quitting the day job is feasible is extremely hard. For one thing, I live in the United States, and while I’m fortunate enough to have a good job with good medical benefits, if I left that job, those benefits would vanish. And getting health coverage on your own? That’s just about as hard as trying to support yourself as a writer. And after all the medical adventures I’ve had over the last ten years, frankly, I ain’t leaving a well-paying, benefits-providing job unless my books start selling a few million copies a year.

Which brings me to the second question, i.e., will I ever match the sales levels of those aforementioned famous authors? Probably not.

Because let’s get real here, folks–even though I do have a trilogy about to start coming out via Carina, I do remain a primarily digitally published author. In 2012, I sold 143 copies of Faerie Blood to the general public (which doesn’t count the Kickstarter backers). Some of those are print copies, but the majority are ebook. The maximum number I’ve sold per month is just over 50. The minimum is 12. Given that I suck at self-promotion, I’m deeply grateful that I’ve managed to score even these numbers–but still? They’re tiny numbers.

And I don’t honestly expect them to change much when Valor of the Healer comes out. A few reasons for this.

One, people still keep periodically saying to me, “Well gosh Anna, I’d love to read your books, except I don’t like ebooks/can’t read them/can’t afford an ereader/etc.” Whatever the reason, it boils down to “I’m not going to buy your book.” So the fact that I’m a digitally published author means that I don’t pull those readers in.

Two, even though I do have print copies of Faerie Blood, you do still have to buy them from me directly. This takes effort, more effort than just walking into a bookstore and picking a book off the bookshelf. There’s an inevitable delay between “asking me for the book” and “actually getting it so you can read it”.

Three, it’s going to be a tough sell to get Carina’s majority book-buying audience (which is coming out of romance) interested in what I write (which is to say, SF/F with romantic elements). Likewise, it’s going to be a tough sell to get SF/F readers willing to look at an epic fantasy trilogy sold by an imprint of a company primarily known for romance–because there’s still a lot of genre snobbery out there, and a lot of it is unfortunately directed at romance. So I fully expect there to be some level of “well, she’s published via a romance imprint, her book must be a romance novel, pass” in play.

Four, even among the digital book-buying public, it’s going to be hard to stand out from the crowd. It is supremely easy to self-publish these days. Anybody with a novel and the tools to slap together an ebook can do it, and so the major ebook vending sites are awash in an overwhelming flood of digitally published work. Just because a book’s out there though doesn’t mean it’s good, or that people are going to be able to find it, or that they’re going to actually want to read it when they do.

Five, hell, you guys, I know a lot of authors in print who struggle to sell enough copies to quit their day jobs. I know of authors who, despite the fact that they are well-lauded in their respective genres, despite the fact that they do in fact have day jobs, despite the fact that they’ve gotten titles onto the New York Times Bestselling list, still have to struggle to make ends meet. I’ve seen authors in print have series collapse out from under them because print sales have taken such a hit over the last several years–authors who have then had to either start writing under different names, or choose to self-publish the rest of their series via Kickstarter, or what have you.

“Writer” is very, very seldom synonomous with “rich”.

Long story short–if the Rebels of Adalonia trilogy performs better than Faerie Blood, even if just to the tune of a couple more hundred copies sold per year, I’ll be happy. I’m not in this for the money; that’s what I’ve got the day job for. I’m in this to share some stories with you folks, and I’m in it for the long haul and the hope that each time I put out a book, I’ll maybe pick up a small number of new readers. Maybe eventually, I’ll hit that critical mass and be somebody who can get talked about on the same level as Butcher or Richardson or McGuire or Priest or what have you.

Till then, I hope y’all stick around. And be on the lookout, because Valor of the Healer is COMING.