Fun With Words: Electioneering Edition

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Fun With Words: Electioneering Edition

Well, guys, my little blackboard of words is full once more, so it’s tiiii-iiime…for fun with words. It’ll be especially fun for my American friends, who’re all probably just as sick as I am of election coverage…though the election itself isn’t for another year.

I noticed I was having a word-trend about halfway down and decided to go with it. After all, what makes your political opinion sound more justified than a few snappy words in there? The last one, in particular, will probably come in very handy as you debate the merits and drawbacks of our next potential commander-in-chief.

So hoist up your red white and blue, make up a brief statement about Our Great Nation, and enjoy the sensationalist and information-starved election coverage as it’s meant to be enjoyed: with a bunch of big snarky words, so you look smarter while disagreeing with everybody.

A NOTE: I’m not interested in your political opinion. Really, I’m incredibly not interested. I tried to keep my examples fairly cross-party, but of course more of them stick to Donald Trump than to anyone else. Donald Trump is like the statement piece in the well-to-do living room of election politics. You might like it, you might not–but you’ve got something to say about it, and it’s damned hard to pretend it just isn’t there.

Verjuice–a sour juice made from unripe fruit, previously used for medicinal and health purposes, now mostly used in cooking.
Example: Every time someone mentions e-mails, Hillary Clinton looks like she’s just taken a shot of verjuice.

Mendicity–The state of poverty or beggardom; the state of being a beggar.
Example: Bernie Sanders is very concerned about the current mendicity of the US–however, his Republican counterparts complain his platform would make the country even more mendacious.

Cavil–A petty objection.
Example: Ted Cruz’s cavilling might actually cost Planned Parenthood some funding some day.

Bunkum–Nonsense, empty talk. Particularly nonsense thrown about insincerely by a politician. Apparently, this word originated in Buncombe County, North Carolina–I love it when my people spawn something excellent.
Example: If I hear any more of Donald Trump’s bunkum about Megyn Kelly, I’m going to become a Fox News reporter myself and be twice as mean to him.

Quisling— A person who collaborates with an enemy force, thus betraying their own people. This word comes from a Norwegian army officer named Vidkun Quisling, and his story is worth a look.
Example: I’d support Hillary Clinton more if I didn’t worry she’d wind up being a quisling to the American middle class.

Pareidolia-– Seeing things that aren’t actually there because they resemble some other thing. F’rinstance, seeing the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast, or a face in the light and bumper setup of the car in front of you. This is another word you’ll want some background info for.
Example: I know my pareidolia is getting out of hand because every time I see Donald Trump, I want to shoot the two mad muskrats currently feasting on his skull.

Snuggery–a small space made to be comfortable and cozy, such as a den or a study.
Example: It’s sweet to see the snuggery Rick Santorum has made for himself in the Christian Evangelical Right.

Bloviate–To speak at windy and greatly exaggerated lengths about something. This is a word coming back into popularity lately: probably because it’s what our politicians do a lot.
Example: I’m sick of Donald Trump bloviating about his wealth.

Widdiful–Worthy of being hanged.
Example: If our nation’s presidential candidates weren’t such a widdiful bunch, I might have more faith in politics.

Writing Devices and The Cult of Writing

Hey, guys! Sorry I’ve been away so long…I’ve been working pretty hard on Little Bird, and a new sci-fi story in first person present which, as my boyfriend requested, has both war and aliens in it. And brains in a box, but he didn’t request that. Anyway.

I’m back to the bloggy grindstone now, so don’t you fret. Or, you know, whatever you were doing.

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Writing Devices: If It Ain’t Broke

I’ve been seeing this thing plastered all over Facebook for the past few months. Remember the AlphaSmart? It’s basically a slicker-looking AlphaSmart.

I’ll be honest: my initial reaction was one of horror. Dear God, I thought–how much money are people willing to pay for special writing devices? I mean, this thing is basically just a word processing program in a fancy (and somewhat bulky, it looks like) case. While I like people to know I write, a t-shirt would be cheaper. And what message, really, is a device like this sending? That the only way to keep your holy and much-tortured genius ‘distraction free’ is to pay $400 for it?

And again, I’ll be honest. Every time I hear the phrase ‘distraction free’ in relation to writing, my blood still boils a little bit. Christ, guys. Are we all so undisciplined that we need special new toys to keep us from frittering the day away on Facebook or Twitter? Do we hate writing so much that all it takes is an article about ‘Ten Hollywood Actresses Who Looked Way Better in Their High School Yearbook Pictures’ to keep us away from it? I mean, I’ll admit it. I’ve spent possible writing time tweeting before. Or on the phone, or cooking dinner, or watching a movie. But I tend not to think of that as ‘OMG possible writing time spent engaged in unholy distraction’. I tend to think of it as time off. We all need time off.

Writing is, naturally, wonderfully cheap–wow, all you really need to get started is a pen and some paper. You don’t need to be anywhere special, you don’t need to be looking at anything in particular, you don’t even need lessons in how to do it. You don’t need to’ve read certain books, or be able to Discuss Dostoyevsky Wittily with Other Writers. Like all the arts, if you really want to do it, you’ll find the time and you’ll find a way. (F’rinstance– you can draw with just a pen and a piece of paper, too. And you can dance late at night in your room in sneakers, special shoes optional).

Why is there such a culture–such an intellectual black hole–built up around ‘writing a novel’? Writers aren’t just writers, they’re people who write–no one can be JUST a writer, and no number of write-culture fetish devices can make you a literary machine. Having a goddamn Hemingwrite doesn’t make you Susan Sontag. Nothing makes you Susan Sontag. In fact, I’d be willing to bet Susan Sontag wasn’t really Susan Sontag–at least, not the Susan Sontag who is portrayed to us folks who aren’t Susan Sontag.

Writing is something that comes from within. All this intellectual bullshit attached to it–where you put the commas, how to get an agent, whether or not your writing is good enough, smart enough, witty enough, whether or not you live ‘the life’–is just bullshit. And, while I might argue that whether or not you should attempt publication is a skill-based call, writing itself isn’t. All you need is a surface, a writing implement, and some basic literacy.

So. In this world, where the internet allows for instant sharing and the simultaneous curse and blessing of a ‘writing community’ in the smallest hometown, let’s try to remember that. Writing comes from within. And if you really want to write–if it’s something you HAVE to do–you’ll find a way.

That being said:

I thought about that Hemingwrite a lot. I thought about my reaction to it. And, in the end, I’m not sure my reaction was any better than anyone the hell else’s.

Because it doesn’t matter what you write on. It doesn’t matter what amulets and charms you employ in the process, what magical incense you light in your prayers to the Writergod. So long as you do it, if you want to do it.

I wish there wasn’t this idea of a writing culture. I do. I think it’s damaging, dangerous, encourages homogeneity, etc.

But maybe what I think doesn’t matter. Because it sure as hell exists. And, as long as it exists, there’ll be those hawkers at the fair selling ‘useful tools’–relics for luck, the bones of silent saints. And hell, these guys are almost certainly in earnest. The reviews I’ve seen for the Hemingwrite say it works just fine.

But are their products useless? Maybe to me. I can’t tell you how to write, though. And there’s power in such things, and there’s power in self-confidence.

Julius Caesar might not’ve cared for the results, but even he still took the auspices.

Writing: Women in Fantasy

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Writing: Women in Fantasy (and Four Common Tropes I’m Bored With)

I know, I know. It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these ‘Things I’m So Damn Tired Of’ posts. And you guys have been so lonely without them. So very, very lonely.

Today’s liberal dose of hatred and despair is leveled at four fantasy heroine types who, especially in YA fiction, have become alarmingly prevalent. Now, mind you, there are good ways to do everything, and even these four maidens of mystery can be done well. But what I describe here is not the right way to do them. It’s the right way to make my fillings ache.

A brief note about ‘how to characterize women in fiction’, a subject I see touched on periodically, and grace with a brief chuckle every time I view it: you don’t have anything special to prove, when you write a woman. You don’t have to go out of your way to make her ‘badass’. Women, like men, have a remarkable range of personality traits, and a woman is no more likely to be weak or unlikeable because she’s a seamstress than a man is because he’s a tailor. A girl doesn’t have to be a tomboy or hold a sword to be awesome. A lady can, in fact, be ‘strong’ and ‘badass’ with four kids and a job as a laundress. It’s one of the weaknesses of the fantasy genre today, I think, that folk feel the need to shove a sword in someone’s hand and wrap her in chainmail to make her ‘strong’.

On the other hand, if your lady is a fighting lady–make sure she really is a fighting lady. Not everyone in a medievalesque fantasy universe runs around with a sword and fighting skillz–why did your fighting lady choose this path? What’s made her a soldier? And, for the record–it doesn’t always have to be revenge. I mean, think about it–you probably have a few friends who’ve served in the armed forces. Did they join the military for revenge?

Really?

…or did they do it because they wanted to serve their country? For the pay, maybe? Because they came from a military family? Because Dad said it was either that or go to college? Or maybe, maybe, just because they wanted to. Not everyone clutching a hauberk has to be doing it for some Great Noble Purpose.

Anyway. Without further ado:

1) Princess Hellion
She’s a princess. Which is great and all, except she totally would rather be out in the woods fighting and stuff. Except when she’s forced into fancy (usually elaborately described) gowns, has to use all those somehow-still-considered-useless Courtly Deportment lessons, and attends balls which, for reasons unknown to the plot, take up like a whole chapter. Where she meets Prince Charmingly Not Like All Those Other Men Who Expect Her to Wear A Dress All The Time. And engages in witty and pleasantly hostile repartee. Because she’s badass, which means she Says What She Means. And she’s also a princess, which means she expects to have her own way all the time, which is what princesses are like always, right?

The Breakdown: I’m so tired of the plucky princess trope. Princesses learn to behave, too–probably more seriously than the rest of us, since being shitty and offending the NExt Country ambassador can have serious consequences. If she’s really that much of a spoiled pill, guess what? People–probably the whole court–are going to despise her. No one likes a brat. Especially not as many people as like this particular type of character in fiction. Her father always adores her, Prince Charmingly Et Al. falls in love with her. Why?

How to Do It Right: Aerin, from Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, is a little Mary Sueish, but she’s still one of the best heroines of this type. She’s a princess who likes to fight, sure, and she’s got a temper–but she’s also a genuniely likeable person, and she works hard for her dragon-slaying rights. She gets scarred, gets hurt, and makes sacrifices to save her country and earn the respect she deserves.

2) The Tortured Waif
It’s A Tragedy, Whatever Happened.

It’s a tragedy, because it left this young woman with total, like, scars. Not real scars, no. Those make people ugly. But emotional scars, totes. Usually, this is a princess or duchess or some other purebred lovely floaty ladything. Often, for reasons I can’t figure out, she’s associated with magic.

The Breakdown: Something happened, and now a whole major plotline just has to be devoted to this girl getting over it. Because there is nothing more fascinating than watching pretty people not-cry in public after weeping in private. (The villainess version of this, by the way, is even more common: the Lady Twisted With Revenge).
But she’s so strong, you know? So strong it takes her three hundred and fifty pages to ‘let go’, whatever that means.

How to Do It Right: Gonna be straight up honest, I can’t think of a single good example of this being done well right now. Usually, it’s employed more in soppy fantasy romances, anyway. My long term feelings are, if you need Great Trauma to prove how strong your character is, enough attention hasn’t been paid to characterization.

3) The Innocent Rogue
Her eyes twinkle, her fingers are nimble. She usually has freckles (and she is, entirely too often, an unknowing heiress to something or other, hidden away or abandoned at birth, etc.). She’s got a set of daggers on her, when she’s scaling buildings and scampering along roofs in the underbelly of the city. When she’s acting as the blind at a fancy ball (because there’s always a damn fancy ball in these stories) she’s charming and devastatingly beautiful and full of bon mots.
But, much though she loves a rogue’s life, she never really does anything nasty. Because thievery, as long as it’s happening in a fantasy world and not to you, is charming. Right? Right? It’s okay. She’ll save the world somehow in the end.

Breakdown: Why do people steal? Usually because they don’t have enough of stuff. This girl would either be a fairly unwilling thief, or have some nasty personality parts hidden deep, deep down. Either way, I don’t know that she’s the lady you really want as your queen later on, when she discovers her ‘heritage’ and suddenly goes legit. That whole ‘taxes’ thing is going to seem tempting.

Done Well: There were parts of this novel I disliked, but Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn deals with this character type well and believably. The main character’s brief life of crime happens first unwillingly, and then to a reasonable purpose. She’s also refreshingly clumsy at balls. Because, you know. She’s never been to one before.

4) The Woman Warrior
She’s mean with a sword. She’s struggled, sometimes quite a bit, to become The Woman Warrior (usually the only woman warrior in the story). She doesn’t have much truck with girly shit, like wearing dresses and balls and stuff (though she will, like fricking always, wind up at one eventually. Because even this attitudinal lady has to be seen in a dress. Because she’s a lady, and she has to have a softer prettier side for Love Interest to be Interested). Her movements are graceful, her sword is swift, her attitude is either repressed anger or more of those damned witty bon mots. She’s the fantasy world’s tomboy: and, like all tomboys, nobody would like her if she wasn’t still pretty. Right? Right?

Breakdown: A real soldier has spent some time being a soldier. If you’ve led a lot of campaigns, you’re probably sunburned, scarred, hoarse-voiced from shouting commands at all those assholes who don’t know as well as you do. Even if you’ve managed to escape all that, there are points when you’re on a battlefield killing people where you’re covered in blood and effluvia and your hair looks like shit. You’ve got some serious muscle, and, since you’re a warrior through and through, you don’t immediately lose your famed fighting abilities as soon as you gain a love interest.
Because no one really looks good in chainmail. No one.
I’m not saying a gal has to ugly up to do this, but come on. Soldiery is hard. Being in battle is hard. It doesn’t leave you with flawless moon-pale skin, and being around a ton of soldiers doesn’t leave you full of social graces.

Done Well: I’m going to be a self-promoting bitch and refer you to my own book here, of course. Because I do things well. I do.
The other thing that comes to mind, curiously enough, is from a YA series I loved as a kid: Tamora Pierce’s Alanna books. While Alanna gets irritatingly close to the word ‘plucky’ sometimes–and you guys can imagine how I feel about ‘plucky’–she fights hard and trains hard to become a knight, and her fiery personality comes across as a drawback as well as a bonus. And, though I think Pierce still pretties her up sometimes, she takes no shit. She’s also short, which I think is what endeared these books to me as a kid. Short people power.

Notice some trends here? These hated ladies are always pretty, always young, almost always white, usually noble, and there’s always a ballroom scene. (A ballroom scene, for those not operating at full capacity this morning, might not actually take place in a ballroom. It’s that reveal scene, where you see your ‘rugged’ heroine in a dress for the first time. You know the one. Oh, god, you do.)

There’s no proper way to portray a woman in a fantasy world. Laundresses, farmgirls, and servants are just as common–honestly, probably more common–than the nobility that makes up 90% of fantasy novels.

And another thing–women aren’t always young. Or single. Or childless. Or beautiful. ‘Strong women’ don’t always hate dresses and despise the court. I think it’s time we moved away from the pretty young tomboy and looked in on the other ninety percent of fantasy womanhood.

A badass is still a badass, even in pink–and I’m tired, so very tired, of that Disneyesque ‘ballroom scene’ where a tomboy has to dress up and let her hair down for some forsaken notion of ladyhood and ‘becoming beautiful’. When you do that one scene, you’re discrediting femininity terribly. You’re saying, essentially, that no one has noticed this woman is a woman until she puts on a dress. And, through elimination, you imply that there’s only one way to be a woman–and that way isn’t ‘strong’ or ‘badass’.

So, really. If you want to write a good fantasy female, take out the motherfucking ballroom scene. Tempting though it is, it’s cheap, and it doesn’t do anyone any favors. You can write a lady who is young, attractive, ‘plucky’, mysteriously parentless, and all those popular things. I’m not saying you can’t. But please, please, be realistic, and take a second before you do to consider the other ninety-eight percent of women out there, and whether or not you might have a stronger story with one of them.

Excerpt: Little Bird Prologue

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Little Bird, sequel to Aurian and Jin, is out soon. Are you excited? Eh? WHY THE HELL AREN’T YOU?

I mean…something non-caps.

Figured I’d be a sneaky creature and post the prologue here, because, you know, three of you might want to read it. (A note: the first part of the first chapter is posted in the back of The Antidote, the Aurian and Jin novelette closing the gap between A&J and Little Bird, which you’ve totally read, of course. This prologue is before all that noise.).

You guys remember Beauland, right? That kid who healed Jin? Well, here’s what became of him.

PROLOGUE:
The Beans of Mantic Fortitude

Thirteen Years Ago

Beauland Bornsson, newly returned from the Aithar Smiles Blessed Healing and Conscious Loving Coven in Kartok, was
about to become a coven master.

He was, in fact, sixteen days away from it–give or take a day, with an eighty four percent chance of relative accuracy (and barring, of course, Unforeseen Dimensional Flux (UDF)). He had it marked on his calendar with a little red star.

The current master of this coven–the coven, as it happened, formerly known as the Coven of the Ursine Shattermath–had seen this outcome as well, at seventy eight percent accuracy levels, and this was so close to certain that he had done Beauland the immense favor of getting the garden servantry to go ahead and dig him a grave, which he was currently napping in until teatime.

The grave, the coven’s current master had informed Beauland, was nice and cool and quiet. Dark, even in the daytime. Much more pleasant, in fact, than the shit Beauland would presently have to deal with–this last bit being said, always, with an old man’s knowing quaver.

Beauland was fairly sure the Coven Master had seen more than he had. He was all right with that–it was better not to know everything.

Beauland had spent the last few years of his life at the Aithar Smiles Coven, learning that the healing arts were, profoundly, not for him. It was strange to be back here, after so long away–the multi-dimensional effects of the place were even wearing on him a little, the constant white of the Gauntlet was blinding and mind-numbing. Yesterday he had caught himself trying to brush his teeth over the wash basin–which was a mistake, as every boy raised in the Shattermath should have known. The wash basins liked to bite. It was far safer to do it over your dresser, and trust the Spit Sentinels of Gorshdrkr Dimension to redirect as necessary.

Today’s multi-dimensional failure had occurred only seconds ago, in the lunch line. It was simply enough expressed, though it was having disasterous consequences:

Beauland had gotten the beans.

He sat now in the dining hall, fork raised, next move uncertain. The damage had already been done: he had eaten a few of them. They were Xyclian beans: he could tell from the meaty aftertaste. And Xyclian beans, for a fellow of his delicate constitution, meant gas. And ever since that Evinanjin woman had destroyed the Astartian Pact a few years back, magic was intense and unpredictable, so who could tell what else they’d mean?

Beauland liked exploring new dimensions. He liked the power-pinnacle destruction of the Pact had lifted him to. But there were nevertheless times when he missed knowing that the limits of a magical reaction were, in fact, limited.

His fellow Sights sat clustered around him, pity evident on their faces. Every single one of the bastards had gotten the cabbage.

In the dining hall’s high narrow windows, scenes from the streets of seventeen separate cities flashed, in twelve separate dimensions. With the strangely meaty bean taste still in his mouth, Beauland watched a merchant in the Xolitol dimension crash a cart drawn by two snail creatures into a tea shop nestled inside a hollowed out mushroom. As much as inter-dimensional episodes could seem like something, it didn’t seem like a good sign.

“This is going to be bad, isn’t it,” Beauland said.

“I wouldn’t say bad, exactly,” said the woman next to him, waving her fork. She had the facial tattoos of the North Darklands all over her cheeks and brow, and the bone rings of a Far North Headsplitter braided into her hair. This costume, when combined with pointed teeth and the bloody mess on her plate, did nothing to console him.

“Pardon me,” he said delicately. “But aren’t you a Darklander? Don’t you people like cannibalism, and violence, and such? Why’re you here, in a Sight coven?”

“Right in one!” The woman smiled. “Without violence, how’re you supposed to solve your problems? But that’s all neither here nor there. This Darklander is also a pretty talented Sight. And this Darklander says the beans aren’t bad for you.”

“If not bad, then what?”

“Interesting.” She extended a hand for him to shake, nails rimmed in something dried and black that Beauland did his very utmost not to turn his sixth sense upon. “Dax the Destroyer loves interesting, and those beans are from an interesting dimension. You’re about to fart so hard your parents’ll feel it.”

“My parents are dead.”

“I know. S’what I meant.” She pointed a grimy finger to her robes. “Sighted, remember?”

“Could you…could you be a little more sensitive, maybe?”

“Nope.” She picked up a piece of whatever the red stuff on her plate was and gnawed it. “Name’s Betz, by the way. They tried sensitivity training when I got here. I ate the instructor.”

“Oh.” Beauland looked back down at his empty fork. Aithar only knew how long it would be until the beans caught up with him–or how much of a warning he’d have. Just thinking about it caused an ominous growl to rise from his abdomen. “I’m Beauland.”

“I know. You’re the man who’s going to lead the Coven.” She rolled her eyes. “Apparently, I’m not a good choice, even though my accuracy rating is two and a half points higher than yours. Old Master seems to think I’m going to tear down the coven and eat all the apprentices, or something. Lies and calumny, o’ course. I never eat where I shit.”

Beauland, who was beginning to feel an unpleasant pressure building in his stomach, shook his head. “Higher than mine? Impossible. Mine’s the highest since Riktau Gaugh founded the place four hundred years ago.” Sights, who for obvious reasons weren’t fazed by much, got awfully shirty over accuracy ratings. It was the first thing Beauland had been asked, along with his name, when he returned. He had taken to the practice wholeheartedly–easy to do, as his was exceptionally high.

Beauland’s overall accuracy rating was, in fact, eighty-nine percent. The current Coven Master, napping peacefully in his grave, stood firm at eighty-five. Ratings in the seventies were considered respect-worthy, ratings in the low eighties impressive. High or mid eighties were the stuff that set Sights to whispering in the hallways. Close to ninety earned you instant forgiveness in the Shattermath Coven if you should, say, go off for a few years to study Healing, jump dimensions at night more or less just to explore what was around now, and come back, shrugging, claiming it hadn’t ever been serious, really.

Not that Beauland had done that.

But, if this Betz was two and a half points higher accuracy than he was, then…

…then she was in the nineties.

It was unheard of.

Literally. No one had ever heard of it.

“Quit gawping,” Betz said, not unkindly. “At any rate, all that’s about to change.”

“Eh?”

“You’re about to have your anal awakening.”

“My–”

“You heard me.”

Beauland was about to ask the fatal question–what precisely constitutes an anal awakening?–when he found out.

The gas, which had been building relentlessly in his intestine, released itself with dimension-bending vengeance.

It was funny, he thought vaguely, as the gale-force winds blew his chair out from under him. This hadn’t happened before, but he got the strangest feeling it had. Perhaps, in some other close continuum, he’d been doing this from birth. Perhaps, in that continuum, he’d eaten Xyclian beans every day. Perhaps, in that continuum, he was Xyclian.
He made a mental note to visit Xyclia, next chance he got, and find out. It was fairly rare, for a Sight to find a double of themselves in another dimension, but it wasn’t unheard of. He’d rather like talking to himself a little. He might be able to give himself some good life advice.

His attention meandered back to the present, where strange things were going on. For one, everyone in the dining hall was staring at him–their upturned faces, hovering over their blue Sight-robes, wore almost identical expressions of horror. Betz herself, who didn’t seem like she’d be scared of much, had her mouth half-open.

Beauland realized, suddenly, that his chair had blown out from under him, but he was still very much in a seated position. Hovering, somehow, three feet over the Dining Hall floor. He had spilled the beans, and the grey goop of them had turned the floor underneath him into a legume murder scene, an edible splatter painting of considerable scope.

“Don’t freak out,” Betz whispered to him, “but you’re glowing a little.”

Beauland opened his mouth to tell her he felt fine, he was fine, this was probably just some weird side effect of being Sighted and eating Xyclian beans.

Instead, he spoke in a deep gravelly voice and an ancient tongue. Or, well. The voice came from somewhere, and that somewhere was loosely around him.

It said:

When the King is a woman and then is a man,
The looming red light spreads over the land.

One becomes two and two becomes one,
Brother and mother, mother and son.

Backwards and forwards, black and white.
Grow it in darkness. Kill it with light.

The mage’s bright promise to end with the king;
A song, a fine hat, and a bird on the wing.

For a few minutes, there was crystalline silence in the dining hall. Even the extra-dimensional scenery in the windows seemed to be waiting for Beauland’s next move.

The Darklander, Betz, was the first to recover. She grinned, shook her head a little, went back to her horrifying plate of near-raw entrailery. She slurped up some small creature’s liver: the sounds of her enjoyment echoed throughout the quiet room.

“Nice,” she said, dabbing her lips with her napkin.

Beauland said the one thing left to say, in such a situation: “excuse me.”

The room dissolved back into its previous chattery atmosphere. The intrusion of prophecy, Beauland remembered from his youth here, was a regular fixture in the Coven of the Ursine Shattermath–though, to be fair, it wasn’t usually paired with indigestion. Young Sights interrupting a Maths lecture with rolled back eyes, a blue glow, and utterly useless information about the winners of a pigskins tournament fifty years in the future hadn’t been uncommon.

He’d done it himself, once or twice–faked it once or twice more. The problem with faking it, of course, being that someone in the Coven had doubtless had a mantic episode previously that foretold your faking. And, more than likely, it was the Coven apothecary.

This wasn’t fake, however. This had felt, in fact, very strange.

“I’d remember that prophecy, were I you,” said Betz. She had finished her plate, and was now sopping up blood with a crust of bread. “In thirteen years, there’s a high percent chance it’ll be important.”

“I guess I should listen to you,” Beauland muttered. “You’re in the nineties.”

“So’re you, now. Tomorrow, you’re going to check up with the accuracy reader. Mantic gases unblocked, you’re running at about ninety four.”

“No,” Beauland said weakly. “That’s impossible. That’s almost–Aithar bless, that’s almost one hundred percent accurate.”

Betz winked. “Yes, my friend. You’re very good. Of course, there’s still the occasional hitch–”

She was interrupted by three mournful horn blasts, some minor hubbub near the doors, and the appearance, in soil-stained blue, of an out-of-breath messenger.

“Hail,” the messenger panted. “Sad tidings, Sights of the Shattermath! Our Master, Rectix Vlarsson, has died! Nice and tidily in his grave, with a will left right next to the tombstone. Thank Aithar it happened before teatime. Oh–and long live our new Master, Beauland Bornsson.”

Beauland blinked. “But–”

“Remember,” said the Darklander. “Not quite a hundred.”

Writing: Popular Pedantry

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Popular Pedantry

I’m going to start this story with its own little story. We’re going to talk, for a few seconds, about the food stamp ‘issue’ in America.

See, there are people looking to beef up food stamp regulations in this country–beef them up to keep folks from buying ‘luxury items’ such as soda, junk food, steak, or lobster. I don’t want to get too into the politics of this–I’ll just say that, if I were on food stamps and they banned me buying soda, I would be a quivering pile of unhealthy and certainly unemployable jelly for a period of months as I got over my Diet Dr. Pepper addiction. Afterward the state would undoubtedly be paying my living wages, as well as for my breakfast, while I picked up the pieces of my shattered sodaless life.

Anyway.

The reason I’m bringing it up is the same reason lawmakers and pushy online commentators bring it up. The reasons folks have been giving for supporting such a bill have little to do with an overextended budget, or a lobster shortage, or what have you. While the purpose of the bill is essentially to curb abuse of SNAP benefits, that isn’t why people support it. The reason folks support this bill is because, at some point in their lives, they’ve been standing in line at the grocery store, and they’ve seen someone pay for steak or lobster or what have you with food stamps. This whole issue blew up because of a receipt some lady found in a parking lot this one time.

I know, right?

Your first question, upon reading this statement, was probably the same as mine: why the fuck were you paying this much attention?

I can honestly say I’ve been standing next to a stranger while he or she pays for groceries maybe, oh, .05% of the time I’ve spent in a grocery store line. Usually, I’m back a polite distance, reading the tabloid headlines. Sometimes, it takes me a minute to notice they’ve left.

I don’t think I’ve ever noticed what card they used to pay.

And that’s been my main reaction to these restriction attempts. Not oh no poor people don’t deserve lobster or gah rich entitlement. It’s been: wow. Are we really this open about our own nosiness now?

We spend a lot of time (and I blame the internet for this, though it’s always happened to a lesser degree) concerning ourselves with other peoples’ business. What women wear, what poor people eat, chance remarks by some C-list celebrity.

And, in writerly circles: about typos and grammar.

Why are we all so suddenly concerned about the Oxford comma, someone’s placement of who and whom?

Don’t get it twisted, if someone published a novel and the grammar therein is execrable, by all means, point it out. This is a serious problem, and it denotes sloppy editing. If you didn’t care enough to figure out the basics, I don’t care enough to give you five stars. My reasoning for this has nothing to do with me liking you as a person, or caring deeply about English grammar–your lack of care interfered with my ability to read your story. It made your story crappier. It lessened my ability to enjoy your novel. A more conservative person than I might point out that your tax dollars are going into that food stamp purchase–so I might argue your money went into the purchase of this sloppily edited book. Therefore, if the grammar got in the way of you enjoying your money’s worth–well. Mayhap the literary steak and lobster of grammatical license isn’t to be given.

Y’see, grammar exists for one reason, and one reason only. English grammar is the set of rules that help a reader decipher meaning in the complicated code of the English language. If your shitty grammar gets in the way of someone understanding what you said, you have a major problem, and you need to correct it.

If, however, your use of the fucking Oxford comma doesn’t meet Chicago style handbook regulations, boo hoo. The situation where an Oxford comma is necessary is relatively rare, so why is the internet blowing up about it?

The fact is, typos and grammar errors happen. Every once in a while, you’re going to make one, and you (and your proofers) are going to miss it. It’ll burn you, when you’re rereading your published masterpiece. It sure will. But it happens. Even if you think it hasn’t happened. You might not even have noticed it yet.

I’m mentioning all this because I picked up an indie novel recently. I noticed, in perusing reviews, a reader had complained about the grammar in the novel, and had given a three-star review for that reason. So I opened the book with some trepidation, but hell, it was only a buck.

Imagine my surprise when the grammar was just fucking fine. There were a handful of typos, and a few occasions where I might’ve made a run-on sentence a little shorter, but overall–just fucking fine.

Were those small infractions really worth dinging a story two stars?

I didn’t think so. The story was good, the plot cohesive, the characters well drawn. I enjoyed it. I had no trouble reading it. I’ve occasionally seen more typos in ebooks released under a major publisher.

My point: we sometimes use grammar criticism for our own nefarious purposes. We use it as a way to bolster our own literary appearance and writerly status. This needs to stop. Grammar is a tool, and a story is infinitely more than the tools it was built from. I’m a grammarian and an amateur etymologist by nature–I love me some words, basically–but even I recognize there are occasional faults in the machine, even (grammar gestapo, go ahead and gasp) places where poor grammar works better than perfect. If it works, reward that.

Writing is a magical and mystical process, in which you put a bunch of typed characters together and, if you do it well enough, images are generated in someone else’s brain. It’s a little bit like telepathy. If poor grammar stops or damages the flow of these images, by all means, ding someone a star. If it doesn’t–if, basically, you only noticed it because you were looking–consider letting that dangling gerund phrase go.

In short: stop looking in other people’s literary carts. Mind your own business–when reading a novel, the business of a reader–and ask whether or not the story worked for you, not whether or not it plays by the rules.

And, again, to quiet the hounds: if you feel your literary ‘tax dollars’ are being misspent, do what the food stamp folks are doing. Take to the internet and complain about it. Bad grammar might be a reason the story does not work. Ruinous grammar is, well, you got the idea from the adjective.

But a typo or two? Not the mistake of the century. Not lifting your out of the story too much.

And a note: if you must be Gina Grammar to someone’s self-published ebook, at least be helpful. You ‘found a few typos?’ List them, and where they are. Ebooks can be republished at a few hours’ notice. If you’re kind enough to list, the author will probably thank you. Nobody wants typos, and it’s far easier to correct them when someone tells you where they are.

Vegetarianism: Where D’You Get Your Protein?

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Photo from the talented Krisztian Hoffer, freeimages.com.

Where D’you Get Your Protein?’

Hi there, readers. My name is Emily, and I’m a vegetarian.

Well, let me be honest. I was vegetarian for many, many years growing up, and then I fell off the wagon. Why? Because bacon is delicious. It really, truly is. Anybody who tells you a thick slice of tempeh is ‘better’ than bacon is either a liar or has no good remembrance of what bacon tastes like. Bacon is the taste of angels playing saxaphone. It’s the taste of soft-focus eighties love scenes on a white bearskin rug. It is. OMFG. Awesome.

But we’re back on the wagon now, and my friends have questions for me. Okay–a lot of them have the same question.

I’m not going to go into my reasoning for re-vegging here–you have some other vegetarian friend who’s given it to you already, at length, probably with a beer or bottle of whiskey balanced on one knee.

So don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those ‘vegetarian lifestyle’ posts. I don’t think there IS a damned lifestyle, and I get very tired of people who try to tell me there is. Just because you don’t eat meat doesn’t mean you’ve earned a street festival and a pride float, or have the right to attempt changing the dietary decisions of your friends and family. Bacon is, after all, delicious. And some people want the delicious.

So don’t worry about all that. I’m posting this vegetarian-themed blog for a single reason–a surprisingly scientific reason.

If one more person asks me ‘where I’m going to get my protein’, I am going to scientifically murder a busload of babies.

I don’t know how the complete myth that meat is the only food-substance containing protein has continued on into the modern age. Not when we have nutrition labels on everything, Google at our fingertips.

Grains and legumes have a TON of protein. So does dairy, obviously.

And here’s the thing–your daily protein requirement? Not that tough to meat. (Like that pun, eh? Eh? EH?)

A woman requires 46g of protein a day, a man 56. Let’s examine foods with protein in them for a second, shall we? Let’s start with my sad little work lunch.

I had, for lunch, a TastyBite serving of Jaipur Vegetables and a greek yogurt. I scarfed down a bagel for breakfast on my way to work. Go on, whine about processed foods and not-enough-veggies for a while. I’ll just smile blandly and turn a deaf ear.

Done? Okay. Here’s my daily protein count so far.

Bagel with cream cheese: 13ishg protein
TastyBite Jaipur Veggies–14g protein
Muller Lowfat Greek Yoghurt With Candied Almonds–13g protein

Woah! It’s only lunch time, and I’ve already had forty fucking grams of protein. Incredible, no? Without eating any meat. And, most importantly–without even thinking about it, until I started typing this.

And I WILL have some ice cream for dessert. Not sure what’s for dinner, but there WILL be ice cream for dessert. The 46g requirement will be reached.

So, hmm. How to put this.

Thank you for your concern about my protein intake. Even though I’ve NEVER heard you mention protein in conversation before, OR concern about how much of it people in general eat. Even though you couldn’t name five non-meat foods that contain protein. Thanks.

If you really cared about the health of my tubby little self, you might want to ask thoseĀ  what’re-you-eating questions about calories and fat. Trust me, THAT total for today’s food isn’t nearly as pretty. Jaipur vegetables, apparently, don’t come ‘skinny’. Ice cream does, but I prefer ice cream that doesn’t taste like country-fried ass.

(On a writerly sidenote: does anyone else grind their teeth to near-combustion every time someone refers to a low-fat food as ‘skinny’? No, that food IS NOT SKINNY. Not unless it’s spaghetti, or julienned carrots, or something else very narrow. What that food is, in fact, is ‘low fat’ or ‘low calorie’. Stop it, incorrect euphemisms. STOP IT.)

Anyway, sorry for taking up y’all’s time. I’m posting this mostly so I can print up some nice little cards with the URL for this post on them and hand them out to the next fifty people who feel the need to ask me this question.

Here’s a link, if you were curious, about twelve non-meat sources of protein, and wow, most of them are just as good as a goddamn steak. Sure, the author confuses ‘whooping’ and ‘whopping’, but not everyone’s a twitchy grammarian with a hair-trigger temper, and many good points are made.

Love,
E

Writing Exercise: Worldbuilding as Motivation

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Some Background

People spend a lot of time talking about building character. People create character sheets, elaborate motive charts, all sorts of ridiculous writerly bric-a-brac detailing the motive and inner turmoil of imaginary people.

This is all great, of course. Everything other people do is great. I have to say this, because being polite is, for some reason, important.

One thing that often gets ignored in our attempts to chart out our characters is, unfortunately, motivation. Not just what motivates a character–that gets talked about plenty–but why it motivates them, and how it happened. People don’t just start wanting things out of the blue–they want them because the necessity of societal obligations has, in some way, pressured them to want them.

So. Out of the places a character occupies in a society, which ones are important to that character? Which ones have caused them to want the things they want?

This is a more important question than it sounds. It is, in its own way, the basic building block on which individual personalities are built. It combines simple physical things (your character is a woman, your character is single, etc.) observable from a distance, with the deepest core of your character’s inner makeup.

And there needs to be more of that. Because who you are–who other people observe you as being–does have a deep inner impact on what kind of person you are. Sorry, nineties feel-gooders. It does.

Take a woman who has been fifty pounds overweight for most of her life. On the outside, this fact doesn’t seem like it would make much of a difference–doesn’t change whether or not she was born with money, whether or not she’s an aristocrat, etc. But people do judge you based on your weight, and if she’s been overweight for most of her life, you can bet she’s felt it.

Unless–unless the society she lives in considers obesity beautiful.

In which case, maybe she’s spent her whole life cramming one more helping than she can really stand down her throat at dinner, just hoping she can gain that extra five pounds to impress Prince Chargrill. Maybe she’s irritated at the dressmakers in her town, because it’s so difficult to find something small enough to fit her. You could write a whole story where the most important thing to this character isn’t her sex, or skin color, or social standing–it’s her weight. Maybe the story could end with her defiantly allowing her weight to drop at last, finally understanding it doesn’t matter.
And obesity is just one of the things which you notice about someone without any explanation, which might have to do with their inner workings too.

The Exercise

Take your character. Take a list of ten broad characteristics that might determine the place in society this character inhabits. This list of traits should include things you might know about this character just from observation, and not from conversation–for instance, you know if someone’s married by seeing them with a spouse, if someone’s a mother by seeing them with their children, where they’re from by an accent, etc. We’ll use Jin from Aurian and Jin for mine, since, you know, Jin. Jin is, in her fantasy world:

A soldier
A woman
White
From the Empire
A wife
A mother (by book two)
Of common birth
Fairly famous
Straight
Nonreligious

Now, place those attributes in order. Which of these things matters most to your character? Which matters least? Why?

Now, this list might change, depending on what part of the story you’re talking about. For instance, Jin wasn’t a mother until the end of book one, and soldiery falls farther down her list of important things based on the peacefulness of the current time.

Jin’s list, from most to least important, at the beginning of Little Bird:

A mother
A citizen of the Empire
A wife
A soldier
Of common birth
A woman
Fairly famous
Nonreligious
Straight
White

Like most people who have a spouse and kids, her spouse and kids are pretty high on her list of priorities. But Jin puts her people, and the welfare of said people, before her husband (or says she does, at least. In practice, the two would probably be better put side by side). Little Birdy, however, comes before the Empire: this relationship trivium actually creates most of the plot arcs in Little Bird.

The Empire, being a combination of tiny countries composed mostly of pale people, borders the North Darklands and the kingdom of Karakul, where people have darker skin. Therefore, being white (or black, or green, or pick your Crayola color here) hasn’t had much impact on Jin’s life, as the Empire regularly sees visitors and immigrants of different skin tones, and doesn’t make much of a fuss about it (believe me, you don’t make a fuss about the Darklands. It’s…unwise). Being a woman, while a notable disability in the Empire, hasn’t influenced Jin much–largely because, well, you have to get pretty close to tell she’s a woman at all. These facts haven’t caused her any problems, so they aren’t parts of her identity she thinks about much.

On the other hand, her birth (low) and her profession (soldiery) have shaped and changed who Jin is. They are not, however, something she fights for–they are simply influences, not something she protects or cherishes or talks about. (The fact that she doesn’t go to temple has, on rare occasion, bothered her. But it’s more for the social value of the thing than any deep religious belief, and she has other stuff to think about).

You get where I’m going with this?

These are the things that shape who Jin is, and they’re all external things, visible from a week’s close observation. What motivates Jin isn’t some aspect of her temper or personal being, it’s external stuff–what her husband and child need, what her people need, what her fighting skills enable her to do, whether or not folk in the poor quarters have enough to eat. In a different society–one where having pale skin, or being a woman, came with serious drawbacks–those things might be more important to Jin. But she’s fortunate enough to exist in a world where her profession is more important in her personal makeup than these two arbitrary attributes, so.

Jin is clever, quick-tempered, physical, and crude, yes. She’s all of these things. But they aren’t why she is like she is–she’s become that way, in fact, because of the way she’s had to act to get things she wants in her society. Women aren’t considered as valuable under Imperial law as men, so Jin’s not very traditionally feminine, and her hair-trigger temper has kept people from questioning whether a woman should do the things she does. Her low birth is a stigma, and she doesn’t think it should be, so she’s become (sometimes unnecessarily) crude in her expression, especially when talking to people of ‘better’ pedigree. A life’s worth of soldiery has left her apt to solve conflicts by throwing somebody through a wall. And her intelligence–well. That’s the thing that’s allowed her to survive in the first place.

When you look for character motivation, and believable character traits, don’t start plotting out adjectives. Knowing your character is afraid of snakes isn’t going to do you a lick of good, unless you know why. And the whys of your character are, often, buried deep in the rules of your character’s society–because people, regardless of time and place, grow where you let them, and falter where they have no support. Even the most self-sufficient person is dependent on the rules of the culture they live in, and the opinions of the people around them.

So don’t world build and then character build, or vice-versa. The two things are one in the same. And an exercise like this one can help you lay bare, not only your character’s motivation, but also the laws of the society he or she lives in.

I’ve shown you mine. If you want to show me yours, by golly, I’d say it’s only fair.