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Words left behind October 16, 2017

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It takes a lot of work to write a novel.

All authors say that, but how can a reader understand what that means? Some authors throw out numbers like it took X hours of work, or X months or years. And yet, as a reader, one might look at one author who releases one book every five years, and another who releases a dozen in the same time, and wonder why the first can’t match the second. Especially with series. The world and characters are already established, right? Shouldn’t it be easier?

I think the true measure of what’s involved in writing a novel is in all the work you don’t see. Agonizing for hours over a single word. Dialogue rewritten ten times or more. Entire backstories, enough to write short stories or even other novels, for characters who appear only in one chapter. Characters, scenes, entire plot points that an author loved that had to be scrapped. The way it’s constantly on your mind – on a bus, at a grocery store, at a party, at your day job.

For Enduring Chaos, I wrote over 300,000 words that ended up in the trash before it came to the point it is now. At this point, the tally for the series overall is at least 400,000 deleted words. The first book went through three complete, start-to-finish drafts of which nothing remained in the published book. At least two scenes in the final draft were completely rewritten four or five times.

Hours upon hours of research, probably enough to fill a full-time job for a week at least. Conversations with half a dozen different people just for information on horses – some for no other reason than to determine a particular horse’s size, merely for the sake of a single comparison in the book. Research on weaving and weather patterns and etymology and much more. An hour-long conversation with my resident expert, along with taking over a page of notes, about the behaviour of a character who has exactly one spoken line.

I have pages of notes keeping track of the timeline and the distances characters have crossed. I have my own private wiki for notes on the series – characters, locations, artifacts, and more. I have notes everywhere – on my computer, my tablet, my phone, a notebook by my bedside, the cloud. I have pages of notes written for a single scene – and I’ve done that multiple times. I have pages of notes about the backstories that inform each character’s decisions. I even have pages of notes I never kept – writing down dialogue or actions as I was working it out, only to delete it when that conversation passed, or never even happened on page.

And then there’s the unwritten work. Character sketches and maps. Planning out movement during battle scenes. Those thoughts always on my mind. Hours of conversation with my husband about aspects of the book. Hours spent in so many sessions of staring at the screen, working out in my mind how a scene will go. Determining the impact of a certain event upon a character. Thinking. So much time spent inside my own head.

How do you quantify that?

Well… you don’t. A reader only gets the finished book, and a writer has to accept that that’s all most people will see. Sure, you can discuss the writing process at conventions or meet-and-greets, bemoan the struggles of editing with other writers, friends, family, or other witting or unwitting audiences, or write how-to articles or blog posts about it, but the truth is, no one is really going to appreciate the scope of how much work went into your novel except you.

As an author, it’s just part of the job. Writing means rewriting, and it means a lot of writing that will never be seen, not necessarily because it’s not good enough, but because it’s not necessary. We do this and we suffer through deleting words we adored time and again because it’s part of the process.

Because we love writing.

But don’t mistake that for meaning it isn’t hard work.

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On ‘borrowing’ June 29, 2017

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I’ve been thinking a lot about cultural appropriation lately. It is a serious problem, I recognize that. But I also think that, unlike a number of so-called SJW crusades, arguments over it do go too far sometimes. Like a ‘get your picture taken in a period-style kimono’ exhibit at a Boston museum that was removed over too many complaints – despite members of the local Japanese-American community counter-protesting to keep it up.

I read a blog post a while back that resonated with me for a single line in it: straight people aren’t allowed to say what’s homophobic, men aren’t allowed to say what’s sexist, and white people aren’t allowed to say what’s racist. That made absolute sense to me. But would it also apply the other way? What does it say when white Americans rail against whitewashing more than the people supposedly being marginalized?

If I was married today, would I get complaints of cultural appropriation for my cheongsam-style wedding dress? (It was white. I obviously wasn’t trying to rip off a Chinese wedding.)

But again, it’s not up to me. Maybe I would’ve been in the wrong to wear that dress; maybe I was in the wrong. I wasn’t trying to disrespect or even emulate Chinese culture by wearing it. I just liked the style better than typical western wedding dresses and thought it more flattering on me.

I love learning about different cultures. I find it fascinating to see how people very different from me live their lives – their fashion, their food, their beliefs, their values, and on and on. And something I have come to learn is that it is immensely fun to both read and write about people very different from me.

That fact may come as a mild surprise to those who have read my novels, which (so far) don’t branch out very far from Tolkienesque 12th-century Britain-based fantasy or modern-day North America. But I want to. I wrote a novella last year starring a character from a nomadic society very loosely inspired by Romani, and I absolutely loved it. The part I’m currently writing for my next book features a number of different peoples all of which are very different from me. It’s been immense fun building these cultures and figuring out the characters’ roles in these societies.

However, I’m constantly wondering – will this be seen as disrespectful? Yes, these are completely fictional societies, and a lot of their development comes from natural progression based on location/climate/access to resources, but the fact is they’re not coming out of a vacuum. I find inspiration here and there from various cultures on our Earth, both because I find it interesting and because it suits these cultures and lends authenticity to them.

I’m not trying to make a medieval Mongolian or Mayan or Russian society in my novel; I start with pieces of one or several source cultures and work it into the world I’ve already developed. But all the same, I am borrowing from existing cultures, and is that problematic?

Today I was writing a scene in which a character reads the (magic) energy of the world. After some research I decided I liked the term prana for what she is sensing. But then I wondered – would people object to me using an Indian/Sanskrit term for a character whose society is more Pacific Islander influenced?

Am I splitting hairs, or is this a genuine concern I should be having? On the one hand, I absolutely agree that colonialism has resulted in appropriation that has undermined and demeaned other cultures through callous use of elements with deep sociological meaning to marginalized societies, and I should think carefully any time I “borrow” anything from another culture. On the other hand, where does it stop? Is it considered appropriation for me to cook a teriyaki stir fry dinner, or get henna on my wrist at a festival, or braid my daughter’s hair?

Earlier this year, the now-former editor of the Writers Union of Canada caused a lot of controversy when he recommended white authors incorporate more cultural appropriation into their writing, even as far as to suggest an “appropriation prize”. That comment was in extremely poor taste and emblematic of the issue… but I agree with the point he was trying to make. It’s boring and stifling to have white writers only write about white people. More to the point, writing is a way for us as humans to expand our minds and make sense of the human condition. In that regard, and especially considering white authors have such a stronger voice in current society, I would almost say it’s a duty of the white writer to step outside the box she lives in, as long as it’s done respectfully. We live in a multicultural society; is it not problematic to only write about your own race and culture? Good writing, writing that understands the world we live in, should either include or address multiculturalism.

But again, it’s not up to me. This is a highly complex issue, and one that’s unfortunately saturated with centuries of erasure and abuse.

Ultimately, I think the solution is to listen more to marginalized cultures on topics of cultural appropriation – both when it’s wrong, and when it’s not.

Sisters of Chaos vignette 2 February 29, 2016

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While trying to get back into the spirit of writing my next book, the second in my Sisters of Chaos trilogy, I wrote a short scene featuring Damian, the star of the trilogy, as a little glimpse into her history. Seeing as I don’t intend on writing any more of this piece, I present it to you now. This takes place 2-3 years before the start of Enduring Chaos:


 

For the first time that day, Damian could see clearly. Her veil hung close at hand in case of any surprise visitors, but standing in the kitchen, the aroma of herbs and roast duck on the air, she relished the free air on her hair and face.

Claude let out a breath as he sat down at the dining table. “Well, this is looking to be our most profitable trade season yet, though these regulations are awful this year. I wonder if I can hire someone who can sift through all these taxes and guild fees.”

Damian smiled as she carried a platter toward the table. “You said that last year, too, Papa. You’ll figure it out.”

Her father stood to help bring dishes to the table. “Well, I’m glad to have you here to help me out. I certainly couldn’t handle it all on my own.”

She gave him a wry smile. “You could always take on an apprentice. Mrs. Dunhill will need to before the year ends.”

Claude groaned as he sat at the table, Damian sitting across from him. “I can’t imagine teaching an apprentice enough of all this to actually take over for me one day.”

“You’ve taught me.”

“Yes, and you’re better than any apprentice I could get. I wish I could just keep you around.”

“What do you mean? I’m not going anywhere.”

His mustache quirked in a sad smile. “Damian, you’re as good a merchant as I am, but you deserve more than this. You should have your own family, your own home.”

The thought terrified Damian as much as she longed for it. It left an ache in her stomach so deep she felt nothing else could possibly fill it, but the idea of actually having a suitor made a chill run up her spine. She reflected on that afternoon, when they met with Mrs. Dunhill, one of Claude’s best weavers, and the woman’s daughter, whose belly now visibly swelled. She was younger than Damian.

Damian swallowed. “Papa, how could I get married?” She stared into his eyes, his brown meeting her vibrant yellow. “I couldn’t keep this a secret.”

“You’ll find someone who will accept you the way you are.”

She bitterly turned away.

Her father reached across the table and laid his hand on hers. “Have faith, Damian. You wouldn’t want to marry anyone who couldn’t see your true worth, anyway.”

She sighed but didn’t argue. Silently, they both returned to their meals.

“Papa,” she finally ventured after a protracted silence, “I’m the reason you never remarried, aren’t I?” As she saw the denial about to be issued from his lips, she added, “Honestly.”

His expression softened. “Honestly, I wouldn’t make that choice. I don’t need anyone else in my life.”

A smile spread on Damian’s face. “And I don’t need anyone else in mine.”

A trace of sadness remained on Claude’s face, but he smiled back and said nothing else on the topic.

 

2015 art update September 3, 2015

Posted by thejinx in art, books, enduring chaos, photography.
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In short, I still haven’t done much of it. However, in my typical way, I have done a bit of dabbling, and at times perhaps I have been doing more drawing than much of the time over the past few years, even if it is just sketches. The beginning of the year, in particular, saw me picking up the sketchbook a little more frequently:

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 I have also done some character designs on my tablet:

Sketch155115439 Sketch144182822 Sketch15511375 Sketch155235346

Sketch311111718 Sketch311141019 Sketch31123125 Sketch311231134 Sketch23122015

More recently, after having the materials for upwards of a couple years, I finally tried my hand at some proper wire wrapping:

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And finally, earlier this year I upgraded to a proper DSLR camera, with which I am very pleased:

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Changes January 23, 2015

Posted by thejinx in art, enduring chaos.
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I finished a new drawing last night, my first in over six months:

Sketch22420045It is a simple picture, in many respects, but this drawing is very important to me. Not because of the content, but because of the way it made me feel.

Because I enjoyed working on it. I enjoyed every step of the process – building up the sketch, designing the outfit, finding reference images for things like the hairstyle and anatomy, even learning to work around the limitations of the app I used, as I drew this from start to finish on my tablet. Intimidation reared its head and made it hard to get started at times, but I never had to force myself to work on it or felt discouraged that something wasn’t working and wanted to give up.

I don’t know why or how this changed, but this is a big deal for me, and it led to an even bigger revelation:

I feel good about my art.

I don’t care that it isn’t as good as the artists I follow. I don’t care that there are a lot of things I can’t or at least don’t know how to draw. I don’t care that after so many years I am still learning how to draw faces. I looked through my online gallery last night, both the drawings that kind of make me want to delete almost my entire gallery and the ones I still like, and it just made me want to draw more. For the first time in at least ten years, flaws aren’t the only thing I see, and I’m revelling in the act of creating, itself.

Now if only I had more time to draw.

What am I? January 20, 2015

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I’ve written before about the many hobbies I dabble in, or have done before and would still like to do again (reading, drawing, sculpture, jewelry making, learning guitar, etc.). It was enough to inspire a fleeting wish that I could say, “this month I’m going to do nothing but read.” And yes, I have little doubt that I could focus on a different task for each month of this year.

Many of these hobbies have fallen by the wayside in the past few months, if not already in the past few years. Aside from accessories for my daughter’s Halloween costume, I haven’t touched my jewelry-making supplies in months. Likewise for the last console RPG I was playing, despite that I was almost at the end and spent at least half of 2014 working on it. Obviously, 2-dimensional art is still only a very occasional dabble, despite how important that remains to me. I know things will change when my daughter starts going to school next fall, but I am not raising my expectations too high about the difference that will make with my available time.

As for reading, while I would dearly love to get through the books on my to-read list and then some, not to mention the couple dozen samples and complete books I have downloaded on Kindle, my life is hardly without words. I read blog posts and webcomics on a daily basis, and I have been editing novel submissions. It’s not the same, of course, but it’s enough.

However, there is one hobby that stands out among all of these. One that holds more sway over me than any other, one that I just can’t go too long without doing, one that I miss if I try. One that defines me.

Writing.

Even after all these years, I’m still learning how important writing is to me. I’ve written here before about it, about how I feel unsure of my skill in just about every endeavour I have attempted but not with writing, about how my opinion changed from thinking about myself as an artist first and a writer second, and more.

But I still forget. I go without for a little while, maybe I spend some time focusing on a project in another medium, and I let writing slip to the back burner. At least, until my mind reminds me that I have to create, and if I don’t get back to work on the story I have been writing, I will spend my showers, mealtimes, or other quiet moments having imaginary arguments between fictional characters over the pros and cons of a completely made-up interstellar political system.

… I will neither confirm nor deny that this is the exact thing which inspired this post. The fact remains that I have to write. I can’t not write. Even if my family and my business take up most of my free time, even if I feel too burned out to want to do anything but veg when I do have time to do it, even if I’m struggling with a scene or am enamoured with some other form of expression or life just gets too busy, I have to find time to fit writing in somewhere.

Because I am a writer.

To Boldly Go July 28, 2014

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As a mother of a now 3-year-old daughter, I tend to watch a lot of movies aimed at young girls. And my daughter fits the trope perfectly – her favourite things are princesses, faeries, and My Little Pony. She more or less came into these interests on her own; I didn’t really let her watch movies or TV shows until this year, and when I let her sit in front of the TV, she has pretty strong opinions about what she wants to see. Yes, we might have been the ones to originally introduce her to these things and allow her to continue watching them, but I try to offer her a well-rounded selection to choose from. And I’ll admit it, I just don’t want to let her watch something I can’t stand.

Oh, sure, there are exceptions – she likes some gender-neutral things like Winnie the Pooh, she has seen and enjoyed Thomas the Tank Engine, she does have a particular interest in Disney’s Planes, and she loves watching me play Mario Kart – but primarily, she likes the girly things. In fact, when it comes to Mario Kart, she insists upon me playing a princess as driver.

I don’t think Disney princesses are bad role models. Nor do I want to try to mold her into liking the things I prefer; I would rather she decide on her own what she likes. (Yes, this means I do not believe that putting Star Wars or Firefly costumes on kids far too young to be watching those is “parenting done right.”) But after watching so many of these movies and shows targeted to young girls, I find myself yearning for some variety. Why can’t we have a simplistic, kid-friendly story with a happy ending that takes place in present day, or the future?

So the bug bit me. I want to write one. I want to write a middle grade or younger story about a space princess. Or something like that. I want the main character to be female, because there’s not enough of that out there and I want it to be someone my daughter can relate to, and I want her to be independent and the hero, but not at the expense of her femininity. I want little girls like my daughter to read/hear this story and think that girls can do anything.

But beyond that, I didn’t know where to start. I got stuck trying to think of the theme or message of the story. I don’t want it to be about the girl learning that she can do anything, because then the conflict would center around the assertion that she can’t, which is not the message I want to send. But then, what should the theme be? I tried looking to my daughter for inspiration, but – fortunately for her and unfortunately for the sake of a story – I just don’t see any problems in her that might help to be resolved through another medium. Maybe I’m just overthinking things, but as someone who tends toward dark endings, complicated conflicts, and villains that are more grey than black, a story like this is quite a leap.

Then, my daughter gave me an idea in another way. I was listening to music and she asked me what song was playing, as she tends to do. It was an arrangement of a track from the Metroid video games. I immediately saw this as an opportunity. I showed her one of my Metroid game cases and told her about Samus Aran, fearless and strong warrior for justice in space – and female.

And I was overthinking things, because that’s all I need for this story: a space heroine. I’ll just go to a new galaxy and let the girl save the day. The rest is just details.

It’s still going to be quite a challenge for me to write, especially if I want a story I can read to my daughter. But just as I believe there’s too much stagnancy in speculative fiction for adults, I think too many kids’ stories are the same, and the best way I can combat that is to write something new.

Do you ever want to destroy the world? June 17, 2014

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I love superhero movies. I love the excitement, the escapism, the larger-than-life-ness, the sheer drama of them. And I really love superhero movies in which rather than trying to bring a fictional world to life, they make it seem like it really happens in our world. To an extent, of course; I wouldn’t be a fan of superhero stories if I couldn’t suspend a little disbelief.

Another thing I like about superhero movies is that the stakes are always very high. Of course; that’s what makes it a superhero story. In a story like that, one can cause incalculable, irreparable, and frankly pretty improbable damage to civilization or the world itself. That’s what makes it so dramatic, especially if it happens in the very world we live in.

The stakes are always high in fiction. The conflict might not be – will the boy get the girl? – but the risk defines the story – she’s all he ever wanted throughout his high school years, even when she went out with that bullying jock. It’s not dramatic unless it has a big impact. But the scale of that impact varies enormously. Millions of lives could rest on the actions of the protagonists, or just the main character’s feelings.

I’ve never been very comfortable working on a grand scale. I suppose writing fantasy is a bit of a cop-out that way, since I am only affecting imaginary worlds. But even inside my own worlds, I generally prefer to avoid working with those in the most power – kings, lords, etc. The stakes are still high, often world-changing, but the characters who directly resolve the main conflict are generally people who have little or no other influence over the world.

I’m equally (or perhaps doubly) uncomfortable with impacting the real world. That’s why my novel Halcyon, which takes place on Earth, still occurs in an invented city. I don’t feel like I know enough about real places to set stories there, not even places I’ve lived for years. Perhaps if I was writing some kind of novelization of my own life, I might be able to, but the characters in my stories don’t live my life and therefore don’t necessarily or usually live or go to the same places.

This is the part where research should come in, but the fact is no amount of research will make me feel comfortable with writing things that happen on Earth. And trying to write stories that take place on Earth and involve people of power? Hold the phone.

But I read books that take place on Earth and I love how real they feel. They can change so much about the world, even change the course of history, but because it’s the place where we live it feels more believable. I’d like to try it sometime, but it’s going to take some working up to it.

In the meantime, I’ll stick with my magic and dragons and just watch superhero movies.

Enduring Chaos: Trailer June 9, 2014

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The much anticipated trailer for my latest novel, Enduring Chaos, is live:

If you like it, please favourite, share, subscribe to the channel, and please spread the word! Huge thanks to the amazing cast of people who helped make this film a reality.

June update June 2, 2014

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Summer is filling up fast and I am looking forward to getting out to many events this season with my books. Before I get to that, though, I’d like to share a gorgeous portrait of Damian, the star of Enduring Chaos, drawn by the very talented Chris Babarik:

damian-babarik

Huge thanks to Chris for such a lovely drawing.

And now, my schedule for the next few months (so far):

Hope to see you at one of these events this summer/fall.

Also, I’ll let you guys in on a secret – the trailer for Enduring Chaos that so many of you so generously contributed to help make a reality? It’s finally going to be released within the week. Stay tuned.