Friday, December 27, 2013

Writing is Good for You

I have felt off all day, and then I settled down and finally just did some writing (even though I really ought to be asleep, because I have an early appointment with the optometrist in the morning,) and now I feel oh so much better.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Horse the Magnificient

I drew this while writing the first draft of Midwinter. His wings got bigger in subsequent revisions.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Future Published #4: The Bride Gift

Today's interviewee is Sarah Hegger, author of THE BRIDE GIFT. You can follow Mrs. Hegger on her Facebook, Twitter, or her blog. In this case I must confess that I am cheating, because I happen to know that the novel has been sold to Soul Mate Publishing and will be out in May, 2014. Thank you, Mrs. Hegger, for journeying all the way to Elflandia.

Mrs. Hegger: Thanks for letting me drop by.

So, tell us about your novel. What inspired you to write this story?

Mrs. Hegger: I have always been interested in the role of women and specifically the power, or lack thereof, they have had over the centuries. Even in times when women were the most powerless, there have been those that stood out. Empress Maude, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Elizabeth l, Victoria and so many more. I wanted to write a story where a woman was powerless and how she worked within the system to get what she wanted.

Who was your favorite character to write?

Mrs. Hegger: My hero Guy of Helston. I set myself a tough task with him. I didn't want to pretty him up, but keep him pretty much your basic medieval fighting machine. Guy is so non-verbal that I had to find inventive ways of getting him to 'speak' and still keep him to growls, grunts and monosyllabic responses.

What motivates your characters?

Mrs. Hegger: In essence, both Helena and Guy are motivated by security. They want to secure their futures. Both of them have been at the mercy of others and are determined never to be in that position again.

Why Medieval England?

Mrs. Hegger: Castles, horses, those lovely bliauts. And I also don't think I ever recovered from seeing the old Richard Harris/Vanessa Redgrave version of Camelot.

Do you ever kill characters? (You don't have to answer that!)

Mrs. Hegger: Oh, yes. This is bad Olde England after all, but I'm not going to give anything more away.

Tell us a little about yourself. What are you reading these days?

Mrs. Hegger: I am a voracious romance reader. I always have one or two on the go. Which is probably why I can never get the titles straight. I never miss a Kristan Higgins or a Jill Shalvis. I love Eileen Dreyer, Madeline Hunter and Lisa Kleypas. I have just finished reading Wounded Wings by Shauna Allen. I managed to get lucky enough to get my hands on an advanced copy.

Where did you grow up?

Mrs. Hegger: I was born in England, but spent most of my life in South Africa. I just mourned, with my country men and women, the death of the incredible Nelson Mandela.

What's your favorite kind of coffee?

Mrs. Hegger: For some reason, since my pregnancies (many moons ago) I can't take strong coffee anymore, but I still love it. I compromise with a Venti Non-Fat Latte every morning

What are you working on, now? Do you have a sequel planned, or something new?

Mrs. Hegger: I am just putting the finishing touches to a new medieval called "Sweet Bea." It's set in King John's England in the year 1215 and I have taken a huge chance and made my hero a thoroughly unlikeable SOB for the front part of the book. He gets better, though, and by the end of it, is as lovely and dreamy as any other romance hero. (This is my hope, anyway). I have also just started a new contemporary and am experimenting with the idea of perfect that we women can get so tangled in.

It's my observation that books seem to reflect their writers. What aspect of you is reflected in your book?

Mrs. Hegger: Hmmm - now you've got me thinking. Probably the fact that most of me heroines present as tough, but they are masks to conceal a softer inside. Actually, a lot of my heroes do the same thing. I like to play around with the ideas of strength and vulnerability and how closely they are tied together.

Would you like to leave us with a quote from your book?

The blurb: 1153, in the period dubbed ‘The Anarchy’, King Stephen and Empress Maud are not the only ones embroiled in a fierce battle of the sexes.

Determined to control her own destiny, willful Helena of Lystanwold has chosen just the husband to suit her purposes. But, when her banished guardian uncle attempts to secure her future and climbs through her bedroom window with a new husband by a proxy marriage, she understandably balks. Notorious warrior Guy of Helston is everything Helena swore she would never marry; a man who lives by the sword, like the man who murdered her sister.

This marriage finally brings Guy close to his lifetime dream of gaining lands and a title. He is not about to let his feisty bride stand in his way. A master strategist, Guy sets out to woo and conquer his lady.

Against a backdrop of vengeance, war and betrayal, Guy and Helena must learn to forge a united front or risk losing everything.

An Excerpt: Her husband. Her uncle had given her safekeeping, her future, into the hands of this man. The Scourge of Faringdon.

He looked the part, a large man with broad shoulders blocking the rest of the room from view. In the scant light, his face was all rough­hewn angles and hard planes. His eyes were light, colder than the stone at her feet.

Helena shivered suddenly.

“So,” she tugged the sides of her robe closer together. “We are at an impasse.”

“Nay, my lady,” he replied with that infuriating calm. “Now we must open the gates.”

“Must we?” she taunted. Why did he not challenge her? She wanted him to demand she do his bidding so she could fling it back in his teeth. He merely stood there for a moment and looked at her.

His continued silence unnerved her. “You do not speak much.”

He moved suddenly and Helena jumped. It was as if a tree had suddenly sprung into life. He motioned for her to precede him. “Gates?” he reminded her in his rough voice. It was the sort of voice accustomed to yelling commands across a battle­strewn field. Urging his men forward to murder and mayhem.

Helena raised her chin. “And why must I open the gates?”

“My men . . . are outside.”

It was so absurd that she started to laugh. When he did not join her, but just looked at her with his chillingly pale eyes, Helena’s laughter died in her throat.

“I am not letting your men into my keep.” She crossed her arms over her chest and stared back at him. This game he played could be equally well­ played by two. He moved toward her so suddenly that she stepped back. Her foot tangled in the carpeting and she nearly lost her balance.

“My keep,” he growled. “And my men. Open the gates.”

Her heart pounded so loudly she could barely speak. He gripped her arm firmly, but not hard enough to be painful. She tested its strength and found it secure. Her anger grew stronger. This was not his keep. Lystanwold was hers. This mockery of a marriage changed nothing. She shook her head.

He stepped closer until she could feel the heat from his body. “Be you willing or not, those gates are opening.”

“Do you plan to force me?”

“If I must.”

The silence stretched between them. His eyes were as hard steel and seemed to stare a hole right through her head.

“Lady?” The soft rasp in his tone warned his patience was at an end.

Helena felt an unbidden surge of elation. “How do I know I can trust you?” she flung at him. “You could have deceived my uncle into trusting you and when I open the gates, your men will run havoc through my keep and her people.”

He frowned as if she had just said something so stupid it pained him to consider it.

“You would not be the first to come here with false promises spilling from your lips.” Helena’s fingers curled into her palms. “How do I know you will not kill us all?”

“You do not,” his voice rumbled through his chest. “You have my word only.”

“The word of a hireling sword?” she sneered.

His eyes narrowed. “Gates,” he insisted.

Helena peered at his grave, stern face. He was tall. She barely reached one powerful shoulder. It made her feel tiny by comparison. She bent her neck to maintain eye contact. The cold, implacable certainty of his eyes held hers. And she knew then it made no difference what she believed or what she wanted. He could snap her in two, right this instant, before anyone in the keep was any the wiser. Her courage wilted within.

Yet she resisted. “If you force me, I will scream for help. My men will roust you before you can make a sound.”

“They will try,” he responded, seemingly indifferent to her threat.

“You are not that fearsome.” She tugged at her arm, but he held firm.

He stared at her, battering her resistance with his quiet certainty.

Her husband. Sweet Jesu. Her breath clogged in her lungs. Her mind spun in ever increasing circles. Do. Not. Panic. Think, Helena, think.

As if reading her thoughts, he rumbled softly, “I will not harm you. Do not be afeared.”

“I’m not afeared.” She tossed her head rebelliously even as she lied.

He raised his brow, a silent mockery of her boast.

Her shoulders slumped to admit he’d bested her. If she did not open those gates, there would be blood, and it would be on her hands.

“Open the gates,” he said softly.

“I do this under duress,” she hissed, beaten for now. But she would fight again. He nodded as if he understood and drew in a slow, careful breath. For a moment, she thought he might have looked relieved. Helena dismissed the notion as ridiculous.

“Have you no slippers?” he demanded.

“Eh?” Helena noticed he stared at her pale feet sticking out beneath her night rail. “I have slippers,” she replied.

“Put them on. The stone is cold and hard.”

Helena looked down at her feet and up at him again, then reached below the bed for her slippers.

Coming from Soul Mate Publishing in May, 2014

Thanks for everything!

Mrs. Hegger: Thank you for letting me be here.

Midwinter's Labours Lost--Poll!

Yes, I'm working on a sequel to A Midwinter Night's Revolution. I'm still debating about the title, though this one fits nicely with the Shakespeare theme and then, of course, the final book could be Midwinter's Labours Found. According to Wikipedia, the play's title is actually Love's Labour's Lost, but that extra apostrophe is just weird. Anyway, which do you like best:

A. Midwinter's Labours Lost
B. Midwinter's Revolution Lost
C. Revolution's Labours Lost
D. Something totally different!

The picture will probably change, as I'd rather one evocative of loss. But until I get time to draw something, it's pretty enough to keep around. I don't know about Jasper's choice in collars, though. *Shakes head.*

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Stalin vs. Marie Antoinette

Which is worse: A bad system filled with good people, or a good system filled with bad people?

Right, so I was reading about the French and Russian revolutions, and thinking about how glad I am that my country had George Washington instead of Stalin, and feeling bad for Marie Antoinette.

George Washington I regard as basically a good person in a good system. He's underrated these days, but the US did well under his leadership, and he established norms (like peacefully leaving office) which have served us well.

Marie Antoinette and even Louie XVI do not seem, from the accounts I've read, to have been bad people on a personal level. They didn't kick puppies or leave offensive comments on Youtube. But they were definitely part of a bad, oppressive system. Even after they were deposed, they could always call upon the armies of Austria and other allies to attack France and put them back in power (which they actually did try to do.) It did not matter that they may have been nice folks--their continued existence posed a threat to the revolution; their deaths were deemed necessary to end the system.

Russia before 1917 was an abysmal place. People were starving, and the gov't, needless to say, was terrible. It is almost unimaginable that so many starving people wouldn't rise up against a system that was killing them. They established what they hoped would be a utopia, a workers' paradise. Unfortunately, they ended up with Lenin, then Stalin, at the helm, and the tragic deaths of a million beautiful dreams.

You know the history. America remains one of the nicer spots in the world. The French eventually got Napoleon and then kings again and finally democracy, but France is also a fairly nice place. The poor Russians got the Soviet Union.

Of course it is best to have a good system with good people.
A bad system with good people can, I think, eventually work itself out, if everyone involved is devoted to fixing things.
But a good system with bad people will simply turn rotten.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Future Published #3: Initiation

"Future Published" is a series of interviews devoted to fabulous unpublished authors whose work I have been blessed to read, and believe is good enough to deserve professional publication.

Today's interviewee is Jesse Sutanto, author of INITIATION. You can read about Ms. Sutano's successful quest for an agent over on her blog, Putputt Eats and Writes.

Thank you for journeying all the way to Elflandia! Why don't you tell us a bit about your book?

Ms. Sutanto: It's a YA fantasy about a shy, fat girl trying to survive the final test in assassin school.

What inspired you to write this story?

Ms. Sutanto: When I first started it, I was addicted to World of Warcraft and Airbender (the series, not the movie), so I suppose those were my two inspirations.

Who was your favorite character to write?

Ms. Sutanto: Hands down, Mara. I love reading YA books, but I noticed a lack of non-skinny, non-feisty female MCs, and I kept thinking, "What about the shy fat girls? Why can't they have exciting adventures too?" Can you tell I was a shy fat girl growing up?

What motivates your characters?

Ms. Sutanto: Friendship. I went to an all-girls Catholic school, and one of the best things about it was the strong friendships it fostered. I value my female friends above many things in life, and I guess that leaked into the story. Throughout the novel, Mara and Lia fight against all odds so that they could maintain their friendship. Of course, there are all sorts of twists and delicious betrayals...

Have you ever hugged a sloth?

Ms. Sutanto: Strangely, no, but I have hugged an octopus. Or rather, the octopus hugged me and I tried to pry myself off. They're very huggy, did you know that? Octopi, I mean, not sloths.

Do your characters ever wrestle with the morality of assassin as an occupation, or is that outside the novel's scope?

Ms. Sutanto: They do, actually. Well, Mara does. At first, I thought it would be all James Bond-ish and they'd just whiz through assassinations, but as it turned out, that wasn't what happened. Mara feels really crappy about what she's being trained to do and rebels against it, which is one of the main things motivating her.

Do you ever kill characters? (You don't have to answer that!)

Ms. Sutanto: *evil grin* Yes. Hur hur. My agent actually resurrected four characters throughout the book, but there's still quite a high body count by the end of the novel.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Ms. Sutanto: Um...I am a pink hippo who likes to terrorize people on QLH.

What are you reading these days?

Ms. Sutanto: I just finished reading John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, which was pretty frikkin' excellent. Now I'm reading I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett, because Pratchett.

Where did you grow up?

Ms. Sutanto: Everywhere! I was born in the States, but then my parents moved back to Indonesia and I lived there until I was about seven. Then my parents sent me to Singapore, where I lived until I was sixteen. That was when I moved to California, which is my favoritest place in the world. I moved to Oxford for my Masters, and that's where I'm at now.

What's your favorite kind of coffee?

Ms. Sutanto: You know, I wish I could say that I love some exotic brand of coffee, but to be honest, my favorite coffee drink is the kind with lots of milk and sugar and chocolate and possibly a couple squirts of that horrible artificial hazelnut flavoring. It's my observation that books seem to reflect their writers. What aspect of you is reflected in your book?

Ms. Sutanto: I was somewhat chubby as a teen, and pretty shy. Being chubby in Asia is a Very Bad Thing, and I got a lot of crap over my weight. Even strangers would tell me I needed to lose weight. That's very much reflected in Mara. Lia was someone I wished I could be: outspoken, confident, graceful. Other than that, I don't share their hobby of looking up 101 ways to kill a person or anything. Hur hur.

Would you like to leave us with a quote from your book/query?

Ms. Sutanto: The pitch: Mara the Clever, Mara the Fatty, Mara the Clumsy. If she doesn't pass the final test in assassin school, she'll be Mara the Dead.

More Gorgeous Pages from the Visconti Hours


The letter "M", Magnificat.


God creates the birds (and angels and griffons?)


God judges the sacrifices of Cain and Abel; the four authors of the Gospels, and a dove--probably representing the Holy Spirit.


Angels announce to the shepherds the birth of Christ.


Saint Peter, by the looks of him, surrounded by angels and women, one of whom has three faces, a mirror, and a drawing compass. Also, there's a lion hiding, and what looks rather like a yin-yang symbol.


I assume this comes from the Apocalypse of John. (I am laughing to myself because I automatically say "Apocalypse of John" because I'm pedantic/familiar enough with other apocalypses to make the distinction.) I particularly like the 3/4s back view of the angel on the right.


I honestly have no idea what's going on here, other than the obvious.


This one also eludes me, though I am quite fond of the ladies who surround it.


Samson with the ass's jawbone, surrounded by shields with a dragon eating someone. I'm pretty sure the dragon wasn't in the original story.


The angel frees Peter from prison, I assume, though perhaps it is some other account of someone being freed from prison, because I don't recall the identities of the other folks in the picture.


God creates Eve from Adam's rib in the Garden of Eden.


More of those dragon-shields. Those angels are pretty awesome. Love their wings and their crowned helmety things. The industry going on in the middle of the picture is a mystery to me, though. Folks reading books out loud while others work on some sort of grain pouring thing?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Visconti Hours

A page from the superbly illustrated Hours of Gian Galeazzo Visconti. This painting is part of a prayer book painted in the 1300s. It now resides in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence, Italy.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Future Published #2: Effin' Albert

"Future Published" is a series of interviews devoted to fabulous unpublished authors whose work I have been blessed to read, and believe is good enough to deserve professional publication. Today's interviewee is K. Kellie Edwards, author of EFFIN' ALBERT. I read Ms. Edwards's first page on Flogging the Quill some time ago, and thought to myself, "This is gonna get published. Hey, I should do a blog series about books that are going to be published, but haven't yet." Only I didn't have a blog back then. Since then, I have read more of Effin' Albert, including the in-process query letter, and it has remained strong. So if you see this book at the store one day, pick it up and read it. Preferably after buying it. :)

Anyway, thank you for journeying all the way to Elflandia!

Ms. Edwards: Thank you for inviting me, although your last interviewee is a tough act to follow. She's amazing.

Link to your blog?

Ms. Edwards: Wait, I'm not done. She's creative, humble, funny; a gifted and talented writer. I can’t say enough great things about her.

Anyhoo, I blog at kkellie: write me. I write about writing mostly because, you know. :)

Why don't you tell us a bit about your book?

Ms. Edwards: First thing to come to mind is innocence versus evil. Yikes.

The narrator is an eleven-year-old kid named Mike. Since his dad died, Mike's been taking care of his weird brother Albert--weird because of how he looks, and because the kid gets episodes--sees bad things happen in his head, bad people doing bad things.

Mom drinks. A lot. Since the boys' dad died, Mom's developed a taste for Jack Daniel's and rotten men. Her first boyfriend is real asshole but this one . . . this one's a killer. Albert sees the guy kidnap a girl, hurt her bad and shoot her in the head. Albert tells Mike and Mike tells their mom but she doesn't believe him. They should tell the cops except for one thing: Jerkface Knowles is a cop. And he just scared Albert into telling what he saw. The two brothers are on their own--they have to figure out how to stop that fucker before he kills another kid.

Just have to stay alive long enough to do it.

What inspired you to write this story?

Ms. Edwards: I'd been kicking around the idea of a story told by a kid, first person POV, suspense, for sure--his little brother sees bad things. That's as far as my idea went. Then NaNoWriMo 2012 reared its ugly head and a fellow writer over at Absolute Write talked me into giving it a shot. She's really persuasive, so enthusiastic, a wonderful writer and. . .

Don't get me started. :)

Anyhoo, I sat down and started writing. The characters came to me instantly, no problem. The story? Oy.

What was the hardest part about writing this book?

Ms. Edwards: The whole process was hard. It was like pulling teeth the whole way. By the end of NaNo last year I'd only managed 3000 words. Took nine months to drag most of it out of me, another two to write the ending. The ending almost killed me.

The best part?

Ms. Edwards: Mike and Albert. I love 'em. They feel real to me which is weird because, you know. :)

Who was your favorite character to write?

Ms. Edwards: Mike narrates the story so I spent a lot of time with him, really got to know that kid inside and out. Little Albert is so sweet, a little sweetie pie but Mike. Oh man. That kid goes through some shit.

What motivates your characters?

Ms. Edwards: For Mike and Albert I'd say love first, responsibility second. Self-preservation third. For the cop, motives are base. That's the theme throughout my novels, I think--protagonists motivated by love; antagonists, by base desires. For that cop, it's this twisted desire for power, fueled by anger and resentment, amplified by a sick lust for little girls.

He's a horrible, horrible man.

Do you ever kill characters? (You don't have to answer that!)

Ms. Edwards: I have. Some innocent; some, not so much. Tougher for me is when I hurt the characters I care about, hurt them physically, emotionally. I have to gird my loins. Sometimes I cry.

The first thing I noticed about your novel is its strong voice. Which accent do you use in the novel?

Ms. Edwards: Thank you. The accent, vernacular, whatever you want to call it is something that just came to me. I made it up. Eek. Because the story is told by Mike, first person POV pretty much, voice had to sound real and be consistent throughout the book. I worked really hard on that and fretted about it because I knew I had to nail it.

Is this your personal accent, or did you learn it for the novel?

Not mine, I'm a Michigander by way of New England and like I said, I pretty much winged it. I posted some excerpts on AW's SYW forum to double-check that I was still on the right track. Folks there are wonderful, btw. So supportive, so smart and wise and talented. . .

Don't get me started. :)

Tell us a little about yourself. What are you reading these days?

Ms. Edwards: I started writing by accident. Literally. I was a teacher, taught little kids. Loved it. Then I fell off a chair and all kinds of weird shit happened physically. Foot and back and fusions blah blah. I couldn't teach and I was down, really down. Then my husband suggested I try fiction writing. I always loved to write; that, and draw. Decent at both. Anyhoo, I gave it a shot and now it's in my blood. Like a virus or something. :)

Currently I'm reading three different things: my own stuff, a 90K fantasy manuscript, and a novel by Jeffrey Deaver--slogging through that one. The manuscript I'm reading is by someone I met through AW, an amazing writer and an amazing story. I am blown away. The talent out there is incredible.

Where did you grow up?

Ms. Edwards: Michigan, in a suburb of Detroit. I was born in Massachusetts and have spent a lot of time in the New Bedford area. My Gram and Gramp lived there. I love it there.

What are you working on now?

Ms. Edwards: Well, I'm tweaking EFFIN' ALBERT as I wait on my second round of betas, who are so awesome. I am so lucky. And I'm trying to get CHERRY published. Right now the full is out there, a couple of agents and an indie publisher are considering it. Waiting is part and parcel but ugh.

I started a new novel at the beginning of this year's NaNo, got three cpts. in then set it aside so I could concentrate on ALBERT. I have three other novels waiting in the wings for me to tweak. I think they're all decent and could be viable. First, though, ALBERT and CHERRY.

Hopefully.

Do you have a sequel planned, or something new?

Ms. Edwards: Already answered the second part. As for any kind of sequel, no. I've written five complete novels now, all stand-alones. Don't know why. I wish I could write sequels. I have to write what comes to me and thus far, what has come to me are discrete stories, complete in one volume. Except CHERRY, in that one, the ending was kind of nebulous, so. . .

It's my observation that books seem to reflect their writers. What aspect of you is reflected in your book?

Ms. Edwards: Yikes, I'm everywhere. Especially in EFFIN' ALBERT. A lot of the things that happen to those two kids happened to me, or to somebody I know. For instance, that beginning scene when Mike's feeding the worm--I did that. The escalator scene? Happened to me and my sister. My brother-in-law drew a black dot on his nose with permanent marker one Halloween. A sister-in-law smacked her gum on a table and cut herself four new teeth, just like that. My dad died when I was four, we kids pretty much took care of ourselves. I had a lot of the same feelings Mike has, emotions bubbling up, being afraid, feeling helpless, screwing up, finding out how strong I was.

So.

Would you like to leave us with a quote from your book/query?

Ms. Edwards: My query for EFFIN' ALBERT is in process so I shall leave you with an excerpt from the book. Thank you, btw.

Okay, here we go.

I don’t want to think about if it ain’t the right way so I think about that girl. Amy. I don’t know her last name. Maybe it’s Wong then I remember the dad ain’t Chinese so probably it ain't Wong, probably it’s a plain name like Smith.

Amy Smith. She got real shiny black hair. I bet that’s why he picked her. Amy Smith, you better watch out. He’s making my brother tell your last name, he got my brother where are you Albert? Please be okay. Please do what he wants don’t let him hurt you Albert, please—

I’m crying again and don’t even know. It’s so hot. I try to stop crying and finally I do, I think ‘cause I’m dried up.

The tent’s way back there, I can see the top of it from the ditch. I don’t remember walking so far. There’s a big field on my side of the road, I don’t know what they got growing, oats or wheat maybe. Across the street there’s another field, who cares what they got growing in it, I don’t care, I just wanna go home. I want Mom. I want my brother. I want a big giant bottle of Coke, ice cold Coke so cold your skin freezes to the glass. I don’t care, I don’t care if my skin freezes to the glass and peels right off.

I think I got heat stroke. You go crazy and start thinking weird stuff then you go unconscious then you die which means I’m gonna die but I can’t go no further, I just can’t or maybe I don’t want to. Maybe I just want to die right here.

I get myself out of the ditch and sit cross-legged like a Indian ready to die. The ground’s hard and little rocks hurt my butt but I don’t care. I say a prayer for Albert, Dear God, protect my brother from Jerkface Fucker Knowles.

Then I shut my eyes and wait for the ax to fall.

Me: Good luck and thanks for everything!

Lyta's Mask

The mask Jasper gives Lyta after he accidentally runs her off the road on their second meeting. It has a magic charm on it to make the wearer unnoticeable if they want to be, which is rather useful for sneaking into/around masquerades, especially if you're covered in mud and don't have a ticket, like Lyta. (I'm rather pleased with how it turned out.)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Roses and Revolution

I recently finished A Brief History of 1917: Russia's Year of Revolution by Roy Bainton and The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Eco gives me some hope for my own work, that something described as "intellectual" might appeal to a wide audience despite--or perhaps because of--this. Bainton's history does not seem to have received the favor I think it ought to, being a fairly accessible introduction to the Russian Revolution, with some fascinating first-hand accounts.

I'm now reading The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, by William Doyle, a smattering of other things related to the revolutionary period in Europe, and The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, by David W. Anthony, which I hope will be good. I'm also trying, of course, to squeeze in more writing.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Future Published #1: The Love Song of Numo and Hammerfist

"Future Published" is a series of interviews devoted to fabulous unpublished authors whose work I have been blessed to read, and believe is good enough to deserve professional publication.

Today's interviewee is Reilly McCann, author of The Love Song of Numo and Hammerfist. In this case, I read Reilly's wonderfully off-beat query letter, which appeals to my love of strange and curious things. If I were an agent, I'd be requesting pages!

But enough about me. Thank you, Reilly, for journeying all the way to Elflandia!

Why don't you tell us a bit about your book?

Reilly: It's a speculative novel--a love story about two homunculus-slaves who, in my head, look like a potato with limbs and a werebadger, respectively. ...Crap, that's a really bad logline. I haven't quite worked out the logline yet. But it's sort of like Spartacus made snugglebunnies with Wall-E on a mattress made of Alchemy and Shit I Made Up and produced a big fat baby.

I notice there's a revolution in your book. Was it inspired by any thoughts about real revolutions?

Reilly: The revolution in the book is, at the outset, built on the general notion of a slave rebellion. But it turns into something bigger. The characters all have their own agendas and use the revolution for their own purposes, so it kind of snowballs...

I don't think I was aware of any specific thoughts I had on the business of revolutions. Which is a really boring answer. But it's sort of a backdrop against the question of freedom, which is a significant issue for all of the main characters. Numo, the MC, starts off having no idea what a revolution is and no concept of being "free," really, or why it would be a good thing. The story, for him, is all about the evolution of his own thoughts on the matter, and ends with his own personal rebellion, which involves stabbing people in the face and using a dead whale as a weapon.

Are politics a big part of the book, or is it basically apolitical?

Reilly: Oddly, yes, I made it kind of political, but not on purpose, and it's all fantasy politics. I don't mean to make any statements about real-world government with it, if that's what you mean. But it really surprised me when my stupid little love story ended up also being about overthrowing the (imaginary) government and gender divisions and stuff. I suspect all that will either go very well for me or very very badly.

What inspired you to write this story?

Reilly: I have no idea what inspires me to write anything. I just seem to do it, like farting, but it takes a lot more time and effort.

But as to how this specific story came out...There was some idea about messing with common tropes. Insta-love and lovers-not-meant-to-be and the like. Trying to turn those things into something fresh; facing their typical failings head-on.

And I'm pretty sure the subconscious influence of Winnie-the-Pooh had a lot to do with it. I fucking love Winnie-the-Pooh.

Who was your favorite character to write?

Reilly: Numo, the main character. Hammerfist, his love interest, has given me a hell of a time because her mental state fluctuates so much. Both of them are difficult, actually, because they're unreliable narrators to some extent. The third POV character has been "easiest," because she is human and actually knows what the hell is going on in her world. But Numo's my favorite because he's cray-cray adorbs.

Do you ever kill characters? (You don't have to answer that!)

Ever? Yes. I'm a violent heartless dickface.

Tell us a little about yourself. What are you reading these days?

Reilly: This is a weird time for me because I've just finished three years of internships at literary agencies. So I've been reading a lot of unpublished manuscripts that are all over the map, with very little time for pleasure reading, which is awful of me. But now I have time. And I have a huge fucking reading list. I'm working on Fade to Black right now. Next on the list are Sacre Bleu because I love Christopher Moore, Lone Survivors because I'm a dilettante anthro dweeb, and Divergent, because I haven't read nearly enough YA and someone told me I should read it. I'm very susceptible to suggestion.

What do think of dragons?

Reilly: Most of them are far too nice to humans. I appreciate a dragon who knows how to throw down. Although, I have to say, if I could have my own pet Toothless, I'd piss myself with glee pretty regularly.

What are you working on, now? Do you have a sequel planned, or something new?

Reilly: Right now I'm still working on this book...it is currently pretty rough, and the ending is the literary equivalent of a toddler's smeared-poop painting on the kitchen wall. After I deal with this one, I plan to go back and try to salvage my first two manuscripts, which might be too stupid to work.

I don't have a sequel planned for this book. I'm honestly kind of awed by people who can think up sequels to things. It's an amazing gift that I might not possess. Yet, anyway.

I have an idea for a new story. Something about a professional jellyfish-stabber and a cannibal who eats her legs. A romantic comedy, in other words.

...I'm not quite sure about it yet.

It's my observation that books seem to reflect their writers. What aspect of you is reflected in your book?

Reilly: I'm told that it's weird. Or that it sounds weird, anyway. I suspect people are right, even though it seems to me like it's the least weird manuscript I've ever written. But I guess I'm predisposed to the ridiculous in any case. ;) I might be a ridiculous person.

Would you like to leave us with a quote from your book/query?

The query:
"Numo, if he is to think anything, should only think of his masters’ needs. It is only proper, after all, that a slave and homunculus devote what little his fatty brain can offer to their service, especially for two of the most esteemed alchemists in the city.

But instead, he can't stop thinking about Hammerfist.

Hammerfist, a lady battle-homunculus, has eyes like the purest embers, a mane like a sea of moon-glitter, and a horrible brain disease that is slowly eroding her sanity. The pain of squishing other slaves' heads the arena is a most ponderous weight to bear, and if she snaps, her owner will cut off her legs and dump her in the woods. Numo desperately wants to help, but presents of flowers and tree sap aren’t enough. She needs a way to get out of the arena. She needs a revolution.

Numo only wishes he knew what a revolution was.

But it doesn’t matter. If it will save Hammerfist, he’ll do anything to help. Except, of course, the things he’s too stupid to do. Things like keeping the plans for the revolution a secret from his masters.

THE LOVE SONG OF NUMO AND HAMMERFIST is a [word count] fantasy. Thank you for your time."

A quote from the book:
"The smell of the master struck him first, and the sight was equally odoriferous. Balbus was the sort of man who looked like he slept in a barrel of brine and kept company with rogues, scoundrels, and harlots. Numo did not know what a harlot was, but he often heard the word in association with things like knaves and stinkards, and he imagined that it was some sort of dirty animal that carried diseases and squirted men with milk from its poisonous bosoms."

Thanks for everything!

Lyta and the Avocado

Drawing someone cringing back in horror from what they think is a rotten egg but is actually an avocado is harder than I thought it would be. Jasper is not really complaining, though. His hair looks odd because this is the 1700s, when men powdered their hair white or wore wigs, and he has to cover up the green somehow.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Here There Be Dragons

Picture from a 17th century book, Khavarnama, about the legendary deeds of Ali. From Punjab, 1686.
The whole painting:

The Little Ice Age and Revolution

An interesting climactic observation fromNASA: "A cold period that lasted from about A.D. 1550 to about A.D. 1850 in Europe, North America, and Asia. This period was marked by rapid expansion of mountain glaciers, especially in the Alps, Norway, Ireland, and Alaska. There were three maxima, beginning about 1650, about 1770, and 1850, each separated by slight warming intervals."

Charles I of England was executed in January, 1649, after which Oliver Cromwell rose to power.
The Americans signed their Declaration of Independence in 1776.
The French got a late start in 1789, but a couple decades of crop failures and food shortages are undoubtedly to blame.
Revolutions and political upheavals swept Europe in 1848. " It remains the most widespread revolutionary wave in European history... The revolutionary wave began in France in February, and immediately spread to most of Europe and parts of Latin America. Over 50 countries were affected..."

The Russian Revolution, of course, was also prompted by suffering, death, and starvation, thought most likely due to World War I, rather than climate.

Some of these revolutions turned out well. Some turned out terribly. The Americans were quite lucky to have George Washington, and the Russians terribly unlucky to have Lenin and Stalin. But the Americans also had better access to land to feed their families, and no reactionary counter-revolution to deal with. The leaders of the French Revolution took advantage of the instability to reform the state, but (as far as I can tell,) could do little about the country's biggest problem, lack of food. The new government never had a chance. (As for the English, well, I don't know enough about the 1600s to really comment.)

When man is starving, the political order loses legitimacy and the wealthy--the folks with food--become his first targets.

Monday, November 25, 2013

New Projects

I have two new projects:

A sequel to A Midwinter Night's Revolution (title TBD), unsurprisingly, following the course of the revolutions as they unfold in France and Elfland.

A middle grade boys' adventure novel tentatively titled Quest for the Karkadann, about a young Pakistani boy who crosses the Eurasian steppe in search of a karkadann, or unicorn, the only payment the soldiers who've taken his family in war will accept for their freedom. He's robbed by a band of pirates and abandoned near a Sami village in Finland. A blind Sami boy befriends him, and together they hunt down a narwhal--but as they journey back across the continent, kings, wizards, and thieves pursue them, all wanting the horn for themselves. (Note: Finland and Pakistan are modern country names that probably didn't exist in the book's time, and ae only used here for convenience.)

The sequel is my main project right now, for obvious reasons. But I'm excited about both.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lost

I went through this phase a while back when I was doodling a lot of bird-people, and a lot of bird masks, and so occasionally bird-people wearing bird masks. I also had a habit of working exclusively in extremely fine point pen, which was probably not such a great idea, as the details just don't scan very well. The result here is a lot of texture, but it's fairly evenly distributed. This needs more tone. The background should be dark (I tried, but it just didn't quite work,) and the foreground should also be dark (not as dark as the background. The bird person should be highlighted, though perhaps only parts of him.

Well, I still like it, anyway.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Most Beautiful Thing I've Seen All Year


The Court Of Gayumars, from The Shahnama Of Shah Tahmasp, by Sultan Muhammad
Click to make it big, or visit the Aga Khan Museum where I found it.

Here are some details for you:

A painting so rich and vibrant, it spills out of its frame, unconstrained, filled with jewel-toned stones and incredibly detailed plants, curling trees reminiscent of Japanese bonsais, people and animals in peaceful harmony.

The Court Of Gayumars was painted in Persia (modern-day Iran) around 1522-25, as an illustration for a book (an illuminated manuscript.) I wish I had a higher-quality picture. The original measures 47 by 32 cm, or 18.5 by 12.5 inches, so it's not a very big painting. It now resides in the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada (or will as soon as the building is finished.) In the meanwhile, the museum's exhibits are touring around other museums, and since many of them are also lovely, I recommend going to see them if they visit your city.

From the description on the website:
"...It depicts the first king, Gayumars, enthroned before his community - its members clad in leopard furs and skins - his son Siyamak seated to his left, and grandson Hushang standing to his right. Though the composition implies the just succession between father and son, signified by the spatial position between them (where left is favored), we know that this will never take place, emphasizing the inherent tragedy of the tale.

"...Though the painting lacks a signature, it is one of very few mentioned by a contemporary. In his treatise on art history, written in 1544-45 CE, Dust Muhammad praises Sultan Muhammad for his creations, calling him “the rarity of the age,” and singles out “The court of Gayumars” as a painting that humbles all artists who see it."

What a fabulous painting!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Look What I Found: The Manafi' Al-Hayawan Of Ibn Bukhtishu: The Shiqraq, Or Green Magpie

That's right, a Medieval Persian copy of an Arabian (I think) bestiary. Well, one page of it, anyway.

From the description on the Aga Khan Museum website:

"Ibn Bukhtishu (d. 1085 CE) composed his bestiary, the Manafi' al-hayawan (Usefulness of Animals) around the middle of the eleventh century, describing the entire range of species from humans to insects, including their characteristics and medicinal properties. The original Arabic text was then translated into Persian by 'Abd al-Hadi ibn Muhammad ibn Mahmud ibn Ibrahim al-Maraghi... The illustration on this folio corresponds to the heading painted in blue, and reads, “Concerning the uses of the shiqraq”, or magpie. The text that follows describes the habits and qualities of the green magpie, which perpetually seeks flies for food. It also explains that the droppings of the shiqraq, when boiled in fat with gall, will darken white hair, and that the carat value of gold will increase if warmed up under the bird. The text above the heading belongs to a preceding discussion about the properties of the khuttal, or swallow." Read more!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Obscure Question

I'm looking for information about Medieval bestiaries from the Middle East/Muslim world circa 900 CE. I've found lots of information about the European bestiary tradition, but for obvious reasons, not much about Middle Eastern ones. The European ones are largely descended from a Greek/Egyptian manuscript written in Alexandria around the 4th century, the Physiologus. It was apparently an extremely popular book. Some copies went west, others went east. I've found references to Syrian copies, for example, but no actual descriptions of what they contain. Since the European descendents tend to be very religiously didactic, I'm curious about the way the Muslim varieties evolved. Anybody got any leads?

Click for the big version to see the details of this lovely piece.

This is a painting of the explorer Ibn Battuta's visit to the Persian-Mongol city of Tabriz in 1327. (Painted in the late 1400s.)

Peridens

The magic peridens tree, keeper of the birds.

The one on the left is supposed to be from a 12th century English illuminated manuscript, the Aberdeen Bestiary; the one below is probably from a closely-related copy.

The text reads:

"The perindens is a tree in India. Its fruit is sweet throughout and exceedingly pleasant; doves delight in it and live in the tree, feeding on it. The dragon is the dove's enemy; it fears the tree and its shadow, in which the doves dwell; and it cannot approach either the tree or its shadow. If the shadow lies towards the west the dragon flees to the east, and if the shadow falls towards the east, the dragon flees to the west. If it should happen that a dove is caught out of the tree or its shadow, the dragon kills it...." (The rest of the text explains the religious metaphor.)

Unicorn

A unicorn and a bear from the Ashmole Bestiary, created in the 12th or early 13th century in England.

The bestiary also has this to say, on "Fire-Bearing Stones":

"On a certain mountain in the east [note: this may mean east of Alexandria, Egypt, as the Medieval bestiaries appear to derive from a text written in Alexandria, the Physiologus], there are fire-bearing stones which are called in Greek terrobolem; they are male and female. When they are far from each other, the fire within them does not ignite. But when by chance the female draws near to the male, the fire is at once kindled, with the result that everything around the mountain burns."

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Query Peeves #9: The Choice That Ain't.

"Faced with overwhelming obstacles, Mona must chose between a soul-sucking life with her abusive boyfriend Steve, or riding rainbow glittercorns with super-gorgeous manhunk Sven."

The choice that ain't is exactly that: not a real choice. Oh, sure, it's been dressed up like a choice, perhaps with a little frock coat and some new shoes, but we all know there's no way in hell that Mona's sticking with Steve. When one side of the choice is awful, the other is awesome, and there are no consequence besides the obvious, that's not a choice, it's just a change of plans.

The choice that's not a choice can also show up as two choices which are equally good, eg, "Mona must decide whether to become the fairy princess of Elfland, or the dragon princess of Dragonia." Maybe that's a hard decision for Mona, but unless something awful hangs in the balance, the outcome is still going to be Happily Ever After (or whatever) no matter what Mona picks, so who cares?

And "Who cares?" is definitely not what you want anyone to think about your query.

Here's an example of a real choice: "The clock is running out. Bob can follow the crazy old man's clues to try to find his sister before the terrorists kill her, or he can try to warn the officials that the bridge is about to blow up in the middle of rush hour." No matter what Bob does, someone's going to die. His sister is more important to him than a bunch of strangers, but his sister's only one person, and there are a bunch of them. That's a choice that matters.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I've found the Muffin Man

Drury Lane is real!

Query Peeve #8: Protagonist Does Diddly Squat

You might think this one was obvious, but the main character in a query needs to actually do things. (And please oh please, the character also has to do things in the novel.) And yet, one of the most common mistake I see query-writers make is to focus on everyone and everything but the MC. In an extreme but not to rare case, the MC was the subject of exactly one sentence in the entire query. In another, the query contained no named characters.

Even when the focus is on the MC, they can still be passive. Beware of verbs like "learns," "decides," "thinks," and of course, "researches" (see Peeve #6: The Research Montage). Be also wary of "must." It may sound strong, but it actually tells me that your MC is a puppet.

None of these is terrible, and I certainly wouldn't command you to banish them from your query forever, but I do recommend caution. Your MC may be the subject of these sentences, but they still aren't being active--all of these verbs can be accomplished while sitting on the sofa in your underwear. What we want to see in a query is what your MC does to accomplish their goal, and that means action.

And if the MC doesn't have a goal to accomplish, you've got a problem.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Query Peeve #7: The List o' Wacky Sidekicks

"The MC then hooks up with a vegetarian werewolf, a stripper with Tourette's, and a sentient tomato."
(NB: I made up this example. I'm not trying to pick on any actual queries!)

"Look at me!" cries the list. "I'm wacky! My book is so much fun!"

Unfortunately, since I don't know any of the characters in the list of wacky sidekicks, I don't care about them. The effect isn't "fun" so much as "Did you use Mad Libs to write your outline?"

Ditch the list.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Query Peeve #6: The Research Montage

The research montage takes many forms, from tracking license plates to reading the contents of the enemy's file cabinet, from Googling folks to "being informed" by all and sundry. The research montage takes the place of your plot, devouring whole paragraphs of a query and pooping them out as images of your protagonist spending 2/3 of the book sitting on their butt, reading Wikipedia.

In case you are still unconvinced, here are some more reasons why the Research Montage should be banned from your query:
1. It tends to be very passive. Characters are often just given the information by other characters, or find it somewhat by happenstance. Some of that is fine for a story, but queries are short, and need to be active.
2. Research is boring. It may be necessary, it may be the mark of hard work and dedication, but it sure ain't interesting, not unless you're researching something fascinating/horrifying, or are going about it in some super-interesting way.
3. Most research is done on your butt. I know, because I do a lot of it. Now, if your character does research by torturing people, or breaking into their offices, or sending out armies of lawn gnomes to abduct their knickers, well, I'm not sure what kind of research would involve people's knickers, but it's probably a lot more interesting than watching me read a book about the Russian Revolution.
4. We generally don't care about the information in the montage, anyway. I mean, look, would you describe Harry Potter by telling us that Harry goes to a magic school where he has to write essays about the history of magic, make potions, and chart horoscopes? Or would you tell us that it's about a Dark Wizard who's trying to take over the world, and the boy who has the power to stop him? We don't read Harry Potter to learn how to care for blast-ended skrewts, but for the epic story of good verses evil and the bit about ordinary kids going to a really cool magic school.
5. Most research montages can be summarized in a single line or left out entirely. "Character learns X," and then move on to the exciting bits.

Happy querying!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Armistice Day

Query Peeve #5

Regurgitating other people's language to almost say what you want, but not quite.

This is not the same as merely using cliches--a cliche may actually express exactly what you mean, even though you can instantly pick it out as cliche.

This is subtler. This is a language that sounds correct when you skim, but if you actually read it, falls apart into bits and phrases that don't work together and don't say what the author seems to want to say. It is as though, in an attempt to "sound like a writer", the author has abandoned their own words and phrases, and is attempting to cobble together the words and phrases of others, stitching them together in a Frankenstein's Monster with two left hands and poor fine-motor skills.

I'll give an example from my own life:
When I started middle school, the academic expectations shifted dramatically. In 6th grade, a "book report" was little more than a shoe-box diorama of a scene from the story. The summer before 7th grade, I had to write a real, multi-page book report, using actual words to explain things like what I liked about the book and why.

One term I ended up using in pretty much every middle school book report was "imagery." I claimed to like the particular book because I liked the author's use of "imagery," (which then gave me an opportunity to take up a few lines of text with a quote from the book, of course,) even though I actually didn't understand what this term means, nor did my examples reliably demonstrate the use of it. "Imagery" just happened to be an intelligent-sounding word which I interpreted as "the author uses words which make pictures in my head," which of course describes any book I like. What I could not do, what I perhaps did not have the words or training or skill to do, was to actually differentiate between and write coherently about the many different ways authors make pictures appear in my brain. Is the writing sparse, heavily slanted toward verbs and action? Or are there long, lyrical descriptions? Are the characters vibrant and fun, or are they meant to be more realistic? What of the pacing, action, or development of moral conflicts?

In the end, I did fine and made As, because cobbling together six (or was it twelve?) pages of something that sounds like English is generally good enough for school (especially given the high emphasis on regurgitating what you've learned.) Imitating others is a fine way to learn, one step on the road to truly absorbing the material and being able to truly use it. But ultimately, we do have to absorb, to make the language our own, to master its nuances and not just use words because they sound good in our heads, but because they actually say what we want them to say.

Good luck!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Too Much Revolution

All of the earth-ponies tremble beneath the IRON HOOF of STALIN PONY.

Um. Maybe I shouldn't try to research and watch MLP at the same time?

Query Peeve #4

Too many words.

Your Friends Are Incapable of Critiquing Your Writing

Almost everything that comes out of your friends' mouths about your writing is completely and utterly useless, for two simple reasons:

1. Your friends are liars.
2. Your friends cannot critique in the first place.

No, I don't mean that your friend are depraved sinners who are trying to deceive you in some nefarious scheme of writing-related ego-inflation. Your friends lie because they like you. Sure, your book is dry as a rock and has serious POV issues and they never made it past page twenty, but they would never, under any circumstance, say that to your face.

The rare friend who actually gives you real feedback on your writing is probably about to be your ex-friend for being a meanie pants who makes up horrible things because you know your writing is fantastic because all of your real friends said so. And since your friends don't want to be your ex-friends, if they have any sense in their heads, they'll keep saying nice things about your writing.

I have been known to lack this sense.

Second, even if your friends (family, or loved ones) genuinely want to help and have a relationship with you where they can actually speak freely of any issues they say in your work, chances are they're no better at writing than you are, much less critiquing. Critiquing is itself a skill--something I've learned the hard way, by slowly struggling to get better at it. A person (even a person with some skill at writing,) may look at a pair of books and say, "I liked this one better than that one," but still not be able to articulate why. Likewise, they may be able to read something you've written and have a vague sense of its position between "BURN IT" and "I'm going to marry your book," but exactly where and why it falls there--much less how to improve things--is far more obtuse. And even relatively good critiquers can fall into the trap of applying their own genre and stylistic preferences to a work that happens to be a different sort of narrative beast.

The best thing I have found, so far, is to find a good group of people (they can even be your friends, if you're lucky!) who can give you good, honest feedback, and learn to listen to that feedback without getting offended, and then take and use what works for you and what helps you achieve the vision you have for your particular work, and leave the rest.

And then, critique in turn, because not only do critique circles not work if people merely take from others but never give, but also because explicitly working out what does and doesn't work in another's piece is a very good way to eventually have the same thoughts penetrate your noggin re: your own work.

Good luck!

Query Peeves #3

Your character's a sociopath.

Murders are happening, and your character is thrilled, because shiny personal reason. Parents die, and character goes on as if nothing happened. Mass suffering, and the MC is just concerned with her crush. Character does objectively terrible thing to other character, without any indication that the character is supposed to be a sociopath. Character seeks revenge on someone far in excess of described sins.

These are usually just query-writing mishaps. It is very easy, especially when trying to compress and simplify a whole novel's worth of complicated morals and reasonings, to end up with something that just doesn't read quite the way you intended it to. I know because I've done it. :)

This is why it is so important to get feedback on your work! (Not from friends. Your friends + family are almost guaranteed to be completely incapable of giving useful feedback.) Other people are very useful for telling you if you've accidentally said something you didn't mean, and for telling you when you've fixed it. Not everyone likes or wants or needs a lot of feedback, and one must of course be wary of falling into the trap of trying to please everyone (which is impossible and will just make your work terrible,) but it is still good to have at least the occasional real bit of feedback.

Reflections on History in Response to a Friend's Comments

You're correct; history is a social construct which is ultimately forced to lie. To explain is to simplify, and to simplify is to lie. We pick the particular narratives we wish to tell (or accept our narratives from the structures and information around us,) and then pick the events which fall into our narrative tales.

And yet babies, bathwater: there are broad trends, changes, things that come and go; the Roman Empire was once a thing, and now is not; we can speak of the spread of technological innovations across continents and the planet; etc. To ignore broad trends simply because of outliers is also a lie. There are fairly discreet waves of human migration which show up in archaeological, historic, and genetic records. The Vikings, IMO, are simply outliers in the European record; they were not part of a broader European social movement, but a local Viking one. Their exploits in Greenland and North America were not known much (if at all) outside of their colonies, did not inspire any wider action, and ultimately failed. The Age of Exploration, by contrast (symbolically kicked-off by Columbus,) represents a massive global population migration.

The European migration is not really exceptional as a migration per se, except that technological advances allowed it to happen rapidly, and that it was recent and involved many of our ancestors. (Original comment was directed toward a European-descended person living in a former European colony.) But in the history of migrations it is just that, and it is over, and other migrations are now happening, and the population of the world is always changing and re-combining and we are all the products of a great many different folks who've come before us.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Query Peeves #2

Part of my ongoing observations from the query trenches.

#2: Punctuation errors.

I don't mean the occasional typo. I mean three missing commas in one sentence.

When I was a kid, if I handed my mother work I hadn't proofread myself, and she found an error, I was in for a scolding and then sent back upstairs to re-do it. "Read it out loud!" she'd holler after me. It was not fun. I grumbled. I put my head on my desk. What a tyrant! But to her, to give her something with obvious errors which I could have caught myself was lazy and rude. I was wasting her time instead of doing the best job I could.

Thankfully, the lesson eventually sank in.

When I see a query riddled with punctuation errors, I consider two options: either the poster didn't bother to check their own work, or the poster actually does not know how to punctuate. Either way, this is a bad sign for a manuscript, because no matter how brilliant the story, there's absolutely no way I am going to wade through hundreds of pages of comma errors. I've done it, and it's soul-suckingly awful unless you're getting paid for it. Which your agent isn't.

If you're having trouble with punctuation, I strongly recommend the time-honored tradition my mother taught me of reading your work out loud. If this doesn't work, buy/borrow a grammar workbook and work through it, and then read your work out loud. If that doesn't work, hire an editor. :)

Remember, we all lose the occasional comma. But when it comes to queries, you've really got to put your best foot forward!

Still reading 1917...

Goddamn, Lenin, goddamn.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Query Letter Pet Peeves #1

A couple of months down in the trenches reading queries and poking queries and trying to write queries and critiquing queries has left me with a lot of random thoughts about queries. So I thought I'd do a series on them, in no particular order.

Query pet peeve #1: Normal character's motivation given as, "Just wants to be normal."

This only works if your character is not normal to start with, and the thing that's making them not normal is unpleasant. For example, "James just wants to go to prom like all of the normal kids, but he lives in a giant bubble because he has no immune system and dancing with Polly Stevensen could give him a cold that would kill him. But when Pretty Polly asks him to dance, James decides to ditch his bubble and risk death for a normal life."

Alas, every query I've seen where the character is described as "just wants to be normal," does not meet this standard. (Sometimes there is something abnormal about the main character, but it's something awesome, which just leaves me scratching my head. I mean, who wouldn't want to have superpowers? Isn't that the whole reason we read these things, for vicarious wish-fulfillment?) Instead, "Wants to be normal" is usually a hand-wavy way of saying, "Has no particular motivations, doesn't want anything, and is just going along with life," which translates in my head to, "BORING BORING BORING."

Look, even BORING people have real motivations. Maybe they want to get an A on their test so Mom won't yell at them. Maybe they want to find the perfect ice cream cone. Maybe they're trying to avoid their nagging spouse. Or maybe they want to sprout wings and develop telepathy and running off with a super-hot elf prince to become nomadic Mongol warriors, let's not judge, some people have slightly more ambitious dreams than others.

Point is, everyone has dreams, goals, and motivations, so PUT THEM IN YOUR QUERY. And if your character really, truly has no motivations, GO BACK AND REWRITE.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ebu Gogo

So, you know those "hobbits" they found over on the island of Flores, Indonesia? Turns out there's a better name for them: Ebu Gogo.

Yes, just like practically everyone, as far as I can tell, the folks who live on Flores tell tales of diminutive people running around in the woods. In England they're elves and fairies, in Germany goblins and dwarves, in Flores, we have Ebu Gogo.

Ebu Gogo is more of a traditional goblin than a dwarf--noted for stealing food, including human babies, and not being terribly intelligent or using language (though of course unfamiliar languages often sound like gibberish if you've never heard one before.) Humans supposedly got pissed off due to the baby-eating and decided to wipe out the Ebu Gobo some time ago, though it's not clear when, or if some survived in the jungles.

While the Flores "hobbit" matches Ebu Gogo pretty well, at least in terms of stature, I'm not exactly convinced by the argument that Ebu Gogo actually represents a 12,000 yr old folk memory of the little folks (assuming, also, that the Hobbits aren't just humans who happen to have had some kind of unfortunate condition.) We humans seem pretty bad at remembering crucial bits of information like "Vitamin C or die!" and the first time my husband attempted to tell the story of The Three Little Pigs, it became a garbled mess involving overly-pushy insurance salesmen.

It seems far more likely that the stories were either made up completely, or reflect more recent interactions with other people or creatures in the forest, like monkeys, feral children, or the short-statured humans (pygmies) who still live in the area. Likewise, stories of goblins, dwarves, hobbits, elves, etc., do not seem to reflect any ancient European folk memories (no tiny skeletons have been uncovered in European caves, despite plenty of effort expended in search of skeletons,) though they could have been inspired by interactions with regular humans who happen to be short.

Still, all that aside, it seems more appropriate to name the probable new hominin after the local creature, rather than a British one. (Though one might argue that this method does avoid confusion with/support for the 'folk memory' hypothesis.)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Midwinter

A MIDWINTER NIGHT'S REVOLUTION is a 95,000 word YA Fantasy Romance that questions the divine right of kings and the idea that any "race" deserves to be oppressed, set on the eve of the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Goblin X

"There are two kinds of goblins in this world, the field goblin and the hobgoblin. The hobgoblin serves the nobles. He eats the leftovers from their tables and says, 'What a fine city we have. What fine buildings we are building.' The field goblin works for himself. The field goblin is wild and free and that's why the fae hate him."
--Baku Nin, A Midwinter Night's Revolution.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Fabulous Eurasian (or Asianeuro) Steppe

So much of history as experienced in the US is American and Western European-focused, with the occasional nod toward Egyptian pyramids and a vague sense that China and Japan exist way over there, on the far rim of the continent. Africa is often mistaken for a country, the Middle East is some kind of camel-filled no-man's land in the middle, and fuck if we can find India--isn't that a continent or something? And Latin America, whatevs, man.

But hey, I had two whole years of Texas history in school; surely that makes up for it!

Anyway, it turns out that there actually are people who live in the middle of Eurasia, not just its fringes (who knew!) Millions of people, whose cultures and empires spanned thousands of years and thousands of miles, creating an amazing (to me, anyway) intersections and cultural encounters.

For example, see Ortu Kan's article, "The Qagan of Rus and Viking Muslims in Volga Bulgaria". The title alone should be enough, but here's a quick excerpt, "The Khazars’ power could hardly have failed to make an impression on those from the Nordic world who joined with indigenous populations of the eastern lands in a common quest for silver, and in fact the head of their first recorded polity to the east of the Baltic sported the same title as that of the Khazar ruler, chaganus or kagan." (It is from "Rus" that we get "Russia"; kagan means "great khan," as in Genghis (Chengis) Khagan.) Of course there is the possibility of someone here simply using the term simply to aid in translation, not because it was actually in use among the Vikings at the time. But still, it's an intriguing possibility, and at any rate, it indicates that the Mongol term was better known or prefered in Eastern Europe at the time than the local European, Norwegian, or Arabic terms. Which gives some impression of the power and vastness of the Mongol Empire.

A snapshop of 7th-century Kashgar

I know nothing about Kashgar or the Tocharians potentially discussed in the post, but clearly I ought to.

Indian subcontinental gene flow into aboriginal Australia c. 4200 years ago? "We also detect a signal indicative of substantial gene flow between the Indian populations and Australia well before European contact, contrary to the prevailing view that there was no contact between Australia and the rest of the world."

People move around. A lot!

Slave-raids in Republican China. " Throughout the Thirties and Forties the Yi moved at will over southern Sichuan, terrorizing the Han Chinese populace and even raiding the outskirts of large Chinese towns in order to rob and take slaves. Observers report that at the first sound of gunfire, terrified Chinese peasants would huddle in their houses, not daring to help their neighbors and hoping only that they would not be attacked next. In some places Yi raids were a nightly occurrence."

And back to the Russian/Mongolian border: Russo-Buryat warfare, 17th century and Going Native on the Buriatic Steppe. "The original inhabitants of this Russian-Mongolian borderland were a Mongol people, the Buryat. ...they were the first formidable nationality, after the Tatars, the Russians encountered on their march across Siberia."

I'm still not sure how Russia got to be so big, but I guess that's a research topic for another day. In the meanwhile, I still want to write a book set among all of this movement.

If only we had no copyright laws...

11 Amazing Fake 'Harry Potter' Books Written In China

"...the author took the text of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and replaced the character names with names from the Harry Potter universe. Except for Gandalf -- he remains and joins forces with the Potter crew." --Sam Greenspan

Friday, November 1, 2013

Trying to learn about everything at once leaves me with a lot of tabs I want to post about... And not a lot of time.

The History of the World in a Single Chart

This just made my day:

Beautiful, isn't it? (My only complaint is that the three shades of red are difficult to differentiate.)

The colors represent what you might call genetic lineages, that is, genes of people who are closely related. Humans over the millenia have moved around, and isolated groups soon possess their own distinct genetic profile. In time, the groups reunited and mixed back up, producing a world of genetic mixture. I'm not going to bore you by babbling on at length about everythign in it, but if something's unclear, feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer. :)

Here's the handout it came from:

(It's mostly just a summary of the project.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Emile Signol's Dagobert I and Clovis II

(I cannot stop mentally appending "of that name" after every "so and so the nth".)

I came across these lovely paintings last night, around one AM, when I should have been well asleep:

Emile Signol (1804-1892) - Dagobert Ier roi d'Austrasie de Neustrie et de Bourgogne (mort en 638)

Dagobert I, king of Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy, AD 603-639, painted by Emile Signol in 1843.

Emile Signol (1804-1892) - Clovis II, roi d'Austrasie, de Neustrie et de Bourgogne, mort en 656

Clovis II, king of Austrasia, Neustria and Burgundy, AD 637 – 627, painted by Emile Signol in 1843.

Obviously these paintings probably look nothing like the folks they ostensibly depict, given the paucity of quality Dark Age portraits Signol had to work from (that is, none). These folks were Frankish kings, Merovingians, not particularly important ones, footnotes in French history.

It is not the history I wish to discuss, but the art. These paintings reminded me strongly of the Saints Cards I used to collect. I am in love with the deep shadows of Clovis's eyes; his downcast, almost sad expression; his slight and delicate features. Clovis died young, a child for most of his reign, and Signol has captured here the essence of fragile youth.

The portraits owe much, it seems to me, to traditional depictions of Jesus, eg,

Christ pantocrator daphne1090-1100

(11th century mosaic from the Church of Daphne near Athens.)

Though perhaps it is just the beards. I see in it either the force of habit, continuing to depict divinity even when occupied with other subjects, or a purposeful attempt at implying that these obscure kings possessed some divinity or connection to the divine, through which their rule was blessed or French history itself was blessed.

They are not the most dynamic portraits, but their quiet simplicity is pleasant enough.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Arthur's Britain

Amusing post from Guy Halsall, Ten ways to rethink Arthur's Britain.

Poetry?

Why has poetry (not set to music, anyway,) fallen into such disfavor in modern (American, at least) society? Society once idolized poets like Shakespeare and Homer above all others; now the market for poetry is almost nil. What changed?

Lacrosse

Lacrosse Ball players by George Catlin

I do love the tail.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Cagots

I have been reading this evening about the Cagots, a persecuted minority group from France/Spain.

According to the Wikipedia and other folks, the Cagots don't appear to have any unifying ethnicity or origin, were not linguistically or religiously different from anyone else and were identified as Cagots primarily by virtue of being born Cagots. Cagots were excluded from mainstream French and Spanish society, lived in their own towns, were restricted to certain professions and churches had segregated Cagot and not-Cagot sections.

The Cagots do not seem to have done anything to deserve their treatment; even if they were descended from lepers (which seems highly unlikely) or later Christian converts, or an assortment of originally ethnically distinct folks clustered in/around the Pyrenees, this hardly justifies matters. The only accusation I have seen levied against them is drinking, and that hardly differentiates them from everyone else in Europe.

Today, the Cagots have all but disappeared, most likely into the general French and Spanish populations (and New World colonies.) The historical record is probably unlikely to make a lot of sense on this subject any time soon, but it just serves to show how much conceptions of ethnicity and group and belonging can change over time, and how un-monolithic things generally are.

Nessie

Once upon a time, when I was a child, my parents took me to Loch Ness, in Scotland. I was surprised to find it not nearly so touristy as I had expected--if anything, the home of the famous Nessie was remarkably low-key. It led me to wonder if maybe the Scots didn't actually care that much about Nessie--similarly, I live in Washington State, and don't give a fig about Big Foot.

I once asked a Puerto Rican friend about the chupacabre. He unexpectedly grimaced, and it became quickly obvious that he found the whole business terribly embarrassing. "Probably just a dog, or someone's escaped monkey."

These legends seem to persist more vividly in the world of TV than in our real world. We want to believe that mysteries still haunt some other part of the world, even if our own personal bits are quite dull and un-mysterious.

Well, at least we still have fiction.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

It is a pity no one ever thinks to go back in time and shoot Lenin. And Stalin.
I have to keep telling myself that no one responds to queries on the weekend.

It's not helping.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

At the End of Misery: More Misery

Reading about the emancipation of Russian serfs today. Interesting that this happened about the same time as the US abolished slavery (the 1860s)--Russian serfs, after all, were not all that different from slave. Unfortunately, it seems that emancipation actually led to lower standards of living and even more poverty for many Russians. It's as if... as long as the serfs were someone's property, those someones had some economic interest in their property not dying. But once the serfs were no one's property, then no one cared if they lived or died.

Sometimes history is sorrowful.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Columbus Myth

Incidentally, educated folks in Columbus's day didn't think the world was flat. This is actually a myth, spread first by anti-Catholic groups, and later by folks seeking to discredit religion in general by claiming that those Medieval folks were really dumb. But folks have known the world was round since the ancient Greeks (who calculated the size of the earth by measuring the different angles of the sun at different latitudes on the same day.) Certainly the Spanish monarchs wouldn't have given him a bunch of ships just so he could sail them off the edge of the world. The technical debate Columbus had to contend with was about the size of the Earth--he believed it was much smaller than we now know it is (due to a translation error). He really did think eastern Asia lay somewhere in the Caribbean, and that he could make it to Japan with the little bit of food he could carry on those tiny boats. His crews were mutinous not so much because they feared the edge of the world, but because they were facing actual starvation... So it's quite lucky for them that they found land. Not so lucky for the people they met, of course.

Goethe is Worried

I love Goethe, but this portrait just makes me laugh. It is like someone has just handed him something he's supposed to read out loud, and he's just taken a look at it, and it's awful, and he's giving them this look like, "You cannot be serious."

America is one of the World's Oldest Countries

This is one of those little factoids which so violates expectations, that people often flat-out refuse to believe it. (Then they become defensive, sarcastic, and angry.)

Our expectation in this case stems from knowledge that Europeans lived in Europe long before they moved to America, and probably from a generally fuzzy picture of the world outside of Europe.

Your history class probably didn't dwell very long on it, but most of countries on the map today are the products of European colonialism. The vast majority of African countries were given independence post-WWII, as well as many nations in southern Asia, like Israel, India, Pakistan, and Vietnam. Many Eurasian countries received independence after the breakup of the USSR/fall of communism, like Bosnia and the Czech Republic, or came into being as part of the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian and Turkic Empires in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Most of Latin America became independent of Spain and Portugal sometime in the 1800s, well after the US's founding in 1776.

A few European countries, like England, have been basically autonomously sovereign for centuries (since William the Conqueror in 1066, I suppose.) Other European countries, like Italy and Germany, actually did not exist until the late 1800s. Other polities, like the Italian city states, the Holy Roman Empire, the Frankish empires, Prussia, etc., ruled areas which did not exactly translate, territorially or legislatively, into modern states.

We can quibble over what exactly is a "country", and when they come into existence, but as far as independent polities which continuously control a piece of territory, America is one of the oldest.

History did not look like today.

More thoughts on Diversity: The Paekchong of Korea

This post is a follow-up to my post, Diversity in Medieval Europe/Euro-based Fantasy Worlds, particularly the point that,
"...ethnicity is relative--if you grew up in a small, isolated community in northern England, those folks in southern England might as well have been in a different country as far as you were concerned. They'd speak with substantially different accents, perhaps be on the other side in a civil war, might practice their religion differently, etc. But at least they're still kinda English, unlike those Irish over there, who even in the 1800s were depicted by non-Irish as subhuman. Unusual hair or eye color for one's area could really stand out, for better or worse."

Now, Korea is obviously about as far from Europe as you can get, but the principles of human interaction, movement, culture, etc., are basically the same--that is, people have culture everywhere.

I read about the Paekchong of Korea over on Peter Frost's anthropology blog.

"Like Japan with its Burakumin, Korea used to have its own outcastes: the Paekchong (or Baekjeong)... As late as the mid-20th century, however, they still numbered over 50,000, with most living in segregated ghettoes."

"'Being an alien people from Tartar, the Yangsuchuk were hardly assimilated into the general population. Consequently, they wandered through the marshlands along the northwest coast. They were engaged in the making and selling of willow baskets. They were also proficient in slaughtering animals and had a liking for hunting. Selling their wives and daughters was part of their way of life.' (Rhim, 1974)"

"By the end of the 15th century, this attempt at integration was recognized as a failure...“they were left pretty much to their own devices, just so long as they did not disturb outsiders” (Passin, 1956). They were allowed to run their own communities and resolve internal disputes, except for serious crimes. They were also exempt from taxation, compulsory labor, and military service. Finally, they were given a monopoly over occupations that involved the taking of life (and which were considered ‘unclean’ by Buddhists), like butchery, leather making, dog catching, and capital punishment (Passin, 1956). These occupations often paid well..."

The article goes on, with some very interesting observations on the potential boringness of "normal" life and the culture of nomadic hunters, of relevance to anyone trying to get their head inside personality-culture interactions (personally, I think any good storyteller must have some understanding of the relationship between their characters' personalities and traits and the things their culture/s value (or denigrate). Our relationship with everyone else in society has a pretty big effect on our lives, after all. It is also a good idea for writers to remember that multiple cultures can (and generally do) exist within one society/nation/geographic territory, and the people in those groups often have complex and sometimes troubling relationships with each other.