My Westercon Schedule

I’ll be at Westercon this weekend, and around a fair bit for programming. I may not have a huge amount of time to socialize outside of scheduled items, though, because I also have a copy-edited manuscript that’s due back on a very tight timeline, and the only way to get it done is to bring it with me to the con.

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The Urban Supernatural: Open vs Hidden (Thu 7/2 4:00 PM)
Most urban fantasy assumes a hidden underworld of paranormal beings, but in some works the general populous [sic] knows about the supernaturals. How do these two assumptions play out differently in the storylines?

Bring Me That Horizon: Exploration as Fantasy and Science Fiction (Fri 7/3 12 Noon)
Sometimes the goal is not to bring down an enemy or win a war. Sometimes it is to voyage into the unknown to see what you find, to explore uncharted territories for wealth or country or even for knowledge.

Etiquette for Gamers (Sat 7/4 12 Noon)
A lot of the problems of RPG groups may actually be problems in etiquette. Panelists will talk about situations they’ve encountered and ways of solving them. Are there rules for good gaming manners?

Adapting Victorian Science (Sat 7/4 3:00 PM)
What are some of the more interesting Victorian scientific concepts and potential technologies that can be adapted for Steampunk?

Readers as Detectives-Invented Worlds as Mysteries (Sat 7/4 5:00 PM)
Since the canned lecture went out of style in science fiction, readers have had to figure out its imaginary settings from clues and hints. How much information is too little or too much? How do you make sure your readers will figure things out, without hitting them over the head?

Narrative and Dramatic Structure of Role Playing Games (Sun 7/5 11:00 AM)
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THE DRAGONS OF HEAVEN is out today!

Cover for The Dragons of Heaven, by Alyc Helms

Full disclosure: I’m not going to pretend I’m anything like objective here. Alyc Helms and I have been friends for fifteen years; we met at an archaeological field school in Wales, the same field school where I wrote a sizable chunk of Doppelganger. She’s one of about half a dozen people who read the original draft of the book that eventually became Lies and Prophecy, way back in the day. She crits most of my short stories; when I’m working on a novel and my plot runs headfirst into a wall, she’s the one I fling the manuscript wailing at her to hellllllllp meeeeeeeeeeee. I critiqued this book in an earlier draft — heck, I was a player in the game where Missy Masters first got created — and so when I tell you to go read it, I am very, very far from being an impartial judge.

You should still go read it anyway. :-)

Cover copy:

Missy Masters inherited more than the usual genetic cocktail from her estranged grandfather. She also got his preternatural control of shadows and his enduring legacy as the legendary vigilante superhero, Mr Mystic. After a little work the costume fits OK, but Missy is far from experienced at fighting crime, so she journeys to China to seek the aid of Lung Huang, the ancient master who once guided her grandfather. She becomes embroiled in the politics of Lung Huang and his siblings, the allegedly mythical nine dragon-guardians of all creation. When Lung Di – Lung Huang’s brother and mortal enemy – raises a magical barrier that cuts off China from the rest of the world, it falls to the new Mr Mystic to prove herself by taking down the barrier. It’s a superhero novel, a pulp fantasy novel, with lashings of kung fu, immense kick-ass dragons and an unfailingly sympathetic heroine – yes, it’s another wonderful Angry Robot title.

Alyc talked a while ago at Fantasy Faction about the trope of white protagonists going to the Far East for their training montage and coming home essentially unchanged. This is not that kind of book. Nor, for that matter, is it what I think of as the “Eat, Pray, Love” kind of book, where the exotic locale definitely changes the protagonist — because that’s its sole purpose in the story, to play catalyst for the outsider. Missy goes to China, yes, to learn from the dragon who trained her grandfather . . . but she gets caught up in his story, rather than the other way around. “It falls to the new Mr. Mystic to prove herself by taking down the barrier” not because the Dragons of Heaven need a white person to save them, but because somebody has decided that Missy makes a useful pawn in their game. She’s not so much rescuing anybody as trying to fix the mess she inadvertently helped create.

Style-wise, it’s like a mashup of The Shadow with Big Trouble in Little China, with a narrative structure that goes back and forth between “then” (when Missy, realizing she didn’t have the skills necessary to operate as Mr. Mystic, went to find her grandfather’s teacher) and “now” (when the repercussions of that decision are playing out). It is available in many lovely formats, from many lovely retailers. It is a very fun book (actually, I believe my description that wound up on the front cover is “a hell of a lot of fun”), and I highly encourage you all to go check it out!

Reading to the T

When I was in grad school, I got a small amount of instruction in pedagogy: the art of teaching. Not a lot, because grad school tends to just chuck you into the deep end of being a TA and leave you to figure out swimming on your own, but a little. And one of the pitfalls I remember being warned about is “teaching to the T.”

Imagine your students are seated in rows of desks. Two groups will fall naturally under your gaze: the students in the front row, and those in a column through the middle of the room. That’s your T. By default, you will call on those students more often, give them more of your eye contact and attention, notice more quickly when they’re dozing off or misbehaving, because they’re in the places you will most commonly look. Students on the sides of the room and at the back, by contrast, will be neglected. In order to counteract this bias and be a good teacher, you have to remind yourself to look outside the T, to keep the entire room in your mind and distribute your attention equally.

Why do I bring this up? Because in the brouhaha over the Hugos, I’ve seen a lot of accusations to the effect of “all you PC liberals are the ones Doing It Wrong, because care more about the skin color or gender of the author than you do about the story.” And the other day I thought, no: it’s just that we’re trying not to read to the T.

The publishing industry — really, society at large — is a classroom with assigned seating. And you, the reader, didn’t assign it. Somebody else decided to stack the front row and that center column with mostly straight white guys: to give them more in-house backing, more marketing support, more reviews in major outlets. If you let your gaze rest in the default spot, those guys are the majority of the ones you’ll see. And they may have good things to say! Excellent contributions to the class! . . . but so may the students who have been relegated to the sides and back of the room. The ones you’ll wind up ignoring, if you aren’t conscious of the problem and taking steps to counteract it.

These calls to increase the attention paid to minority writers aren’t about prioritizing the identity of the author above the story. They’re about being aware of our tendency to read to the T, and working to overcome it. They’re about recognizing that being seated in the back corner of the classroom doesn’t mean a person has less in the way of interesting things to say than the writer who got put front and center. You can pretend all you like that publishing is a pure meritocracy, that the authors who get the bulk of the support and attention earned that purely on the basis of their own awesomeness — but doing that requires two things: 1) ignoring a heap of evidence to the contrary, and 2) concluding that yeah, all those women and minorities and so forth really just don’t write very good books compared to the straight white guys.

Don’t read to the T. Look at the whole room. See what’s out there, that you’ve been overlooking all this time.

random stats for a Friday night

There’s a certain margin of error in this, because the word counts I record are for final drafts (when I remember to go back and update them from the original number), and sometimes final drafts don’t happen in the same calendar year as first drafts. But I just crunched the numbers, and while last year was my worst for short fiction* since I started actually writing short fiction — only 7700 words in two stories, one of which is a Bad Draft that needs a complete rewrite — it was my best year for total wordcount since 2001 . . . which was, not coincidentally, the last time I wrote two novels in one year. (I also wrote ten short stories that year. It was not long after I figured out how to write them, and I was on a roll.)

I like crunching these numbers occasionally because it puts things in perspective. My default tendency would be to mope and castigate myself for not writing more short stories in 2014; ergo, it is useful to be able to look at the number 192,700 and tell myself that no, actually, that was a pretty good year. I will never be one of those people who cranks out half a million words a year: trying would kill both my hands and my brain. But that’s two full-length novels and some short fiction. It ain’t bad.

. . . of course, it also makes me ambitious to top both of those metrics this year. I’ve already written two pieces of short fiction, so it’ll only take one more to cross that threshold. And with one of those “short” pieces being a novella, and a novel already under my belt with another one planned for this summer, I might actually make it. Depends on how long this second novel turns out to be . . . .

*not counting fanfiction

A Rose by Any Other Title

I have this novella I’m trying to title, and the search . . . isn’t going well.

In the course of hunting for a suitable title, I’ve been thinking about the structure of such things. And, of course, having thought about that, the next thing to do is look at my own ouevre and investigate what sorts of patterns I use more or less frequently.

(What? I may not be a biologist, but Isabella gets her scientific turn of mind from somewhere. Also, procrastination.)

The material below the cut is a breakdown of every title I’ve put on a piece of fiction — and in one case, a piece of nonfiction — since I produced my first piece of theoretically professional work, leaving out those where the title was not wholly up to me. (Mostly pieces that amount to work-for-hire.) I’ve included unpublished works and fanfiction in the mix, since that expands the data set by quite a bit, but not titles that ended up being discarded along the way.

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bright doesn’t have to mean flimsy

My husband and I are finally caught up on both Arrow and The Flash, which means I can finally make the post I’ve been drafting in my head for a while. The following contains mild spoilers for both shows, as well as Daredevil. It also contains a fair bit of complaining about how much The Flash disappointed me, so if you really love it and don’t want to see someone dissect its flaws, you may not want to click through.

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Books read, May 2015

Read a good deal less than I expected to last month, mostly because my free time on tour was devoted much more heavily than usual to actual writing. I did get through a few things, though!

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn, Usman Malik. Novella on Tor.com. I liked it well enough while reading it, but just a few weeks later I can’t remember much about it. I’ll note that I’m making an effort to read more short fiction this year, though (including short stories, which won’t get logged here), so I can have some idea of what to nominate when the Hugos roll around next year.

The House of Shattered Wings, Aliette de Bodard. Read for blurbing purposes; this will be out soon. The blurb I sent in was “If you think the image of Lucifer sitting on a throne in the ruins of Notre Dame sounds awesome, this is a book for you.” :-) Post-apocalyptic angel war fantasy in Paris. First, I believe, of an intended series.

Writing Fight Scenes My own books don’t count. Skimmed back through this one as a refresher for my own brain.

Hostage, Rachel Manjia Brown and Sherwood Smith. Sequel to Stranger, which I posted about here. This one moves somewhat away from the decentralized nature of the first one, which gave equal weight to something like half a dozen different pov characters; the structure of this one means there’s a stretch where the focus rests heavily on just two. Which entirely isn’t a bad thing; as I said about Stranger, having to shift between characters every chapter often risks losing my immersion in the story. It does give this one a different feel, though. I liked how Hostage was about the characters learning to live with the scars of what happened to them, and I also liked the ways in which Voske’s kingdom is dystopian without being wholly awful: the ruler is a terrible person, and terrible things happen there, but the residents also have things like electricity. I can look at that and see the possibility of major improvements in the future, if the cities start working together.

Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai, Michael Dylan Foster. Academic book on the supernatural creatures of Japan, and the changes in how they’re viewed between the Edo/Tokugawa period and the present day. Read for research purposes, and interesting, but way less about the details of actual yokai than I anticipated; he tends to pick out a couple of examples and explore them in depth, mostly through the lens of “here’s how this fits in with the zeitgeist.” Fortunately, I have other books headed my way that will take care of the other aspect.

thoughts on the depiction of rape in fiction

WARNING: this post is about rape in fiction, and considerations to bear in mind when including it.

Last week I posted some thoughts on Twitter about rape scenes in fiction — specifically, thinking about the possibility (the likelihood, sadly) that someone in your audience is a rape survivor, and contemplating what effect you want to have on that person. Those thoughts are the epiphany I arrived at while thinking through the larger issue; I want to write about that larger issue now.

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another fundraiser — this one more serious

I posted a while ago about one of the stops on my book tour, an event hosted by the Oregon Regency Society. During that weekend, I met a lovely lady named Nora, a friend of Mary Robinette Kowal’s.

Last week, while on a trip with her husband to celebrate their anniversary, the two of them were in a horrific car accident. As in, the sort of thing where they’re lucky to be alive, and Nora is still in the ICU. (Her husband Bob was there, too, until recently.) They have insurance . . . but not a lot, and this is major enough that it’s going to blow through their coverage. It won’t help them with the months to come, during which neither of them will be able to work.

There’s a fundraiser underway to help them. And to sweeten the pot — not to mention create some spots of brightness in what is otherwise a dreadful moment — Mary is organizing Acts of Whimsy, as sort of milestone bait for the fundraiser. You can check out her blog for the full list, but my contribution is that I will perform a karate kata in the Victorian dress I used during the tour. I don’t promise to perform it well; in fact, it would be more honest to say I promise to perform it abysmally, given the constraints of the dress. But you will get to see it. And when that goes up, I’ll write a post about what I learned about trying to perform martial arts in Victorian clothing, for the edification of all who might write such a scene one day.

Please do contribute if you can. I didn’t get much chance to talk to Nora that weekend, but we did meet, and it’s appalling to look at the photograph of their truck (in the first update; click and scroll down to see it) and think of her going through that. The fundraiser is about 60% of the way to its goal right now; that’s fabulous, but there’s a lot more to be done.