Thursday, November 14, 2013

Truth in advertising

I remember going to the circus as a child. I don't remember which circus it was, but I remember that they advertised a unicorn as one of their exhibits.

I was old enough to be skeptical and hopeful at the same time. Unicorns weren't real, but surely they couldn't advertise that they had one and then not have one. Right?

The big day came and off we went to the civic auditorium. We parked miles away (it seemed) and walked for ages to get there. (In reality, it was probably a few blocks. Tell that to seven-year-old me.)

I actually remember nothing of the circus itself. Clowns, lion tamers, acrobats, I got nothin'.  But the unicorn. Oh, I remember that with perfect clarity. 

They put a pedestal in the middle of the arena. They shone a spotlight down on it.   The center of the pedestal opened and a woman came up on a lift of some kind, along with...

Not this.

A tiny, shaggy creature that stood about waist high on her, with a twisted horn in the rough center of its forehead and a stubby tail. It looked absolutely nothing like the unicorns of my fantasies. It pressed close to her legs as if terrified by the lights and the crowd. 

In retrospect, it probably was. I would be, too, if I was a deformed little one horned goat. 

The thing that I remember the most about that circus was the bitter taste of disappointment in the back of my throat. I sat there, stunned, knowing full well I'd been cheated. I couldn't appreciate anything else that happened. 

My mother thought I was too tired and I didn't have the vocabulary at the time to tell her that wasn't what it was. It was that the circus broke some of my childhood that day. 

I never did get it back. And I never went to the circus again. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Race is On!

NaNoWriMo has begun!

As of today, I have 11,445 words according to NaNo's official tally machine.  (According to OpenOffice, I actually have 11,500, but what's 55 words between friends?)

This one is definitely a hot mess, you guys.  I have jumped headfirst into a whole new genre that I've never worked - or read - in before.


You read that right.  I am writing a fantasy novel with steampunk.  I feel SO COOL right now, okay?  Let's just be honest.  I'm sitting here DYING for a top hat with one of those awesome pairs of goggles.

I did do some research before I started.  TVTropes, my source of many lost hours, has the following to say about steampunk:

Retro-style Speculative Fiction set in periods where steam power is king. Very often this will be in an Alternate Universe where the internal combustion engine never displaced the steam engine, and as a result all manner of cool steam-driven technologies have emerged, ranging from Airships to submarines; the plausible counterpart to Magitek, with a Hollywood Science Hand Wave or The Spark of Genius. Largely, steampunk runs on Rule of Cool. Sometimes combined with the work of Charles Babbage on mechanical computers to produce a kind of retro Cyber Punk set entirely in the Victorian era or a close analogue, with Dickensian exploitation.
 (It actually has quite a lot else to say as well, but that's good for a start.)  I did read the rest of the article, and clicked through to other articles on Punk Punk and such.  I also watched this video which, if you even know what Steampunk is or is actually supposed to be, will give you a chuckle or two.

The long and the short of the above is: I'm jumping into a new pool.  The new novel is turning out to be urban fantasy, based in a city that's a combination of Sharn and Sigil, with both high (spell-based) magic and steampunk technology.


In other news, though, I'm also having real-life issues that nobody probably cares about.  The first cold-possible-flu of the season hit me last night with an evil, evil vengeance, and my comprehensive exams are Friday.  (For those unfamiliar with grad school speak, if I don't pass the comps, I don't get my Master's.)  So things are a bit... crazy... in my life right now, and you may or may not hear from me for awhile.  Wish me luck!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The only rule is that there are no rules!

I've come to realize over the course of the last couple of days that I've been too focused on the idea of rules and standards in fiction genres.  For example, there's a brick wall, in my mind, between the genres of fantasy and science fiction, and never the twain shall meet.  Fantasy requires magic and elves and unicorns and things, and science fiction is lasers and rocketships and terraforming other planets.

But that's not true, is it?  At least, not necessarily.

Here's a prime example: the late Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series.  Here's a world where they have dragons and people who telepathically talk to dragons!  Fantasy!  But it turns out, as you get into the series (spoiler alert!) that the people on Pern are humans, descended from Earth colonists.  Science Fiction!  Holy carp gills!

I'm certain that there are other examples, but that's the one that's coming to mind just now.

The reason I'm having this mental struggle is because I'm developing the world and the background for the story I mentioned in my last post.  I was lying in bed last night thinking about it, and trying to decide whether I wanted to stay with a traditional fantasy setting or switch to a post-apocalyptic dystopia.  Then I had a brief exchange with @Lorata on Twitter, and she made this comment about fantasy books that included modern tech like guns and electricity:

"all of mine have electricity, trains etc. there’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t"

And so I lay in bed, considering dystopian futures and magitech combo worlds until I fell asleep.  And when I woke up this morning, something in my brain said, "What about steampunk?"

And the more I thought about it, the more excited I got.  And then.  Then, dear readers, then I started thumbing through my Planescape manuals.  And all  I'm going to say is, I really should not be allowed to look at D&D books when I'm supposed to be studying for exams.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Where do you get your ideas?

I'm sure every writer has heard this question more than once.  Can you answer it?  Because I can't.

Ideas come from everywhere.  Sometimes they come from nowhere, as when I'm standing in the shower or lying in bed nearly asleep and the ol' brain suddenly says, "Hey, here, have a fantastic idea that would probably win a prize or something" and then the ol' memory says "Hey, forget about that" before I can write it down.

In the case of my NaNo 2013 idea, it came from a picture.

By the way, in case I forgot to mention, I've decided to take a swing at NaNo 2013.  What the heck, right?

At any rate... I was scrolling through my Tumblr dash one night several weeks ago when I ran across this photo:

That, in case you follow no fandoms at all, is Kate Beckett (from Castle) sitting on the Iron Throne (from Game of Thrones).  The original picture was not wallpaper-sized, but I decided it was too awesome not to sit on my desktop for awhile.  I actually put it on my second monitor.  And about a week ago, I glanced at it, and the main character of my next new story looked back at me.  

It is going to be glorious, in the way of most alternate-universe fanfictions, which is to say that it's likely to be a hot mess.  But I'm really, really excited about starting it.  I cleaned off my white board and wrote down the names and functions of the main characters, and I can actually visualize the opening scene in my head.  

I'm really excited about starting this story.

Where did your most recent fantastic idea come from?  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Thoughts about thinking

I am not a person who benefits from a lack of scheduling.  Let me explain why.

Five years ago, at the age of 30, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), combined type.  In case you don't know, there are three kinds of ADHD.  The first is the one you automatically think of: the loud, boisterous kid who is always out of his seat, throwing things, shouting in class, and generally making a nuisance of himself.  That's hyperactive-impulsive.

According to WebMD, symptoms include:
  • Fidgeting, squirming when seated
  • Getting up frequently to walk or run around
  • Running or climbing excessively when it's inappropriate (in teens this may appear as restlessness)
  • Having difficulty playing quietly or engaging in quiet leisure activities
  • Always being 'on the go'
  • Often talking excessively
  • Impatience
  • Difficulty delaying responses
  • Blurting out answers before questions have been completed
  • Difficulty awaiting one's turn
  • Frequently interrupting or intruding on others to the point of causing problems in social or work settings
  • Initiating conversations at inappropriate times

The second kind is the kid in the back of the room, staring out the window and having absolutely no concept of anything going on around her.  That's inattentive.

Symptoms include
  • Difficulty paying attention to details and tendency to make careless mistakes in school or other activities; producing work that is often messy and careless
  • Easily distracted by irrelevant stimuli and frequently interrupting ongoing tasks to attend to trivial noises or events that are usually ignored by others
  • Inability to sustain attention on tasks or activities
  • Difficulty finishing schoolwork or paperwork or performing tasks that require concentration
  • Frequent shifts from one uncompleted activity to another
  • Procrastination
  • Disorganized work habits
  • Forgetfulness in daily activities (for example, missing appointments, forgetting to bring lunch)
  • Failure to complete tasks such as homework or chores
  • Frequent shifts in conversation, not listening to others, not keeping one's mind on conversations, and not following details or rules of activities in social situations

The third kind is both, at alternate times.  That's combined type, and that's me. (And, apparently, Calvin as well.)

I've had this on my mind, because I recently found a box of old papers and things.  In that box were my report cards from elementary school.  They were the old-style report cards where your teachers wrote on them by hand, not the fancy printed kind that just have numbers and averages.  They have actual comments from the teachers regarding my progress, and several of them stood out to me in very unpleasant ways.  They said things like,

"Not working to her full potential."
"Needs to try harder."
"Needs to pay attention more in class."
"Talks too much."

Aside from the last one - which is true - the main problem with these criticisms is that they are completely abstract.  None of my teachers, from the third grade through the eighth, made a single concrete suggestion for my improvement, other than what was, essentially, a request that I shut up.  And it's very frustrating to a child (or, I imagine, to anyone, really) to be told that you need to try harder when you are, in fact, trying as hard as you know how to try and nothing that you do is working.  Or to be told to be more organized, but nobody bothers to show you how.

Something that annoys me about the symptoms listed above - especially under "inattentive" type, is the frequent use of the word "careless."  Especially terms like "careless mistake" or "messy and careless."  No one seems to understand that this is as careful as I am capable of being.  Messy?  Don't you get that this is the neatest handwriting I am capable of producing?

"Disorganized" is another trigger word for me.  Call me disorganized?  Screw you. I know where every single thing I own is.  Do you know why I know where it is?  Because I can see it.  I know, for example, that my external drive is a "desk-area" item.  It lives somewhere in the desk area.  If I turn and look at my desk - and perhaps lift a stray notebook - I will be able to lay my eyes on my external drive within ten to fifteen seconds.  Do you know what happens if some well-meaning person (*cough*MOTHER*cough*) decides to "straighten" my desk area?


Why is that?  Because my brain does not process spatial stimuli the same way hers does.  She looks at my desk and sees clutter.  I look at it and, largely, see individual items: my TARDIS jounral, my yarn bow, my lotion, my small notebook, the stack of books over by the printer that are for my paper.

Is it cluttered?  Yeah, from a neurotypical person's perspective, probably.  But you know what?  I need it that way, because otherwise I can't find anything.  You know the old saying "Out of sight, out of mind"?  That is literally how my brain works.  If I can't see it, it's gone, and I have no idea where it's at, or even where to begin looking for it, and I need a new one.

Now, here's the important part of this post.  (If you've made it this far, you get a gold star.)

How do your characters think?

If you're writing about a character who's scatterbrained - to use another term for ADHD people that just makes me feel so good about myself - can you get inside that character's mind?  Do you write her as almost aggressively clueless and twee, or do you really stop and think about the fact that inside her mind, there are processes going on, and they sound like this:

I need to remember to get peanut butter when I'm at the store.  I'm almost out of peanut butter.  I do like a good peanut butter sandwich. Heh. I remember when I was in college and I was so broke that I ate nothing but peanut butter and day-old bread for two weeks around finals.  Was that junior year or...?  No, I remember, it was the first semester of my junior year, because that was when the coffee shop I was working at just went belly-up overnight and I couldn't find another job because I was going home over Christmas, and no one would hire me if I was going to be gone for a month right away.  Man, that sucked.  I loved working at that coffee shop, too.  It always smelled so good.  I love the way roasted coffee beans smell.  Oh, and I remember that guy who worked there, the one who made the chocolate latte things and they were so good because he put one of the other syrups in them that you wouldn't expect.  Which one was that?  I can't remember now.  Was it hazelnut? Almond? No, almond would be gross.  I wonder what it was.  I should look him up on Facebook and ask him.  I remember his name was Rich.  What was his last name?  Blakely?  Maybe?  Bleecker?  No, that's stupid, that's that street in Manhattan where all the nightclubs are.  I'd like to go to Manhattan; I bet it's awesome.  I wouldn't want to live there, though; the rents are ridiculous.  What kind of idiot would pay thousands of dollars a month for a studio apartment in a crime-ridden neighborhood?  I'll take my nice, grassy half-acre, even if I do have an hour's commute.  Oh, that reminds me, I'd better get gasoline before I go home.

And somehow the peanut butter never gets bought.  And did I mention that that entire stream of consciousness took about five seconds?  As well, about half of those thoughts weren't even in words; they were in pictures - people's faces, for example, or maybe the coffee shop sign, or a memory of being behind the counter - or in vague ideas like the smell of roasting coffee beans combined with a feeling of happiness.  The mind of the ADHD person moves like lightning, and in ways that many neurotypical folks don't really comprehend.

I recall, as a child, that when something would happen, my parents would ask me what I was thinking when I did it.  And I would shrug and say that I wasn't.  They would reject that answer.  "You had to have been thinking something."  I probably was, but let me redirect your attention to the above stream of consciousness and the fact that it happened in an eyeblink and mostly in conceptualities.  Try explaining that to your dad when you're seven and he's standing over you with a strap in his hand.

How your characters think is as important - and sometimes more important - than what they think.  Try to give your audience some insight into your character's mind, but don't assume that all minds work the same way yours does.  Try jumping into the mind of someone who's neurally different from you.  It could be a fun roller coaster ride.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Long absences do not, in fact, make the heart grow fonder.

They just make it more difficult to pick up where you left off.

That being said, I'd like to apologize for my own extended absence.  Over the weekend I went to Knoxville to do research on the paper I mentioned before, for my seminar.  I got some really exciting stuff, including the full transcript of the murder trial and a chance to look at and study documents that nobody else has looked at or studied in 100 years.  For a historian, this is exciting stuff, folks.  Documents nobody else has looked at since they were created?  Oh, yeah.  That's the ticket, right there.

As far as writing goes - I've finished the first draft of The Diamond Sword!  I'm thrilled.  Thrilled.  Of course, now I have some heavy-duty editing to do, but I'll get there.  Between the paper and preparing for my comprehensive exams (which are in about a month), school has to take precedence over writing.  For now.

I would like to take a moment to recommend some books.  I picked up some used books while I was in Knoxville - some fantasy classics that, believe it or not, I'd never actually read before.  And that gave me the idea to suggest my favorite fantasy novels to you.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (and all its follow-ons).
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.
Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey (and all the rest of the books from her world of Velgarth).
The Belgariad by David Eddings.  (Less so The Malloreon.)
The Redemption of Althalus by David Eddings.
The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey (okay, technically this series is sf, but there are dragons.)
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett (and every other Discworld novel ever).
The Darksword trilogy and the Rose of the Prophet trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy by Tad Williams

Funny story about the last two entries.  I was a hardcore SF reader as a kid.  Loved it.  My brother came in from the used book store one day with the Darksword trilogy, The Dragonbone Chair, and Stone of Farewell.  He read them, loved them, salivated over the Tad Williams stuff until To Green Angel Tower came out.

When I saw the size of that hardback, I was like

Come to mama.

Anything that big and involved had my attention immediately.  So while he waded through it, I caught up with the first two books, and my love affair with fantasy novels began.

After I finished Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, I went on to read the Weis and Hickman stuff that he had, and then someone turned me on to Mercedes Lackey and... boom.

I find, though, that most of the fantasy that I read came out before I graduated from high school in 1995.  I don't have a lot of recent stuff.  So I ask you, my dear readers.  Give me YOUR recommendations.  Tell me what my life is poorer for not having.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


This will be a brief post on the topic of food.

So, my friend Christine was telling me about a friend of hers, who has apparently recently had some kind of, I don't know, mental trauma or something.  In Christy's words, "Jersey's rubbed off on her or something."  (I think Jersey counts as cranial trauma, right?  What do I know?  I'm not a doctor.)  Anyway, the point was that there is something wrong with Miss Jersey, because Miss Jersey has apparently recently decided that she does not like toppings on her pizza.  She wants her pizza to have sauce and cheese only.  And this would be fine - I'm very much a proponent of "to each his/her own" - except that this person then took to Facebook to publicly state that "bacon on pizza is a NO!"

Yes.  I hope you were sitting down for that, dear readers.  I know, I know, it hurts to hear it.  Try to breathe through the pain.

Christy and I commenced discussing pizza.  We arrived at a mutual conclusion that there are very few things that should be considered verboten as pizza toppings.  Among them: fish, eye of newt, tongue of dog, pinecones, etc.  (Pineapple, on the other hand, is extremely welcome, especially when paired with ham.)

Hello there, you sexy beast.

When there is pizza in our house, it is generally obtained from a take-and-bake chain called Papa Murphy's.  (We are very lazy and we would get it delivered, but I regret to state that we actually live in a benighted area to which no one will deliver pizza. I actually have to leave my house and drive four miles up the road to meet the pizza delivery man at a particular corner, because they will not come to my house.  So I figure if I'm going to have to put pants on anyway, I may as well go get something that tastes good.)  The point: Papa Murphy's offers a very delicious specialty pizza, and I was telling Christy about it, because it involves garlic sauce and chicken and artichoke and - wait for it - bacon

She replied that her particular favorite pizza is a similar creation of chicken and bacon and white sauce which she, living in the San Francisco Bay area as she does, obtains at a place called Pizza My Heart.  (I personally have never been there but she swears by it, and apparently she has a shirt emblazoned with their name which she actually wears in public, so it must be good.)

At any rate, as I was saying:

Everyone says the food of the gods is Ambrosia, but I disagree.  When the gods want to chow down, they want bacon.  Ambrosia is a disgusting concoction of yogurt and cherries and coconut, and bacon is made of pure, greasy, porcine deliciousness.

Because really, who likes coconut?  Nobody likes coconut.  Except maybe Hades, and really, F that guy.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Interview With a Character - Eltan

So I had the idea to do an interview. Just something silly and fun to get a little deeper inside my main character's head.  My friend Christine was kind enough to help me out by playing the part of an interviewer from Tiger Beat or whatever, and she didn't even laugh at me.  (Much.)  The Eltan being interviewed here is between chapters four and five, and is twelve or thirteen years old.

Tell me, Eltan, what's it like growing up in the Archduke's home? What kind of life do you lead there?

At first it was very strange, because everything was very different from what I was used to in Tovald City.  There, we lived in the Hall of Women and there were only ever other women about, and very small children like me.  But once we came to Jorash, there isn't a Hall of Women there, and we could go wherever we liked and do as we pleased.

As far as my kind of life, well, I have weapons training, and riding lessons, and actual lessons with reading and figuring and geography and things.  And also His Grace wants me to learn all about the criminal codes and how to manage an estate and things.  So I guess I stay pretty busy.

It sounds as through things turned out well for you. How did you and your mother meet His Grace?

Oh, well.  My mother was a concubine, and His Majesty the Overking sent her to His Grace as a gift.  I went along as Mama's page, because I was only four.

Tell me about the rest of your family. How many sibs do you have now?

Three.  Tybost is the eldest; he's seven.  Rohan is three, and Alina is just now a year old.  And I've a friend Jaramy, who's my age and lives with us.  He's kind of like my other brother.

Do you play together a lot when you're not working or do you like to keep to yourself?

Oh, I play with them when I can.  I still have supper with Mama and His Grace and the littles every night - Mama says I'm not old enough yet to eat with the men-at-arms - so I usually play with them for awhile before dinner.  But the rest of the time I usually have lessons or duties.

What sorts of games do you play? 

With the littles?  I don't know... Rohan likes hide-and-go-seek.  Tybost likes to play at being a knight.

I'm sure Tybost makes a very fine knight! You mentioned your lessons before. Do you have any sort of idea of what you'd like to do with your life or are you just seeking a well-rounded education at present?

Oh, well, I guess I'm supposed to be a fighter.  For awhile, anyway.  There's this thing I'm supposed to do.  I can't really talk about it.  But after that, I think His Grace intends me to be Tybost's right hand, once he takes the throne.

What's involved in this fight-training? Do you study under the men-at-arms or has His Grace selected someone else to prepare you?

Oh, it's mostly practicing how to properly use a sword and shield, or daggers, or a bow.  I get my sword and dagger training from Weaponsmaster Jeria; that's His Grace's sister.  For the bow there's Captain Brawd, who used to be commander of the archers but retired.

So you train alone then?

Oh, you mean, like private lessons? No!  There's always lots of us training together.  For sword and dagger we work in pairs.

And who is your partner in training?

Whoever.  You don't train against only one person, because you'd only learn to oppose one fighting style.  So today I might fight against Jaramy, and tomorrow against Lathan, and the next day against Keri or Galen or Firman.

That makes sense. Do you like fighting?

Not really.  I'm not very good at it, and besides that, I'm not terribly enthusiastic about the idea of being hacked up on a battlefield.

Well, let's hope that doesn't happen. I'm sure your teachers won't let you fight until you're ready.

I hope not.

Will you be doing a lot of fighting as your brother's right hand or do you have do other training for that?

I might; we're sort of fighting against Sandria right now, though we're not really at war; they just keep trying to take our land, and we keep having to fight them back.  But maybe that will be over by the time Tybost takes over.  I don't know.  But there's other things - like I said, His Grace has me learning all about estate management and the criminal laws and things.

And what about Tybost? Is he studying the same sort of things yet?

Some, but he's younger so not as much.

Of course. He'll have quite a weight on his shoulders soon enough. Let me ask you about one more thing before I let you go. There are rumors that your mother and the sorceress are great friends. Is there any truth to that? 

Oh, yes.  They're best friends.  That's not a secret.

I've heard wonderful things about them both. I'm sure they're quite a powerful force when united in a single cause. 

They're scary is what they are.

(laughs) I would imagine so. I shall endeavor to avoid gathering their displeasure in any way - including making you late for supper. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me today, Eltan. I wish you great success in all your endeavors. 



So yeah, that was a little self-indulgent.  But I actually kind of enjoyed it.  Both of us got the giggles about halfway through.  We might do another one with a different character later.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Culture: something to keep in mind

You may or may not know that, in addition to being a writer, I'm also a graduate student.  I'm currently working on my master's in history, though next year I hope to transfer to a Ph.D. program in English.  The class I'm taking this semester is a study of disability history in the United States.

I started out looking at the history of deaf education in the U.S.  It's an interesting topic to me because my older brother is deaf, and also because I worked as a sign language interpreter for some years.  So I decided to look into the history of the Tennessee School for the Deaf and see what kind of interesting things I could dig up to write about.

I discovered, in the course of my research, that prior to 1965, TSD had a completely separate campus for its African-American students.  I also discovered that, just as with hearing schools, the quality of facilities, education and activities for students on the "Negro campus" was far less than that of the white campus.  I don't say this by way of trying to censure TSD or anyone involved; I'm presenting the facts as they existed.  We all know that separate was not equal; I'm not beating a dead horse.

The reason I mention that there was a totally separate campus, aside from finding it a mildly interesting fact (not just separate but separate), is that history happened on that satellite campus - history in the sense of noteworthy events.  In March of 1913, there was a major criminal event.  A 21-year-old student by the name of Haynes Terry murdered one boy with a hatchet, then used a baseball bat to bludgeon three adults (who survived) and a female student (who later died).


As presented in an article which I have yet to verify (that comes next week, when I get to go to Knoxville), Terry had apparently been expelled from school once before, for unspecified "nighttime indiscretions" involving the girls' dormitory; he'd been allowed to return on the promise of his good behavior.  On the night of March 9, apparently the matron of the girls' dorm, Carrie Mason (a hearing Black woman) saw Terry on the roof of that building.  Terry later claimed that he had lost his watch out of his own dorm window and was trying to retrieve it.  Regardless of his reason for being there, Mason went to Matthew Mann, the (white, deaf) superintendent, and asked him to see if he could find out who had been on the girls' dorm roof.

Mann apparently checked Terry's room, found him in bed, half-dressed, and accused him of being out of bed.  He then went back to Mason and told her that he suspected Terry was the one who'd been on the roof.  Terry, who had followed Mann, saw this conversation occur.  He then obtained the hatchet and the baseball bat and went about his grisly work.  First he murdered the Manns' (hearing) 17 year old son, likely because he was concerned that the boy would hear Terry and raise an alarm.  Then he bludgeoned Mr and Mrs Mann in their bed.  From there, he went to the girls' dorm.  Due to a lack of bed space, Carrie Mason was sharing a bed with a student, Namey Steele.  Bad luck for young Namey; Terry bludgeoned both her and Carrie Mason.  Mason survived; Namey never regained consciousness and died later in the hospital.

These are all facts that I know from reading various newspaper accounts.

What I don't know, but I can conclude, is that Terry's motive - that is, he was afraid of being expelled again over the business with being in the girls' dorm at night - is overly simplistic.

Consider this: Haynes Terry was both black and deaf in Tennessee in 1913. it is highly likely that he came from a situation of extreme poverty, and life at the school may have been exponentially better than life at home in terms of material life: food, clothing, shelter, and so forth.

Consider this: It is a well-known fact that the Deaf school is a central facet of Deaf culture.  Deaf culture is generally passed from one generation to the next at Deaf schools.  Many graduates of Deaf schools return to the school they graduated from to teach or to take on other jobs at the school; many people who graduate from Deaf schools move as adults to the city where the Deaf school is located in order to maintain a connection with the school and, if their children are Deaf, send their children there as students.

Consider this: It is extremely unlikely that anyone in Haynes Terry's own family or community knew sign language.  Therefore, the only people with whom he could effectively communicate would be at his school.  Even if Terry could communicate effectively in written English (unlikely), what were the chances that his parents could read?

Keeping those three facts in mind, look again at the idea of expulsion from school.  For someone like Haynes Terry, expulsion from school was tantamount to complete exile from his culture, from the only people he knew who understood him, and with whom he could communicate.  To send him away from TSD would be like taking someone from America who only spoke English and sending them to live in poverty in medieval China after rendering them completely unable to ever learn the language.  Is it any wonder that, faced with the idea that he might be sent away forever from the only real community he'd ever had, Haynes Terry panicked?  Yes, his actions were reprehensible and inexcusable.  But they were not unexplainable.

Now consider Haynes Terry's story from the perspective of a writer.  How would your character react in a similar situation?  It's worth knowing.

Image retrieved from and copyright Tennessee State Library & Archives, used without permission.  Original and informaiton available at

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Name Game

Names are very important - just ask any expectant parent who's pored over a baby name book trying to pick out just the right moniker to hang around their offspring's neck for the rest of its life, or any kid whose parent didn't use enough caution.  Names are crucial.

Everyone has a name.  Most names have meanings.

Declan: an Irish name meaning "full of goodness."
Chloe: a Greek name meaning "verdant and blooming."
Hinata: a Japanese name meaning "sunflower."
Amani: a Persian name meaning "security, trust."

But here's a fun fact about names: while in Western cultures, most people use the same name (or, at least, the same first name) from birth to death, this isn't the case the world over.  For example, in some Native American traditions, a person may use different names at different points in their lives: a child has a child's name, an adolescent takes on a new name when they outgrow their childhood name; as adults, they may take on names that are descriptive of their achievements or their experiences.

So how do you handle names in your writing?

Do you use strictly Western/European conventions?  Do you explore the conventions of a non-Western part of your own heritage?  I, personally, tend to use Western conventions, just because that's where my head is at and, frankly, I do enough research for school.  Writing is supposed to be fun.

But I'm arriving at a point where I have to figure out what to do about names.  Because the thing about a name is that it isn't just a sound that identifies you to other people - it can be symbolic of how you think of yourself.

Consider a scenario.  Jake is an ordinary fellow from, say, Detroit, who is going about his ordinary life.  One day, an extraordinary thing happens to him, and in the process of dealing with that, he learns something he never knew about his heritage: part of his family comes from a different culture: they're from the Isle of Man, and they live a traditional Irish peasant lifestyle and speak only Manx Gaelic.  He goes on a trip to learn about that part of his family, and when he meets them, they hang a different name on him.  They begin calling him Laoidheach.  (That's pronounced Lee-ach, by the way.)  

Now, even though Jake might answer to Laoidheach, and recognize that it's the name his Manx-speaking relatives have attached to him, he obviously still thinks of himself as Jake.  When he writes letters home, they're going to be signed "Love, Jake."  But what if he stays on the Isle for a long time?  Suppose he decides he loves it there and he wants to become a recluse writer, and he relocates there to live among his Irish family?

Suppose that, while he's there, he undergoes a life-changing event or two.  Maybe he learns things about himself that he never suspected were true, and he starts to realize that he's changed; he's not the same Jake who graduated from Kettering High School, dropped out of the University of Michigan, and worked at GM.  He's different now.  He's changed.

So one day he writes a letter home to his sister, and he signs it Laoidheach.  In his mind, he starts referring to himself as Laoidheach.  He has become a new person with a new name.

So how would you handle that if you were writing it?  Because I have a character in a similar situation, and the Point of Change is coming soon.  So I'm very, very interested in hearing how some of you might handle it.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Miserable failure? Or what?

I just read a blog post, located here, written by Dan Blank.

Now, here comes my personal version of full disclosure.  Someone posted that link to the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter.  I don't know who Dan Blank is (should I? Is he a Big Name?).  I've never looked at that blog before.  But his title caught my attention, because it reads, "You, Dear Writer, Are Going to Fail Miserably."

My first reaction to this title was mild affront.  Dude, I've never even heard of you, and you're just going to blanket tell me how I'm going to fail miserably?  But I clicked the link anyway, because I thought, Perhaps this will be advice on how not to fail miserably; I should give it a shot.

I'm glad that I did.

In his blog post, Dan discusses what an unnamed "we" are going to do to the writer.  "We," he says, are going to make fun of you, take potshots at you, leave you in miserable loneliness, dig out all of the flaws in your story, and ignore you.  Dan writes,
Dear author, we are not going to make this easy for you. Which is why so many authors stop. They stop writing. They give up. Too soon.
Sometimes moments before success and validation; other times, years before.
We win. Game over.
And that is a very interesting idea.  He finishes out his post by asking two important questions: Who is "We," and what are you going to do about it?

So let's address this.

Who is "We"?

Some commenters said that they thought "We" was readers.  Others mentioned critics - not professional critics, but the ones in your life who tell you that writing is a pipe dream and you should be perfectly happy with your job down the factory or in a shop or wherever it is that you work when you're not bleeding on your manuscript.  Still others mentioned agents, reviewers, editors, publishers, and other gatekeepers of the "professional publishing" world.

And several others suggested that "we" is actually ourselves, our own crippling self-doubts and worries and fears that keep us from reaching out, that keep us from brushing off rejections and querying again, that keep us in frantic-editing mode because it has to be perfect before we can move on, that stop us doing whatever it is that we need to do to put our words out there in front of an audience.

I think the answer to that question is pretty much "all of the above."  Because the problem as presented in Dan's post is not just that critics will dislike you, agents ignore you, and publishers reject you.  The problem is not that readers will not find or appreciate you, that editors will slash and burn your perfect and beautiful manuscript, or that the critics in your life will (knowingly or unknowingly) try to crush your dreams.

The problem is that we let it happen.  The problem occurs when you listen to an un-constructive criticism and take it to heart.  The problem is when you give up after one or two (or ten) agents ignore you or publishers reject you.  The problem happens when you decide that your dad is probably right, that being a writer is a pipe dream, and that you should be perfectly happy with an eight-to-five office job where you have to wear khakis and a polo shirt and smile at people you hate and carry your lunch in a Tupperware container (and half the time, someone steals the good part), and every day that you go there, you feel a little more of your soul dying inside of you.

Okay, I may have been projecting a little bit on that last line.  But my point still stands - as does Dan's.

The problem occurs when you allow one of the many stumbling blocks on the authorial path to become a wall that prevents you from passing further along.  The problem occurs when you give up.

So what are you going to do about it?

The only way to fail is to stop trying.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Spiders. Spiders everywhere.

You know how you see these houses in scary movies that are all full of cobwebs and covered furniture and you think, "how did it get so disgustingly creepy?"

My office, such as it is (and I admit, it is pretty awesome) is in our garage.  We remodeled to turn it into livable space, adding an air conditioner and a ceiling light and fan and taking out the bugs.

Well, most of the bugs.

We still have these funny black beetles that keep getting in from somewhere - I have no idea where - and every so often you'll see one dying out in the middle of the room.  And of course there are the spiders.

Our neighborhood is right on a lake and also deeply wooded.  Because of these two factors, there are spiders freaking EVERYWHERE.  And I'm not just talking about those funny little jumping spiders with the wobbly eyes, either.

I was going to put a picture
of a wolf spider here
but I got the heebie-jeebies looking at them
so I decided not to.
Check Wikipedia if you really want
to see one.

We've had, so far this summer, at least 8 wolf spiders around the outside of our house.  Three of them have been on the doors.  These have been murdered with extreme prejudice and malice aforethought whenever located.  There are two, however, that are up on the roof.  We can't get to them; not even the wasp spray with the 40' jet can get to them.

Something is going to have to be done.

Indoors, of course, it's tiny spiders.  And probably brown recluses, because hey, why not?  But we don't talk about those.  And I only decided to write about this because I glanced over at one instance of my yarn stash and realized that there is a spiderweb running from its top corner to the back of the broken-down easy chair nearby.

I watched that cobweb glisten in the afternoon sunlight and I realized that if I don't clean this room sometime soon, I'm going to end up looking like this guy.

Also, if anyone knows how to repel wolf spiders (short of dark witchcraft) let me know.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An excerpt: Chapter One

An excerpt from Chapter One of The Diamond Sword, presented here for your enjoyment.

It always happened like this: he was minding his own business, completing a task or working at his lessons or even just sitting under a tree, enjoying the sunshine, and then suddenly there they would be. They seemed to have a knack for knowing when he was alone, or when he was around adults who either wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care. He never saw them when the lord was around - they wouldn’t dare - or any of the ladies or gentlemen who’d taken a liking to the skinny, dark-haired young squire-apprentice from Jorash City. But the moment he was alone, they materialized as if by magic.

They, of course, were the eldest of the manor’s boys: a group of four young toughs who would be men before too long. Their leader was a boy who thought it good sport to toss kittens into the fighting dogs’ pen: the lord’s bastard son, Jervan. Jervan was keenly aware that, as one of many bastards, and not the eldest by far, his position in his father’s graces was very precarious. So when the lord brought a new squire-apprentice back from a trip to the duke’s court, Jervan had moved immediately to make that new addition to the household properly submissive to himself.

For two years, the smaller boy endured the taunts and the sneers of Jervan and his mates, he suffered their attacks, and he bore their blows. He did so because, when he took his leave of her, his mother had held him close and whispered her best advice into his ear. “There will be those,” she had said to him, “who will seek to abuse you simply because they can. If you can help it, try not to sink to their level. Keep your own hands clean as best as you can.” But a boy can only be expected to endure so much ill-treatment before he simply cannot bear any more.

“Oh, look, it’s the weed-boy,” was how it started on the warm day when Eltan the Squire-Apprentice reached the end of his tether. They had started calling him that one day when the weaponsmaster had noticed that Eltan needed new practice armor and had commented that the boy was growing like a weed.

“Perhaps we should pluck the weed,” Jervan said to his companion Rell, a brute of a boy who ought to have been assigned a man’s tasks several seasons before.

Rell laughed his ugly laugh. “I’ll pluck it out by the roots,” he said, strolling toward Eltan, who was quickly and quietly packing up his belt pouch.

“I say,” chimed in a third voice: the silky, urbane tone of Rojis, another bastard with a temper. “What has the weed-boy got there?”

“Some kind of box,” said the fourth, the wiry and dark Sera - the only girl Eltan knew who would have anything to do with Jervan or his friends.

Eltan slipped the box into his pouch quickly, not looking at the other boys as he tied a hasty knot in the pouch’s strings and gripped it tightly in his hand.

“I’ll have that box,” Jervan said flatly. “Give it here, weed-boy.”

“No,” Eltan said, his voice quiet but firm, and his leg muscles tensing.

The four bullies stopped, glancing at one another as though surprised that their prey had the temerity to refuse. “What did it say?” Sera exclaimed. “I think it refused a direct order.”

“Not surprising,” Rojis drawled. “It hasn’t got the sense to defer to its betters. And I’m not certain, but do I smell offal?”

“Yes, you do smell awful,” Eltan snapped, provoked at last by nothing more than the available pun. “Maybe you should take a bath.”

There was a moment of stunned silence, and then Jervan pointed at him. “Get him! I want that box!”

Eltan sprang from his seat and fled, and they pursued him. He dodged around buildings, scrambled over fences and even detoured through one of the barns as he attempted to shake them off, but he couldn’t quite manage it. They were larger and heavier than he was, which slowed most of them down, but Sera was quick, and harder to lose.

He finally evaded his tormentors by ducking into a field of young corn; slight as he was, the stalks closed over his head and around his frame and he vanished into them with little more than a shiver of leaves to mark his passage. They rounded the corner of the field just a few seconds too late. Their quarry had escaped; the path was empty. Loudly disappointed in the abrupt end to their game, they wandered away from the cornfield, moving toward the salle as their noon appointment with the weaponsmaster approached.

From between the thickening stalks of corn, Eltan watched them go, heaving a soft sigh when it became obvious that they really had given up the chase. For now, he thought bitterly, knowing perfectly well that when he arrived at the salle for his own training, they would be there, and the torment would begin again. He groaned softly, pushing the cornstalks aside so that he could see the sky. The first sun was very nearly overhead, and the second wasn’t far behind it. He would be expected in the salle with the others. Likely there would be a beating in it for him if he didn’t turn up.

He stood very still in the corn for a long moment, tying his pouch around his waist and considering. Then he turned his back on the buildings and made his way through the field. On the other side, he clambered over a low stacked-stone wall into one of the hayfields. It was up to his armpits - the second harvest of hay this year - and moving through it felt a bit like wading through very deep water as he made his way even farther from where he should be. His eyes remained fixed on his ultimate goal: the dark bulk of the forest.

He took an angled track through hay that billowed in the sweet summer breeze, and it wasn’t long before the shadows of those great trees were casting over him, their cool shade a balm after the burning heat of noon. He felt the trees open to him, welcoming him into their gentle silence, and he sighed softly, relaxing for the first time since the older boys had caught sight of him.

Resentment for the bullying burned in his belly as he made his way deeper into the woods, ignoring the regular hunting trails in favor of a deer track he happened to stumble upon. Though he loved exploring the forest, and had done so often, he didn’t think he’d seen that particular track before, and he had never been the type of boy to pass up a chance to seek out something new. He placed his feet carefully as he moved, quiet to avoid disturbing the wildlife and quiet to avoid detection as well. A boy never knew when one of the men would take it into his head to form up a hunting party, and he really didn’t want to be caught.

The overhead canopy blocked out the sunlight, making the forest floor cool and shady. It was no great strain on a healthy young lad to travel a well-worn deer track for quite a long time - long enough that he almost certainly faced a beating for shirking when he returned. He didn’t care. If it wasn’t shirking, it would be something else; the lord, who usually protected him from such mistreatment, had been gone for several days. The boy bitterly wondered if he might not be best served by simply remaining in the forest until the lord returned. Snorting softly at himself, he rounded a rock outcropping that had forced the track to turn - and he stopped still at its edge, gasping in awe.

That was no outcropping, he realized belatedly, a flash of childhood memory overtaking him. That was a stacked-stone wall, covered in the moss of centuries. He rounded the fallen edge of the wall, clambering over a bit of the remaining debris, and stared around with glee. “I didn’t know there were ruins out here!” he exclaimed, heedless of the birds who took wing at the sound of his voice. “This is wonderful!”

And indeed it was. The stone wall he had mistaken for an outcropping stood eight feet high, encircling an overgrown but still beautiful courtyard. The pavers were cracked and shifted with the centuries, mossy in some places and sprouting grass in others, but their design was still visible; the faded variegation of the colored stones radiated out from a five-tiered marble fountain which held court in the precise middle of the area. Off to one side, two stone benches still stood beside the remains of a third, which had toppled; across the flagstones on the opposite end of the oval-shaped area were the remains of two wrought-iron chairs which faced one another across the skeleton of a small wrought-iron table. In the grass beneath them, the boy discovered a set of chessmen, carved of green and white stone. Gleefully, he collected these, digging his belt pouch from under his tunic to pour them in.

As he did so, he felt the weight of the small box that was already in his pouch, and he remembered, quite suddenly, the reason why the older boys had been chasing him earlier. He fished it out and set it aside, then lined up the chessmen on the stones to be sure he had them all. Once he was certain that he did, he transferred them into the pouch and tucked it away again. Then he picked up his parcel, holding it carefully as he walked over to perch on the side of the dry fountain. He took a deep breath and opened the box. The first thing he encountered was a letter from his mother. His fingers traced the familiar shapes of her handwriting as he read it.

My dear son,

I hope that this letter finds you well and happy on the twelfth anniversary of your birth. Know that I miss you greatly and think of you always, and I yearn for the day when I shall see you again. Lord Andrus writes me often to tell me of your progress, and expresses his pleasure with your hard work and eager mind; I do wish, though, that I might hear directly from you a bit more often.

He grinned slightly. He could write every day and it wouldn’t be often enough for his mother.

I have enclosed your birthing-day gift; I confess that I found myself flummoxed when attempting to decide what you should have. I know little of the habits and preferences of adolescent boys, and with you so far away, I am sadly unaware of what you might lack or desire. After consulting with my Lord, I thought it best to let you choose for yourself.

He blinked, looking back into the box, and his eyes grew wide at the sight of the fat little leather purse which was waiting for him. Knowing his mother - and the generosity of her master, who had only ever been kind to both of them - it probably held more coin than he would be able to spend in a year. Dodging into that cornfield had been the best idea he’d had recently; the loss of that money would have been quite a blow. He returned to the letter.

My Eltan, I do miss you greatly, the letter continued. Lord Andrus has promised that you will come to see me soon, but he is distracted by the Sandrian incursions on the eastern border, and my Lord will not permit me to travel while the situation is so precarious, even to the relative safety of the west, where you are. So I shall not see you again until conditions permit; I may only hope and pray that it is soon.

Your little brothers send their regards; Tybost wished me to send you the tadpoles he found in the stream, but I convinced him that this would not be a good idea.

I hope that you think of me occasionally, and remember me fondly.

All my love,


By the end of the letter, the boy was sniffling; he missed his mother terribly on the best of days, and today was far from the best of days. A sudden wave of homesickness washed over him. That protected courtyard reminded him strongly of the walled gardens in the Hall of Women where he had been born. Sitting there in the middle of it, with the afternoon suns warming his head and shoulders, he clutched the letter against his chest and cried softly.

A sudden sound interrupted his grief - a ringing like the chime of a bell. He raised his head and looked around. A sudden, extra-brilliant shaft of late-afternoon sunlight fell from the sky, perfectly illuminating the massive figure that strode toward him. Each footstep rang against the cracked flagstones, and the chimes echoing around the little courtyard did not fade until more had rung out. By the time the figure was eye-to-eye with the boy, his head was ringing with the sound of bells.

It was a magnificent unicorn stallion. He stood still for a moment, bathed in the light, and then his caramel-colored head dipped, his golden eyes taking the boy in carefully. There was a long moment of silence as the ringing faded. “No offense,” the unicorn finally said, his voice a deep baritone, “but I really thought you’d be taller.” It - he - blinked at the boy. “What’s your name, child?”

“El -” The boy’s voice cracked, and he swallowed. “Eltan, sir.”

The unicorn shook his pale mane, his nicker sounding suspiciously like a laugh. “No need to ‘sir’ me, boy. My name is Teriántan. I’m called Teri.”

Out of habit, Eltan gave a half-bow, nearly braining himself on the unicorn’s golden horn. Teri took a quick half-step back, a sound of alarm escaping him. “Careful, now!” he exclaimed, shaking his mane at the boy. “This thing isn’t for show, you know.”

“Sorry, sorry.” Eltan stared at the unicorn for a moment longer before suddenly blinking, his eyes narrowing just a fraction. “Wait a moment. What do you mean, you thought I’d be taller?”

“Aha!” Teri nickered in amusement again. “So your brain is working again already. Next time, I need the light to be higher, so you’ll be dazzled longer.” He gave the boy a sidelong look that could only be interpreted as a horsey sort of grin. “And I meant, of course, that our meeting here was no accident. I came here for you.”

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Geaux Saints!

This is not a post about football.

I am a brown-bagger from way back.  I grew up in Pensacola, Florida - on the Gulf Coast just five counties and one parish east of New Orleans - and the Saints were the nearest professional football team available.  My parents, being transplants from a bit farther west, were die-hard Cowboys fans, but America's Team never really did it for me.  I have always been a fan of the underdog, and there was one just three hours up the Interstate: my beloved "Ain'ts".  Jokes like this were common:

Q: How do you keep Saints off your lawn?
A: Put up a goalpost.

As I got older, I learned to love the city of New Orleans as well as its football team.  I found joy in the cobblestoned streets and dank, malodorous alleyways of the Vieux Carré and in the slightly snooty iron-fenced yards and antebellum constructions of the Garden District - some restored to former grandeur, some moldering in quiet obscurity.  I developed a deep appreciation for the food, especially - gumbo thick with shrimp; red beans and rice with boudin and cornbread; beignets and cafe au lait, like a tourist but at 3:00 in the morning.  (The advent of online shopping has made it much easier to keep myself stocked with chicory coffee, especially since I've moved to Tennessee.)

In August of 2005 I was still living in Pensacola, and though you may hear flippant stories about hurricane parties and those sorts of things, I assure you, anyone who lived through Erin and Opal (1995), Helene (2000), Ivan (2004), and Dennis (July 2005) took one look at Katrina as she came roaring across the Gulf of Mexico and flipped out.  Anyone with sense knew what was coming.  But you know as well as I do what happened, so I won't go into detail.  Suffice it to say that anyone who knew and loved the city was nearly as devastated by what happened as those who lived there.

The love of the "Ain'ts" spread across the U.S. following Katrina; there was a small diaspora as Gulf Coast residents and natives, many having lost everything but their lives, sought new places to settle.  For many, many people, especially multi-generational Acadiana natives, it hurt too badly to go back.  Homes, family members, livelihoods were gone in an instant.  There might be nothing to go back to - like other large cities, there were many in New Orleans who were lifelong renters, and didn't even own a patch of land to try to rebuild on.  It was easier to go elsewhere and start fresh - even with an accent that's incomprehensible to 95% of America.

And then, from nowhere, in the midst of the rebuilding and all that it entailed, the 2009 NFL season happened, and Brown Baggers all over the U.S. sat up and went, "Bzuh?"  Where did this Brees kid come from, and how'd he get that arm?  And how did we get him?  And - and - oh my God, did Tracy Porter just INTERCEPT A PEYTON MANNING PASS AND OH MY GOD HE'S OUT IN FRONT THERE'S NOBODY AROUND HIM GO BABY GO OH MY GOD TOUCHDOWN SEVENTY-FOUR YARDS DID YOU SEE THAT HOLY SH!T THREE MINUTES LEFT IN THE GAME OH MY GOD I THINK WE JUST WON THIS GAME

That was the year New Orleans became, not a team to be feared, but a team to be respected.
And I'm feeling nostalgic today because we won, but I didn't get to watch it because my local FOX affiliate decided some movie was more important.  *sigh*

We're 3-0 so far this season. I'm hoping we can keep the momentum going.  I'd like to hang another Super Bowl Champions t-shirt in my closet.  For right now, though, I'll settle for a cup of cafe au lait.  And maybe I'll make some red beans and rice for dinner.

Brown bag Saints fans photo from, used without permission.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

First post!

I'm warning you ahead of time that I am TERRIBLE about keeping up a blog.  TERRIBLE.  I can write in my paper journal almost every day, but when it comes to blogging, I haven't done it regularly since... um...

Let's just say it's been awhile, and go from there.

So, briefly, let's address a few frequently asked questions.


My name is J. B. Kaye and I am the resident epic fantasy author at this-here blog which bears my name.


Well, to be perfectly honest, nothing - yet.  I'm nearly finished with my current project though, and once it's done, then the answer to this question will be "The first book in the Tower Cycle; the title is The Diamond Sword."


Ah, summaries - the bane of every author's existence.
In short, The Diamond Sword is the first part of a story about a world in crisis.  Eltan, the young son of a former concubine, has been chosen, along with some companions - a human boy, an elven girl, and a unicorn, among others - to help avert a possible apocalypse.


Soon!  Very soon.