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