Diving into Jemisin

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When I asked for recommendations on speculative authors who were not cis-gendered white men (for now and forever referred to as CGWM), I received several recommendations for N.K. Jemisin. Funnily enough, at the same time people were recommending her to me, my husband was at Powells buying me her novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

It wasn’t the novel of hers I’d planned on starting with, but I’m glad to have gotten it as it was a lot of fun. I wasn’t sure as I started it whether I could get behind the voice, but it quickly became clear that the memory issues of the protagonist and the slightly stilted and disjointed storytelling had a definite purpose and it won out in the end. This novel is a story about a young woman who is brought back into the fold of her royal family after her mother’s death and who struggles to understand her family and personal history while politicians and gods alike try and use her for their own ends.

It is a fabulous story, with some excellent writing, and I am not surprised she has been in the running for several major awards; they are all well deserved.  This story is at times poignant and sweet, and bloody and chaotic, and even a little bit (more than a little in one instance) sexy. If you like stories with strong female protagonists who take no nonsense and make their own space in their world, this is definitely a book for you. I highly recommend giving this a read.

One note on something I’ve noticed as I dive into this reading pattern: The female protagonists are all beautifully strong, but they also face cultural issues that I just don’t see protagonists of male authors facing: realistic  subjugation due to sex through micro aggression. It is shockingly realistic in the books I’ve read by female authors thus far, and I never realized it was something that was missing until I finally read it. There is something just so much more real about their struggle to me than most of the speculative fiction I have read before, and it makes the endings of the books just that much more satisfying for me when the ladies come out on top.

Beginning of a Literary Journey

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So I have decided I end up reading way too much fiction by white cis-gendered American men, so I am beginning a journey to read as much speculative fiction by authors that are NOT somehow in that category in one way or another. Preferably in multiple ways. To start off, I give you The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden.

 

This was a fun, wild, and surprising ride through a revolution of identity for bots, humans, and demigods alike. I really can’t say enough good about this book: The setting is vivid and engrossing, and as an American it is just alien enough to set loose my expectations and allow full immersion in the crazy clashing of singularity and mythology. The characters are beautifully developed, and even though we are constantly jumping perspectives from chapter to chapter, everybody is fully 3-dimensional with their own unique motivations and beliefs and I was never lost in the jumps. The story itself is amazingly wrought, with several twists and turns and the feel of  a vortex–the deeper you get the faster you move. And it all spins down to one brilliant point of intensity before flaring out into a wonderfully satisfying conclusion.

I definitely recommend you give this beauty a read. I’ve got a few more on my list of to-reads, and a few I’ve already read and am reviewing for City Book Review (The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and A Tyranny of Queens) and I will post those reviews here once they are live!

How Wonderful is Wonder Woman?

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I had the pleasure this afternoon of seeing the new Wonder Woman movie as part of the DC Extended Universe. If you don’t want to read everything I have to say, here is the TL;DR: It was excellent…for a DCEU movie. Backhanded compliment? You betcha. And if you have no idea why it’s so backhanded it could win a tennis match, then you will probably love the movie regardless of its faults.

Wonder-Woman-Poster_1200_1778_81_s

First, what I am happy about: This is a strong lead female who kicks ass and doesn’t let anyone tell her she can’t. If they try, she just does it anyway. Okay, she may be a little naive in her blundering forward, but it fits her character. Gal Gadot did an incredible job brining this suffragette inspired heroine to life, and Patty Jenkins did a right good job on the direction side of things, and fans are eating it up. The movie is breaking box office records for woman led and woman directed films, and hopefully Hollywood will take this is as a sign to create more movies with strong female leads and let women actually direct big budget movies now. Up until this movie, female directors weren’t often entrusted with blockbuster movie budgets, regardless of how well they direct. I am praying to all of high heaven that this movie breaks those glass ceilings in hollywood and we get to have more wonderful estrogen derived storytelling. We’ll see.

The male supporting actors did an amazing job, and Chris Pine was a darn sexy Steve. I wish Etta Candy had had more screen time because her comedic moments were priceless. Though Sameer’s line about being unable to find work as an actor because of his skin color and Chief’s acknowledgement that it was Steve’s people who committed genocide on his were almost too real, and beautifully placed. And the soundtrack, my gosh, that was thrilling.

But that’s where my happiness ended.

****SPOILERS AHEAD****

I feel like the writing was lackluster, and the actors did an incredible job in spite of it. Here were the main problems:

  1. The General and Doctor Poison failed to convey their motivation. Maybe it was the fact that the Doc has a ceramic faceplate that she couldn’t act past, or maybe it’s because they don’t give her any kind of motivation or explain WHY she’s got a faceplate. Major missed opportunity, especially when they use her as they did in the final battle. Needed some backstory there, and the General is nothing but a cardboard cutout of a villain. It felt like they were trying to do a Red Skull and failed. Frankly, I would have done away with the character of the General altogether and made a better individual villain out of Doctor Poison. Woman vs. Woman.
  2. You know how when you play video games or role playing games and you work hard to level up your characters? Then someone comes through with a cheat and skips past all the hard work? That’s what feels like happened with their Diana. She didn’t put the work in to earn her special abilities, she can just all of a sudden DO something cool and she’s like, well that’s cool, moving on. I’d expect a few more, “Where the hell did THAT come from?” moments before they reveal her heritage. But no, cheat code activated, let’s use that top level spell right here, right now.
  3. I felt like the movie was puttering along just fine, with a few small complaints, until we reached the point where Diana really goes after who she thinks is Ares. From there, nothing feels right. The pacing is wrong, the fighting is boring, and nothing is earned by the characters. There’s a couple of strong moments, but they’re cheated by almost amateurish special effects and fight sequences that should have been way more epic and inventive. For gods’ sake, you have two gods battling it out. Have some unique ideas about how to frame that and what they can do!
  4. Really? We’re going to end with a moralizing sermon about how love saves all? Oh F*CK you. It was here STRENGTH and PERSEVERANCE that saved mankind. Can a woman be STRONG? Or is that not allowed? Yes, Wonder Woman as she was first written was concerned with love, but she also kicked ass when kicking ass was necessary. Here, let me explain a little bit about where Wonder Woman comes from and why this makes me so mad…

****END SPOILERS****

I found a wonderful book recently called The Secret History of Wonder Woman. It goes in-depth into the life and work of the gentleman who created Diana, Princess of Themyscira: William Moulton Marston. William grew up at the turn of the century and went to school when psychology was just becoming its own discipline. In fact, he was one of the first people to use blood pressure as a way to measure lying and arousal, which led eventually to the lie detector test. He was a strong feminist and supported the suffragettes in their pursuit of the vote, marrying his childhood sweetheart (who had just as many degrees as he did and was a career woman of her own) and carrying on a polyamorous relationship with a suffragette named Huntley. Eventually, they added a fourth to their unique arrangement: none other than the niece of Margaret Sanger who introduced birth control to the US and paid for it dearly.

Cover

Marston worshipped these women and insisted mankind would be better off if it reverted to a matriarchy. His long, rambling, and mostly unsuccessful career eventually led him around to creating Wonder Woman, his paragon of the perfect woman. She was strong, and independent; she was kind and loving. Most importantly, she was more than equal to man and, in one issue, is elected to be President of the United States. Mind you, this was all happening in the early 1940’s which was a last bastion of female advances before the 50’s made the women return to their homes. Diana was a feminist and a believer in female superiority. If Marston had heard those tepid lines about love at the end of the movie, he would have laughed himself silly. Yes, love is a strong weapon in the hands of women, but the movie would have been much better served by sticking to the theme of belief that they started to run with. It was much more powerful, and more in line with the identity of Wonder Woman.

They like me!

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Reviews keep coming in for Less Than Charming and it is gaining more and more traction in all sorts of arenas, huzzah! I’m hard at work on the second one, and we may be able to do a paperback version of the book in the near future.

Most recent is a review by Book Princess Reviews, and I’m glad to say it continues the trend of loving the book. And I promise, those of you who thought the plot started a little slow in LTC will be rewarded for your patience with the plot of the second one. There was just a lot of set up that needed to happen in the first book,but since the world is solidly in place, I can just jump right in now!

Exciting News!

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Hey guys! I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been crazy busy over here. I did, however, want to share that Less Than Charming has been selected as a Finalist for the Forward Indie Book Awards for 2016!

IndieFinalist

This means out of thousands of books, mine is moving forward in the competition along with 18 other YA fiction novels, and we’ll find out in June how well I did. If you want to check out the other books that are nominated, please do. I am sure they are all excellent and I plan on tracking some of them down to read for myself. Now to wait and see how Less Than Charming is received by librarians and booksellers around the country!

Go, Go, Go! Write faster!

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So, the first few times I did NaNoWriMo, I was pretty antisocial about it. Yeah, I friended people I knew in real life so I could watch their progress, but I hadn’t gone out to any of the write-ins for my area or anything like that. It got the job done, but this year is different, and I’m loving it. Not only am I doing the NaNoWriMo class for the Bureau of Fearless Ideas (with the lessons posted here for all ya’ll), but I attended a launch party for the first time last night with some friends and it was epic.

I’ve never managed to write socially before, I can’t do coffee shops or public spaces like that, I just get too distracted people watching, but the launch party was altogether different. People started trickling into the classroom at Shoreline Community College around 10:00 for the 10:30 party, and the room slowly but surely filled, giving us somewhere between 60 and 80 Seattle area novelists in one spot. Before midnight we socialized, plotted, had a costume contest (it was Halloween after all), and symbolically jailed and/or destroyed our inner editors before the starting bell.

I won second place in the costume contest with my Mad Hatter. Mainly cause I brought the tea party with me and kept asking people if they wanted one lump or two with their tea, brandishing that lovely hammer which color coordinated with my skirt.
I won second place in the costume contest with my Mad Hatter. Mainly cause I brought the tea party with me and kept asking people if they wanted one lump or two with their tea, brandishing that lovely hammer which color coordinated with my skirt.

When the clock struck midnight, it went dead silent in the room. Lobsters and cats, witches and “The Night” were all hunched over their keyboards, furiously writing away, racing to the first daily quota of 1,666 words. The first bingo went up around 12:25. I desperately want to know how they can type that fast, because that’s incredible. It took me 40 minutes to get there and I didn’t pause except to take sips of tea. (There was tea in the duck and sugar in the tea pot, just fyi :D) Until 1 am, the room was silent except for the clicketyclack of the laptop chiclet keyboards and the occasionally, and rapidly more frequent, shouts of bingo as people met their daily quota. It was actually quite the rush and I found myself writing faster (not necessarily better) than I do normally on my own. I am now looking forward to attending various write-ins around the city and working together towards that 50,000 word goal, which seems so much easier to attain when I’m sitting in a room full of people furiously writing towards the same goal.

If you’re in the Seattle area and would like to meet up for some write-ins, I can guarantee I will be at the three public write-ins at the BFI, details below. Until next time, brave adventurers, keep writing!

Write-ins!

Nov 5 10-noon
Nov 12 10-noon
Nov 26 10-noon

Bureau of Fearless Ideas (Space Travel Supply Store) @ 8414 Greenwood Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103

NaNoWriMo Bootcamp #5 – Last Minute Tips

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NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow and I’ve got a few tips to help you make your daily word count goals just a little bit easier.

  • The backspace/delete key is OFF LIMITS. If you write it, it stays on the page. If you don’t like it, you can write a different sentence after it, but they are words you wrote, and they count, so DON’T DELETE THEM. You can highlight them to delete later, but leave them for the month.
  • Made your word count for the day, but you’re in the middle of a good scene? Good! Stop. It is scientifically easier to start writing the next day if you’re in the middle of a scene that you know where it is going than to stop when you don’t know what’s next. Stop in the middle of the chapter or scene and pick it up tomorrow and it’ll be easier to keep going afterwards.
  • Scary blank page getting you down? Start with the character’s name (or “I” if writing in first person) or, my personal favorite, start with “Chapter #).

Alright, that’s my lessons done for now! Now take a deep breath, assemble your notes, and get ready to put pen to paper tonight at midnight. I’ll keep you all posted about how me and my students are doing throughout the month. Happy writing!

NaNoWriMo Bootcamp #4 – World Building

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Okay, second to last Bootcamp post and then you guys get to go nuts on your own 50k words. Today we’re talking about World Building so…

Drop and give me 20!

Brainstorm 20 words or things that describe/apply to your favorite story’s setting. For example, if I were brainstorming about Harry Potter, I’d say magic, no science, weird people, animate food, pictures move…You have your favorite story in mind? Good! Get to it!

Alright, what have you guys got? Throw them in the comments and see if we can guess what story you are talking about!

Now that your brain is working, tell me a few things that you think you should know about your world. Go ahead, shout them out at your computer screen, I’ll wait…

Oh, that’s a good one.

And that one!

Wanna know what I’ve come up with? Here you go (and download the pdf):

worldbuildingblank-1

These are the most simple of things that you need to know about a world, things that may have a real impact on your story. They are all pretty self-explanatory, but we’ll go over them briefly.

  • Where are we? Do the characters know the name of their world/country/town? Do we as readers need to know the name? Don’t draw a map of the continent if we don’t need it, the name of the town might suffice.
  • Weather – Is it sunny and everyone wears sunglasses? Are there storms that make it harder to get things done? Are there dust storms caused by global warming?
  • Terrain – Does the story take place in a flat city? In craggy mountains? Across vast stretches of farmland? Underground? These will all dictate how easy it is to move around and how the characters get from point a to point b.
  • People – Are they all small and blue? Are they all humans of various sizes and colors? Are they all aliens? What kind of populations do you have to play with?
  • Politics – Do the elves and dwarves hate each other? Is there a world war on? Are the usual popular kids suddenly unpopular? How does this impact the main character?
  • Economy – Are people well off, or are we dealing with people living from paycheck to paycheck? Is your main character aware of the situation or are they used to and accepting of the status quo?
  • Religion – Is there one state religion and all others shunned? Are all welcome? Is there religion at all?
  • Culture – Again, are we dealing with a single culture or a melting pot like New York City? Are people equal or is there a subset of people who are subjugated?
  • Science, Magic, or a mix of the two? How does your world run? Do we have scientists and the scientific method? Or is everything magically run? Or, there’s the old adage that any science sufficiently advanced will seem like magic anyway…

Now that we’ve explored that list, let’s see what happens when we apply this to Harry Potter.

worldbuildingpotter-1

Fun, huh? Now comes the best part though…setting up your world rules. These are things about your world that are the hard and fast rules that absolutely cannot be broken.Wanna see what I’m talking about? Here’s some rules I feel apply to Harry Potter:

worldbuildingpotter-2

Are there any others you feel should apply? Fill in the rest of the commandments!

Now comes the best part: breaking your own rules. You get to set up all these rules, set up your reader’s expectations, and then pulling the rug out from under their feet. Hermione always has the answer? Well, what happens when she doesn’t?! There’s only one thing you have to make sure you do if you’re going to break your own rules–support the break. If you are going to break the rules, the why and the how must be absolutely air tight. No deus ex machina (will of god), no random serendipity. The reader has to be able to look back and go, oh man, I should have seen that coming! Breaking the world’s rules can be one of your most powerful writing tricks, but you have to be very careful to make sure you do it in such a way that you don’t break your reader’s faith as well.

That said, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to describe your world and figure out its commandments. We’re almost to November 1st, so we’re running out of time to prepare for our stories! See you in a few days for a few last minute writing tips, but until then, happy writing!

NaNoWriMo Bootcamp #3 – Character Building

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I hope you all had fun plotting your novel this past week, because now we’re moving on to building your characters!

First, to warm up your brain…

Drop and give me 20!

This time, I want you to go to this random item generator, have it generate you a few random items, and then you’re going to make a list of 20 things/words that apply to the character who would own those items. And NOT “My character owns these items.” For example, the generator gave me a pair of knitting needles, a needle, and a key, and this makes me think that:

  • My character is a man
  • spy
  • on a plane, so can’t have his normal tools
  • using knitting needles, a sewing needle, and a key to steal something
  • though he really does know how to knit
  • he also has yarn
  • really likes silk yarn
  • makes his own socks
  • very tall
  • … etc., etc., etc.

Give us your items and your 20 things in the comments below! No wrong answers here, just lots of fun!

Now, we’re going to talk a little bit about characterization and how to do it. First, I want you to take a moment and brainstorm all the things you think you should know about a character. Ready? Go!

Got some ideas? Good. I’m sure all of them are excellent choices, and they probably fall into one of the categories below…

  • Physical attributes – Pretty self explanatory, but you need to know what your character looks like. Or in the case of characters like Mystique, what she’s capable of looking like. Height, weight, eye color, hair, skin, etc., and beyond. Now, you may not mention all of these things in your story, and for the sake of all that is holy, please do NOT start your story by describing your character, having your character describe themselves, or at any point having the character frankly examining themselves in the mirror unless it’s relevant to the plot. Details like these should come out naturally and only if they are relevant.
  • Social/Economic attributes – These are things like what country is your character from? What economic class do they come from? How much money do they make a year? What ethnicity are they? This will help inform things like what politics they favor and who they will tend to side with in an altercation. Most, if not all, of this information won’t be explicitly stated in your story, but will inform your character’s choices, so it’s good to know.
  • Personality traits – What kind of person is your character? What’s their attitude like? What kind of music do they like to listen to? What are their favorite colors? What are they afraid of? Things like their attitude is going to inform their actions and dialog, but their favorite color might never come up if it has no bearing on the story. But creating backstory sure is fun!
  • Skills/Talents – Can they play an instrument? Are they insanely good at math? Can they paint/draw/sew? What sorts of things is your character good at and what do they have an innate ability with? Are they a savant at broom riding or have they struggled for years to perfect their jazz clarinet solos? Again, some of this might be relevant, some not, but it’s a lot of fun to think about.
  • Motivation – This is the most important part of building a character. There are three kinds of motivation: Public, Conscious, and Subconscious. Public is what they tell OTHER people is the reasoning behind their actions. Conscious is what they THINK is driving their actions. Subconscious is why they are REALLY doing what they are doing. Sometimes all three are the same, more often, especially in the case of main characters, they are three different things. These motivations determine why the characters do anything and everything, and as such need to be well defined in your head.

Got all that? Sweet. Now it’s time to start building some characters yourself and to help with that process I’ve created a form just for you. It has a lot of the stuff we just talked about above, some other stuff, and maybe you’ve thought of even more. Perfect, write it on! Download the pdf here, or check out the image below:

characterblank

Pretty straight forward! Don’t worry if you can’t draw, that box is just a spot to put whatever helps you visualize the character. Maybe it’s a sketch of their face, maybe it’s the symbol for their religion, maybe it’s something else entirely. And if you don’t know right now what some of the blanks should be, that’s just fine, start brainstorming what you do know. Let’s try filling this out for Harry Potter first. Ready? Go!

Excellent! Great job. Want to see what I put down for Harry? Your answers might be different from mine, these are just how I see the character:

characterpotter

See how much fun this is! I have a friend who just spends hours creating characters that he puts into a folder until they are useful. Now, I’m not saying you need to go THAT far, but I would advise printing out one of the character recipes for each character you’re going to have in your story, good, bad, and neutral. It will really help you get to know them and make it easier to decide what they would do in certain situations.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go forth and get to know your characters a little bit better, and we’ll see you back here next week for World Building! Until then, happy writing!

 

 

NaNoWriMo Bootcamp #2C – Outlining

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Alright, the last thing on plotting that I want to talk to all of you about is your outline. Yes, pantsers, I get it, you don’t outline. But again, I think this is something super useful that you can create as you write as well to help you remember what happened in your story for when you go back to finish the manuscript or edit it later. It can also help when you’re trying to figure out what is necessary or not when editing, or in trying to rearrange content. So whether you outline before, during, or after you write your novel, it’s still incredibly useful. For me, its an indispensable re-writing tool. A lot of my outlining I do in my head, but I always have at least one line of info to get me started on a chapter.

So, how does one outline? It’s a personal choice, but this is my method:

First, start with the big bullet points you know you need to hit.

  • Dude gets accepted to magic school
  • Dude finds out about a super secret thing
  • Dude saves super secret thing
  • Dude is a hero

That’s a bit over-simplistic, but you get the point. Big, broad strokes. Then you go back and start putting in a bit more detail:

  • Dude is an orphan, killed by man who wants super secret thing
  • Dude gets accepted to magic school
    • Oh hey, wouldn’t it be nifty if they rode a train?
  • Dude doesn’t like the people he meets from this one part of the school. Let’s name it after a snake, cause that sounds menacing.
  • Dude makes friends with a guy and a girl (gender balance is good)
    • Kinda like a heart, guts, and brain combo
  • Dude gets to play school sport
    • Soccer meets flight. How’s that supposed to work?
  • Dude finds out about super secret thing
  • Dude does more research, finds out others are after it
  • Dude saves super secret thing
    • challenges for all his friends
  • Dude is a hero

See how I dropped in questions as I had them? This reminds me when I go back through on my next pass that this was something I wanted to work on. So maybe I spend the entire next day figuring out the rules to this imaginary sport, or trying to name the houses. As I outline, I will find lots of these places where I should probably expand, and I will also find those pesky plot holes when I discover I have no idea how to get from one bullet point to another. Like, how does Dude get from finding out about the super secret thing to saving it? What steps do I need to have Dude take? Also, I should probably spend some time figuring out what to name all these people…just saying.

Keep expanding your outline, and add in as many subdividing layers as you need. Sometimes my outlines are all one level, sometimes I’ll have four or five indented lists under things. It all depends on the story and how much detail it is going to require. Once I feel like I have dreamed up all the stuff I’m going to need prior to getting down to the actual writing, I do one more thing. Divide by potential chapters.

Here’s where that Google drive setup comes in handy again. I’ll keep the whole outline in one file, but then I’ll copy the section I think belongs in which chapters into individual files so that it’s easier to look at just that chunk of prep work. Of course things are going to change and shift, and the end of your story may end up being drastically different from what you initially thought it would be, but this way at least helps make your writing process go a bit faster. And it also keeps you from looking at a blank page, because, man, are those scary.

Now, go get to outlining, and I’ll see you back here next week for Character Building! Until then, happy writing!