Friday, July 17, 2015

Changing Things Up

I've decided on a bit of a change of pace. Nothing major, but something I wanted to share. Most of this motivated by what I feel is necessity, convenience, and a general desire to be more involved with the whole idea of blogging.

Now, I know, I'm not some heavily followed blogstar or anything, but there's some that come by on a regular basis, and I'm doing this change up not just for me, but for them.

Anyway, the thing is, I'm going to be using my Wordpress account for a lot of the stuff I'm going to be doing for a while. Basically, it just offers a slightly more streamlined approach, and versatility, especially considering what I want to do.

It's already up and running, though I've not done a lot yet. Only two posts really. A review and comparison of the original and the remake of Robocop, and the announcement of a Ga-Rei Zero rewatch. Future movie reviews, comparisons, and rewatch posts will be done over there, while this site will continue to just sort of house my occasional ramblings, observations, and thoughts, at least, for the time being. Should Wordpress prove itself to be the more reliable platform, I'll ed up moving there permanently.

Blogger has been a great place, and it's suited my needs well, for a long time. Change is inevitable, however, and the time has come for me to be much more active in my blogging, and so, the the time for change has arrived. Thank you to everyone who has been with me all this time. Come hang with me at my new site. It has cookie dough ice cream.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Sneaky Snake

Having once again proven I am an unreliable blogger, at best, I had an interesting experience today that felt worthy of sharing. It's nothing grand, but it got me thinking about some other things, and I figured, what the hell, let's make a blog post outta it all.

Before I start, I do want to assure you folks that I have actually been working on some stuff for this place. It's nothing flashy or fancy, just a couple of ideas I had to do something that will help me be a bit more regular in my posting. The first is a head to head comparison of an old movie and its remake. First up, the original and the new version of Robocop. I'm hoping to get that up in the next day or two.

The second thing will be a rewatch of a tv series. Nothing grand or flashy, again, but it'll be fun, I think. Mostly because, as a fan of anime, I'm always interested in other peoples favorites, lists of classics, and rewatches done by folks I respect. That said, there's a few I never see making any lists that I love, so those will be my focus, starting with a rewatch of the 13 episode Ga-Rei Zero. Planning to start that next week.

All that aside, today we had an odd encounter. After eleven years of living in the same house, for the very first time, we had a snake appear in our bathroom. No idea how it got there, or for that matter what kind it was, but there it was. It wasn't a big snake, about a foot long or so, and smaller in diameter than my pinky. What baffles me is where it came from.

Little sucker was hiding behind the toilet, and had it not been for one of my cats being overly astute, I'd have never known it was there at all. Audry usually likes to hang out in or near the bathroom, and as she is a very small cat, I got freaked out that it might be venomous and could bite her, so she got whisked away, a detail she complained about loudly, while I hunted down a Tupperware container and lid to round the critter up with.

Now, I've got no problem with snakes. They don't bug me, but Storm is terrified of them, much as I am spiders. So, as I'm looking for something to catch it in, she's handing me the biggest knife in the kitchen, just in case. It wasn't needed, as it turned out, as the snake was easy to corral and dump back outside.

Surprisingly, perhaps, despite living in Oklahoma, I haven't had a lot of run ins with snakes. Only two, really, besides today's, but it got me remembering both of them, and kind of laughing about them, as they without a doubt, kind of odd.

The first was about 13 or 14 years ago, when Storm and I lived way out in the sticks. I was working for a boat dock construction business at the time, and during one of our down periods, when we had no orders to build, my boss kept me employed by having me clean up the assorted junk that had collected behind the shop. He warned me of snakes likely lurking about, and I proceeded with caution, knowing well rattlesnakes were common in the area.

I saw a couple of snakes, too, but they seemed more interested in avoiding me, so I gave them a wide berth and let them leave. However, at one point, as I was working, gathering stuff and piling it into a trailer, I got this weird feeling that I was being watched. Glancing behind me, I saw a snake about twenty feet away.

Now, I'm not sure what sort of snake this was. It was pretty good sized, about four to five feet in length, bright yellow with black patterning. It did not have a viper like head, though, so I immediately could tell it wasn't venomous. That's not the weird part. The weird part was as I looked back over my shoulder, the snake looked away. Not just away, but up at the sky. It was super nonchalant about it, too.

I shrugged it off and went back to work. After a couple minutes, I looked back, and it was still there, about five feet closer. Again, it glanced away, as if it wasn't interested in me at all. This went on for a bit, too. I'd look back, it'd be closer, and acting like it was interested in something else. It was weird as hell.

Finally, I turned around, and found it right behind me. Like, a foot away, at most. It looked around for a minute, then stared up at me. Not sure what to do, I bobbed it lightly on the head with a piece of plastic piping I was holding. The snake kinda jerked back, looked at me for a minute, then slithered away. I swear, it was condescending as shit about it, too. Like, well fuck you too buddy!

I told my boss about it, and he shrugged, admitting he wasn't sure what kind of snake it was either, which was odd, as he was a real outdoorsy type. I've seen pictures of racers and other non-venomous snakes that looked similar, but not exactly like that one. To this day, I'd swear it was trying to sneak up on me. Why, I'll never know.

My second memorable encounter with a snake happened a few years ago, after we moved into our current house.  We'd been here for several years, and as I came home from work, I spotted a big ass snake laying out one of the large rocks that lines the edge of our front yard. I didn't want to startle it, so I stayed kind of far back, but it was really big, easily six feet or more, and black as pitch.

I didn't think much of it after that, figuring it was minding its own business, so I'd mind mine. I saw it from time to time, hanging out around the house, and we kind of gave each other a wide berth. One time, it scared the crap out of a friend of mine as we were walking through the back yard and stumbled on it coiled up in some old tree branches I hadn't cleared out yet.

Again, this sucker was big. As thick as my arm, and a solid six or more feet. Fast, too. It hauled away into the woods behind the house like a bolt of lightning. My buddy nearly shit himself before telling me it was a black racer. He was sure of it, and knew snakes better than me, so I accepted his assessment, even though I'd never heard of one getting that big.

My buddy told me, still a little shaken, he hadn't either. My neighbor saw it once as well, trying to get in her house to escape a heavy rainfall. Freaked her out, too.

All of this leads up to the most bizarre experience I've ever had with a snake. Namely, the day I went outside to check the mail, and found this big ass bastard hanging out on my porch when I came back. Had me standing there, just staring at him, for a good while. I knew he wasn't dangerous, but damn, he was enormous, and that's kinda intimidating.

Reminding myself there was no reason to be afraid, I tried to ease around him to go inside. He watched me, just chillin out, and for some reason I'll never grasp, tried to follow me into the house.

Now, I've had stray cats and dogs follow me in the house before. Usually, they end up pets. There was no way in hell Storm was gonna allow this massive ass snake, though, not to mention, I had no place to keep him, much less a reliable method of feeding him.

So, there I stand, half in the house, this giant black racer calmly trying to come in behind me. Perhaps one of the only times I have refused an animal entry to my home, I ended up having to reach down and pick him up, turn him around, and shoo him. He took it well, and I still see him from time to time, but talk about weird. He was heavy as shit, too. Storm saw him through the window once, and named him Herman. No idea why.

The only thing that tops it is the time I watched Storm play shepherd to a herd of about twenty wild rabbits, while they all seemed more interested in hanging out with her.

Today's been an odd one, folks.  A random visit from the wildlife, reminding me of times I'm glad I haven't forgotten.

Monday, April 6, 2015

As Time Goes By

Here we are now, going on two months since I had my novel, War Witch: Rise, accepted by Booktrope Publishing, and there are some things I've been thinking on since the day I got that email. Not just about the actual acceptance, but about the manuscript itself, and the story it conveys.

First off, I'm going to admit that the editing process remains one of the hardest parts of publishing. There is, and always will be, a difficulty involved in knowing that someone is going over your story with a fine tooth comb, preparing themselves to point out all the flaws, weak points, and stupid parts. I imagine it carries a certain sense of dread for them as well. It can't be fun to look forward to contending with that fragile ego all us writers tend to possess.

We do, too. Don't lie, fellow writers. None of us like hearing it. We all tend to think our work is better than it actually is. I am no different, and I know when that first round of edits hits here soon, there is going to be a lot of internal flinching and the urge to whine at my editor. Like every writer, I am too close to my work and I think the story is almost perfect the way it was accepted.

It takes a good deal of mentally slapping myself to keep in mind that my editor is my new best friend, here to help me, and everything she is going to tell me is meant to help make a good story great. It doesn't make it easier to look forward to, and I admit to being very nervous, but the realist in me knows I'm not as awesome and profound as I like to think I am.

I've got a rather antagonistic relationship with myself. Devout realist who spends most of his time in fantasy worlds of his own imagining. Even I'm aware of how contradictory I am.

That aside, the editing process is the next big step in things, and while I wait for the first round to be ready for me to digest and accept as improvements, I sit here worrying. Did I do this right? Did I convey that properly? Was I as consistent as I hoped? Does the plot make sense? All the questions that go rolling about in your head at this point in the process.

There are a few things about War Witch that make this worse than usual, too. During my time self publishing, my good friend Beth served as my proofreader and sounding board, going over my manuscripts and giving me her two cents. We've got a great relationship, and I trust her to never steer me wrong. She helped make Bunny a better character, and a better read.

War Witch is not Bunnypocalypse, though. It's a completely different beast. While I wait for my new editor, Wendy, to helpfully hand me my heart on a plate, I wanted to touch on some of what makes this novel different than anything I've ever done before, as well as reminding anyone who keeps up with this blog that, yes, it is still coming out.

I'm kidding, by the way, Wendy. I know you aren't actually going to cut my heart out, and look forward to everything you have to say. Especially when it hurts. That's what I need to hear the most.

She's a rock star for taking this project on, folks.

The first reason why has to do with the long and rather winding road this novel has taken to get to this point. The first concepts and drafts of this manuscript were written close to twenty years ago, and it has gone through several revisions just to get to where it is now.

Originally, I had planned it as a series of short stories connected by an overarching plot and continuity, which served to flesh out a world I had only just begun to detail. I have a deep seated love of the old radio and cinema serials, a type of storytelling we don't see much of anymore, and it's something I've always wanted to work with. To that end, each installment of the story was as short as possible, with a clear resolution of the immediate problem at the end.

I'd written about six of these when I realized that it wasn't going to work as I had planned, for several reasons. Each installment was getting too long as the problems faced by the characters grew more complex. The overarching plot began to take center stage, with each antagonist they faced being tied to it in some way. Most of all, the characters were getting short changed, as I had little time to focus on their development.

I backed up and took another run at it, this time with the idea of each installment being a part of a greater whole. I saw it as a trilogy, each book made of six parts. I had the first two basically done when I noticed that I was still not letting the characters develop, and the central plot was still overshadowing everything.

The problem with that is that the characters had begun doing what the plot needed of them, without regard to whether or not it was a thing the characters would do if left on their own. I have always preferred character driven stories, but here I was, not doing the very thing I wanted to do most.

That fact set me back a lot. I stepped away from the manuscript for some time to really think about it, play with the world setting, and work with some other ideas I had in order to become a better writer, the kind this story deserved. During that time, Bunny Beckman wandered into my head, and a lot of things changed about how I wrote.

Bunny is where I always mark the point I became a decent writer.

So, I turned back to War Witch and took a look at the first book again in July of 2014. I saw all the potential, that it wasn't just a bad idea I desperately wanted to be good, and decided to take another run at it. To see if I could do right by both the characters and the plot this time. I'd learned a lot since my last go around with the story, after all, and figured I could make it better.

A month later, I had a new problem. The story was better, and of that, there was no doubt. The problem was that my vision of it as a trilogy no longer worked. The first three parts of the first book stood at over 200,000 words and 800 pages on Times New Roman with a font size of 12. There was no possible way to include the other half of the first book without it being the size of an encyclopedia.

I hadn't just reworked the book, I'd rewritten the entire thing, on a much larger scale. Don't even ask what else I did that month, because it seems the answer is nothing. The word count still staggers me. I didn't know I could do that.

I stepped back and gave what I'd written a second look after about a month, and it was far better than the versions that had come before it. The characters were center stage and drove the plot, the way I'd wanted. The size, though, that was something I wasn't sure what to do about. I cut everything I thought I could, that wouldn't compromise the story, but that ended up being negligible, and I was still looking at a rather massive book.

So, the best thing, I figured, was to step away for a bit and come back later. With Bunny, I had always managed to keep the story right in the frame I wanted, so maybe what I needed was some distance. This particular story had always been a bit of a problem for me, so it seemed sensible to give it room again and come at it fresh after some time had passed. Maybe the things I thought couldn't be removed could be, once I had some perspective.

That is not what ended up happening. Instead, Booktrope opened up for submissions. My good friend and fellow author, Mike Munz, had been encouraging me to take a stab at getting published by them for a while, and it was something I really wanted to do. I just didn't have anything to send. Bunny was already out there, but more than that, I wanted to send them something that hadn't already been seen. On a snap decision, I sent War Witch.

We all know how that worked out.

This brings me to Worry the First. A 200K word novel is like trying to take Cerebus for walksies in the dog park. Something is going to go wrong. What, I don't know, but I am waiting for it. It's bound to come. It's also the first reason Wendy is an amazing human being. She knew, going in, just how big this project was, and did it anyway. That takes a certain amount of guts, to dedicate yourself to editing something that outlandish.

There is always the possibility that she's as crazy as I am. Time will tell on that front, I'm sure.

Despite the number of revisions this story has already undergone, and the massive size of the end result, it has been accepted for publication, so somewhere in there, I must have done something right. While it is all a worry to me, it's not the biggest. There is another issue that causes me a great deal more anxiety.

Namely, the cast is predominately made up of women.

Before we get to far into why this makes me nervous, let me say something about the fantasy genre and women. It's not a good field for them. Even the best fantasy of the modern era often does wrong by women. Most of what is out there tends to cast them as the damsel to be rescued, or in support roles. There is not a lot of fiction in this genre that casts women as the heroes, the main characters. This is dumb, because there's no reason why they can't be. There is no indisputable law of fantasy that says only men can be the heroes.

When I first started working on War Witch, I wanted to have women be the central characters, in large part because my girlfriend, Storm, had always been hesitant to dive into playing Dungeons & Dragons with a group, solely because she wasn't sure she'd be welcome, for the single reason that she was a woman. As much as I was already aware that fantasy and gaming was not a women friendly field, this still irritated me.

Storm and I had played some on our own, and I really wanted her to get to experience how much fun it was with a group. She was hesitant, and as much as I thought she would be welcome, I admit, I was worried, too. We both ended up having nothing to worry over, as she was warmly welcomed by the group I played with, but it was that there was a worry about in the first place that bothered me. I think I wanted to believe things had improved more than they had, and while our group was fine with it, others still wouldn't have been.

This idea had sat in the back of my head for a while, since high school, and I decide to write an epic fantasy with women in the leading roles. Because I could, and there was no reason in the world not to. Regardless, my first drafts didn't live up to what I wanted. The most recent drafts, I like to believe, have done a much better job of it. There will be those who disagree, but if I've learned one thing in life, it's that you can't make everyone happy, but you can sure as hell piss everyone off without breaking a sweat.

To that end, let me tell you a little something about the women in my life. Storm thinks a good chick flick is Iron Man. The more violence, blood, gore, and explosions there are, the happier she is with whatever it is. She doesn't enjoy what is typically thought of as women's fiction. Too much sighing and damseling for her taste. As far as she is concerned, the heroine of any story could solve whatever problem she had by kicking it in the face while riding past on a motorcycle and downing a beer.

Then there's my sister, Amber. Who I've never beaten in a single wrestling match. Because she bites the fuck out of me when she's losing. Like, leaves teeth marks bites the fuck out of me. Like Storm, she doesn't have time for all this waiting around shit. Her approach to solving problems is to drive over it in a muscle car without dropping her whiskey while cussing it out.

Amber's wife, Jesse, can catch a squirrel with her bear hands, skin it, and cook it, all without batting an eye. She's also smarter than most anyone I know when it comes to tech. She might not be the kick door in and kill 'em all type, but make no mistake, she could, and if she couldn't outsmart the problem, she'd do just that.

My point is, I have a certain view of women. One that states, in no uncertain terms, that they are every bit as capable, skilled, and ballsy as any man I've ever known. I'm surrounded by strong, smart, tough women on all sides, so when I sit down to write a fantasy novel with women as the leads, these are the people I draw on to inform my characters.

I said not to long ago, that the key to writing women is to write characters, not a gender. It isn't hard. I do remain aware, however, that my particular view of women is influenced heavily by the women in my life. Which is how I end up with these characters.

There's Ramora, the War Witch of the title herself, a cleric of a war God, capable of hurling spells with as much ease as she swings her greatsword. She's known massive tragedy in her life, and is scarred mentally, emotionally, and physically by it. Despite that, she's a good natured character, funny and warm, generous and kind, with a keen tactical mind. She's not a brooding hero, there's not a lot of grit in her character, and she doesn't spend long hours sitting in the dark, contemplating vengeance. Instead, she focuses on bringing light, happiness, and safety for others into the world. Her battle against the forces of evil is one she chose, and will carry out, for the good of others. Because it's the right thing to do.

Chara serves as her counterpoint for much of the story. Where Ramora is pretty upbeat and happy, possessed of little ego, Chara is pretty much the opposite. Her sense of humor doesn't lean towards sarcasm, it wallows in it. Most of her story arc is focused around her own internal struggle, between who she wants to be, and who she feels she is obligated to be. She's torn, angry, bitter, and arrogant. She rejects what she is told is her place in the world, preferring to seek out her own, even though she has no idea what she even really wants. She's smarter than she knows, but again, has no idea how to even really use that, causing her more frustration and anger. In the end, the only thing she is sure of, is Ramora, and her quest, but constantly questions her role in even that.

While they are the two main characters, there are secondary characters of significance as well. Such as Izra, the Elven martial artist. More than anyone, she is the stereotypical girly girl on the surface, in love with shopping, fashion, and looking pretty. Bubbly, outgoing, personable, and flirty, when it's time to fight, she's a fearsome warrior, trained since childhood in a martial style that gives her a heavy advantage against spellcasters. Unarmed, she is deadly, and knows it. Beyond that, though, she's a warm, comforting presence to others. The ease with which she befriends people, her accepting nature, and charm makes her a wonderful character to write.

Then, there is Rayne. I'm not even sure where to start explaining her. Mad, wild, unpredictable, volatile, charming, brilliant, and egotistical all suit her. She's a whirlwind of action and words. A powerful mage and a genius engineer, she makes everyone around her dizzy with her seemingly crazed antics. Behind it all, though, is someone who is genuinely frightened of people, of being judged by them, and hides her true self from the world under a mask, keeping everyone at arms length, so no one can hurt her. Rayne is sad, and feels small, so acts larger than life, in the slim hope that someday, someone will push past the many walls she has built, and just be her friend.

There are others, too many to really list, from Chara's mother, to the kindly innkeeper who cares for our heroes for much of the story, to the mysterious personal aide to a king. There are likely more women in this story than there are men, and each is a person, with their own hopes, dreams, fears, skills and talents.

This is Worry the Second. As I said, it's hard to make people happy, but pissing them off is simple. While I will always be happy to say I am a feminist, I remain aware that what I write will not always make everyone happy. I won't always be able to present things in a way that makes everyone satisfied. There will always be those who find fault, and criticize. Which is a good thing, really. We can only grow when it is pointed out where we have failed, and I am sure, I have, and will. When those criticisms come, I want to hear them, so I can keep growing, and becoming a better person, and a better writer. The worry I have is the story itself being overlooked, or ignored, by fans of the fantasy genre for having women in the leads. I worry about insulting people, by not doing it exactly right.

It's really easy, after all, to piss off everyone, and I find myself in a great position to do just that.

Moving on, though, there's a smaller topic I want to touch on. Namely, the character of Ramora. You see, she's mute. There's no physical reason why, as her disability is psychological in nature. However, it remains that the title character has not a single word of dialogue in the entire book. You cannot even begin to guess how hard it is to write a fantasy story with a character who can't utter a single sound.

Bear in mind, there is no set sign language in the world where they live. No hard and fast one that anyone can learn. Much of Ramora's difficulties over the course of the story come from her inability to communicate. There are a number of scenes where she tries to mime what she wants to convey, and only a couple are done in a humorous way. She and Chara develop a sign language they teach others as the story progresses, but communication is always an obstacle for Ramora, and the only times her disability is ever played for laughs is with her friends, in much the same manner Toph of Avatar: The Last Airbender joked about her own blindness.

Disability is not a laughing matter. With Ramora, it's a source of constant frustration and difficulty. She resents her inability to talk, to laugh, and often feels left out of casual conversation. It's all in how she deals with it, though. She is the sort of person who faces obstacles head on, and this is no different. She finds ways around it, learns to live with it, and in some ways, even uses it to her advantage. It's part of who she is, and she doesn't mope around over it, instead focusing on how to cope and overcome.

Nor is she the only one in this story who has a disability. Tana, a major secondary character, was born blind. Though she has developed an ability to see auras, she cannot interact with the world the way others do. This doesn't stop her from being a capable fighter when the need arises, and she is every bit a hero, same as Ramora.

Still, this is Worry the Third. I didn't set out to create a disabled hero in Ramora, and due to the psychological nature of her inability to speak, personally hesitate to really call her such. Her muteness is something she can overcome and regain her voice, after all. This goes back, all the same, to that annoying reality about how easy it is to piss off everyone. It isn't something I want to do, but can't appear to avoid, as Ramora being a mute is a part of her character, and a facet of who she is.

We'll see how well that plays out, I'm sure.

Now we come to the final thing I wanted to talk about. I saved this one for last, for while it is not my greatest concern, it is something I am nervous about. To be blunt, it's my nature, as a writer, to tackle heavy subject matter. Fiction is a great way of talking about things that aren't always easy to discuss, after all, and the fantasy genre is one of the best platforms in the world from which to tackle any number of social issues.

To be clear, I do not hold myself to a be a great writer. I'm good, decent even, but I'm the last person who will ever use the term great when talking about my work. The realist side of me keeps me from having much of an ego, you see. It reminds me often that I am as capable of having a wet fart in the middle of the grocery store as anyone else. It pretty much kills any notion of greatness to have that thought in your mind while standing on the coffee aisle.

That doesn't mean I'm not willing to take on any and all issues that I feel need to be addressed. As a writer, I do that through fiction. So you know, when it comes to this part of what I do, I make no apologies. I will never be sorry, to anyone, for doing this, because it is the best use of fiction. Even when I do it clumsily, or don't manage to nail it perfectly, I am at least willing to try. I am invested in using my talent to do something about the wrongs I see in the world.

I expect and even anticipate criticism for it. I will always listen to it, too, because again, that is how you learn, and grow. I won't apologize for it, however, as that implies being sorry I made the effort. That is something I'm not ever going to be.

In the course of War Witch, both Rise, and the books that will hopefully follow, I will address topics that I feel strongly about. Some of them will be issues women face, due in no small part to the large female cast I have. Issues such as sexual assault. I won't shy away from talking about the horrors of it, how it affects them, or the long road they face afterward as they try to heal the wounds left by it. There will never be any easy fix, a simple solution, or a quick way out of dealing with the ramifications and scars left by this. Offering anything less, what I call the Very Special Episode solution, undermines the reality of this issue.

In the same vein, there is sometimes going to be discrimination against women featured. It is rare, due to the nature of the world the story is set in, but it does exist, and it is ugly. Also rare in this world is discrimination against people of color, but it does happen, and I have a number of characters who are people of color, most notably, Izra and Rayne. There are also Orcs and Ogres, Trolls and Goblins, so discrimination works a little different in this world than it does in ours.

There are transgendered people in the world of War Witch as well, and to be blunt, pretty much everyone you meet there is bi-sexual. The Gods of that world teach different things than the religions of ours do, and among those things that they teach there is that love knows the spirit of a person, which has no gender. Because of this, people rarely bat an eye at same sex couples, or transgendered folks. Honestly, it's a world where sexual preference and identity is something nobody really thinks about much, because it just isn't that big a deal to them.

Love is found in the spirit of a person, and the spirit knows no gender. It's a major tenant of their belief system, so there isn't a lot of judgment over it all. You'll see more eyebrows raised over an Elf dating an Ogre than you will over a man who identifies as a woman, and that's just because it's rare to see Ogres dating outside their own kind. Something about the other races being too fragile to handle the sex.

Which brings me to the topic of sex. One of the big plot elements of War Witch is the existence of mortals granted divine power by the Gods. The Blessed, as they are called, are warriors against the Demon Gods, and face more horrors in their often short lives than most people ever dream of. Because they fight a war they can't win, and know their lives are typically short, they tend to be an earthy bunch. They live hard, so they can die well. Often, this means they fuck like bunnies in heat.

There are no apologies made for it, either. Izra is more than just flirtatious. She likes getting laid, and has sex whenever the chance happens to come by. Ramora is certainly not one to hesitate, but as the God she serves, the God of War, is also the Father of Honor, she tends to reel herself in, worrying over hurting someones feelings. If it's clear that it's just going to be a good roll in the hay, she's all over it, and carries on with her life afterward.

There is no stigma in this. One of the things Storm and I talked about over the years I've developed the world setting and this story in particular, is that women like sex, too. Many cultures in our world all but criminalize female sexuality, calling women who behave the exact same as a man whores, or worse. This is so far beyond idiotic in my mind, I've no words to describe how massively stupid it is.

There is no stigma on female sexuality in the world of War Witch. Or rather, it is exceedingly rare. Chara comes from a very small village in a very small, traditionally minded nation, and much of her character arc focuses on her coming to terms with her own control over her sexuality. Outside of where she was born, no one ever judges her, or condemns her, over anything she does with her own body. The struggle is internal, between the way she was raised, the way she sees herself, the world she lives in, and the things she wants for herself.

Elsewhere, Izra is having fun with whoever she pleases, and is very happy. Generally speaking, her attitude is taken as the norm, and everyone just carries on with their life. Because that is normal in their world.

Granted, I am aware this is one of those things that is going to get me looked at funny. The world War Witch takes place in would be considered very progressive by our standards, with some even calling it a liberal utopia or some other dumb ass thing. Just because it doesn't have the same social issues we do, doesn't mean it has no issues. The Demon Gods are trying to take over all of Creation. That's kind of a bigger priority than who is sleeping with whom. You'll have to pardon the people who live there for recognizing that, but when you have Hydras roaming the streets, eating people, you tend to not spend a lot of time worrying how those people sexually identify.

Funny how that happens.

Regardless, this brings me to Worry the Fourth. The outcry that I am not writing true fantasy fiction. To which I say, Well, Duh! There are magic powered blaster pistols. I think I've broken the stereotypical fantasy mold here. Which is fine with me. I never liked stereotypes anyway. So, yes, when the characters are having a conversation in a modernistic, magic powered kitchen, or taking a shower without the use of pipes, or any other element of this world that gets nitpicked for not being realistic fantasy, I am going to reply with one simple answer.

It's fucking fantasy!

I mean, c'mon! Fantasy use to be about trying to tame that flying horse, wizards having awesome spell duels, and heroes who battle against terrible odds. When did realism become the watchword of fantasy? Nothing against realistic fantasy, mind you. It's just as legit and enjoyable. It isn't the only serious form of the genre, though. Let's not act as if it is.

If you can't have fun and do crazy things under the umbrella of fantasy, then we have a severe shortage of imagination going on.

Still, I worry about it. That it'll get called too fantastical. For fantasy. I struggle to wrap my head around that, but I know it's likely to happen, and it's something I am concerned about.

Ultimately, though, I know one thing that eases all of these worries. It doesn't dismiss them, but it does make it a lot easier to live with. One thing that helps me not gnaw my fingers off with dread as my first publication with major backing draws ever closer to to being ready for release. The thing that has become my mantra of late.

It was good enough to get accepted.

It's funny how much that can change your perspective on everything.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Genre Schmenre

Earlier today, awesome person, fellow author, and good friend, Sheri Williams took a turn hosting the 10 Minute Novelists One Year Anniversary celebration. Being the excellent human being she is, she invited me to participate in the festivities, and share in the fun.

I won a coffee mug while invoking Korra. There is a certain level of appropriateness in this.

While Sheri was hosting the celebration, she asked a question that is still wiggling around in my head. Not that there aren't a lot of things wiggling around in my head, but this is a question I often find myself struggling with, and Sheri brought it to the forefront once again. The questions was this:

It's worth noting that Sheri is a multi-published author, while I'm still working on getting my first major backing novel out. There is a significant reason for this, and it goes to the heart of the question she is putting forward. It comes down to genre.

I have a weird relationship with genre. To be blunt about it, genre and I do not get along well.

I've never been good with genre fiction. For some reason, it's something I've never been able to master. I can't just write anything that fits into specific genres. It may be something I'll never be able to do, which is fine with me, but it's hell when you are trying to build a reputation as a writer.

For writers, genre is an important thing. It's the who of what we write. There's a reason most well known authors are well known, after all, and it's largely because they are masters of their genre. Stephen King, R.A. Salvatore, John Grisham and so on know their area of expertise, and how to work within in it. Even when they breach the walls of genre, they do so by knowing just how far to push past that barrier.

Me, on the other hand, well, I've never been able to figure out where those walls are. Everything I have ever written has wandered around the hall, sticking its head into several rooms, trying to figure out what class it's suppose to be in. My fiction is the new kid at school, basically.

Sheri Williams writes romance/erotica novels, and she's damn good at it. I write things that struggle to be explained. This is what separates successful authors from people like me. They know what they are doing. I'm making shit up as I go.

Granted, Booktrope has decided to take a chance on me and publish one of my novels. I feel for my project manager, as she will be the one helping me figure out how to define this book to the Twitter generation. We're in for a rockity ride on that front, I expect.

Allison, you really are a superhero.

See, the novel Booktrope is helping me publish, War Witch: Rise, is on the surface, very much a fantasy novel. It's set in a world of magic and Gods and so on, with Elves, Dwarves and the rest of the usual trappings. It's when you scratch that surface a hair, that you start seeing it doesn't fit all that neatly into the genre.

There are proven alternate realities, and one of the main characters, Esteban, is from one of those worlds. There are magic blaster pistols, modern kitchens powered by mystic energies, and an understanding of physics that goes way beyond anything any respectable fantasy setting should have. There is a major secondary character who is a martial artist, in a world where everyone is using swords.

Beneath the trappings of fantasy, there is science fiction lurking. Even weirder is that it all makes sense within the context of the story, even the part when magic is based in almost completely realistic science. I say almost completely, because I'm not a scientist, but what I know of physics was used to construct the system of magic, and how it is used to provide any number of somewhat modern applications. There's also a dash of anime thrown in, for no obvious reason.

I can't just write a genre to save my life.

The Bunnypocalypse series does the same thing. While it is zombie survival horror on the surface, it's got science fiction underpinnings, and also fits into LGBTQ fiction, which I keep getting told is a separate genre, though I have no idea why. Maybe that's the root of the problem. I don't understand why genre works the way it does.

I can't even write a western without fantasy or supernatural trappings. From the Elven gunslinger of The Maiden to the zombie apocalypse of Dead West, I bring other elements into my fiction. The Adventures of Bill & Kris is fantasy with heaping doses of comedy and mystery. Dean Rannick is supernatural noir, for starters. Dean is weird on a number of levels.

I've written a lot of things over the years, and I've submitted a good portion of it. I've pretty much come to expect the rejections I receive, with the almost ever present message of, "We don't know how to market this." tacked on. I've had enough conversations with editors to learn that I really need to learn how to do genre better, yet it always manages to slip away from me.

The last post I made here was about those very problems I have with genre, and sticking to it. This almost compulsive need I feel to work in other elements that shouldn't belong. Like an untitled fantasy novel I have that is set in a science fiction world. No, really. It's all medieval, with knights and kings and so on, but with interstellar ships. It can't just be one thing or the other.

Honestly, I have no idea why I do this. I know it hurts my chances of getting published, much less taken seriously. I know that it's hard to generate interest in a book that is difficult to describe or explain, but I still do it. Which leaves me with the uncomfortable realization that I just can't write to a genre to save my life.

What gives me hope, however, is seeing authors succeeding at doing this. I mentioned that Sheri Williams was a romance novelist, but anyone who clicked the link will see, she steps outside the usual conventions of romance. She's become fairly successful, and is gaining a good deal of attention for this. She deserves every bit of that, too.

Which leaves me wondering if the era of genre dominance is fading. If these sorts of mixed bags of genre are gaining ground simply because they are doing something new and different. If that is the case, then it's possible I was never so much an odd writer as I was simply out of step. I find that to be generally true on most things, so it wouldn't come as much of a shock.

There will always be a place for genre fiction. There will always be those who love it, and that's how it should be. However, these days, there seems to be more willingness to take a chance on things that don't have a neat genre box to check. Things that wander around the hall, looking into several rooms. Things that are odd, and don't quite fit in.

That's a good thing, really. We're all odd in our own way, and as the world changes around us, growing more open and accepting of those that are different, fiction should reflect that in its own unique way. It should become a little harder to quantify and explain. It should take some chances and roam around. Those who write outside the strict walls of genre should be taken seriously for their skill, rather than their ability to stick to the rules.

Even people like me, who doesn't really get how genre works in the first place.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Brain Farts

On my desktop, I have two folders for writing. The first is the stuff I'm actively working on at the moment, while the second is for ideas I've had, but don't have time to get to. One of these has more in it than the other, and if you guessed the second was the one overflowing, then congratulations, you've been paying attention.

In the first folder is everything related to War Witch and Bunnypocalypse. While War Witch: Rise isn't out yet, I have rough drafts of everything through the fourth book, and notes on the fifth. The thing with this story is that it started out small, and kept growing. It isn't so much a series as it is one long, continuous story. During my initial draft for it, I ended up breaking it into two books, then three, and with the most recent draft, it's to at least five. Mostly because I keep seeing ways to improve it while expanding the world setting.

Bunnypocalypse, on the other hand, has stayed right on course. Bunny is pretty direct, so I'm on track to the ten book series I always envisioned it being, with a few side projects thrown in for fun, like Book of the Hungry Dead, and another stand alone novel about Marco after the events of Dead To Rights. So, actually twelve, but who said I could do math?

So, in addition to War Witch: Rise and its follow up, Blight, I'm working on Dead In The Water for Bunny, and another project I am determined will be a stand alone novel titled Violet's War. It's a weird story I can't explain fully yet, but it revolves around a single mother, Violet, and her teenage daughter, set in a kind of alternate history quasi Victorian world with a tiny dash of almost steampunk and qualifies as a fantasy/horror story. I will say I love the story, the characters, and where its going so far. By which I mean, straight into that stand alone category I valiantly try to and routinely miss hitting.

Those are the three things I am most heavily focused on at the moment, and the main reason I keep forgetting to update my blog regularly. When I wander off into my own worlds, I sometimes don't remember to come back until Storm forces food in front of me. Even then, it's kind of a struggle.

The thing is, though, that my imagination is not something I've ever learned how to focus. It's more like a little fey sprite, doing its own thing, and I end up just sitting and watching it flit about, forgetting I'm suppose to be harnessing the power it wields. Which is how I end up with hundreds of folders holding just ideas I've had. Most of them don't even have titles, which is not a very efficient system. Lots and lots of folders just marked Folder, with a single .rtf document inside, sometimes holding just two or three sentences.

Welcome to my filing system. It's a bit more like my brain took a giant shit in its pants than anything.

Now, from time to time, I'll find I can't seem to get anywhere with what I'm working on at the moment. Not so much writers block as just constipation of the brain. I know what is going to happen, how it happens, all of that, I just can't get it to come out. This usually lasts a day or two, but from time to time, a week or more. Somewhere in there, I always end up going and digging around in my Ideas folder looking for something to kick start my imagination so we can get back to work on the important stuff.

The basic idea here is that if I get my wheels spinning in the right direction, I'll be able to jump back on the bicycle and take off working on the things I want to be doing. Most of the time, it works, too. Sometimes, I even find something else I really want to write on and pull it up into the current projects folder just to keep it fresh and with me. This, by the way, is how I occasionally end up writing on half a dozen or more things at the same time.

Because I can't leave a good idea alone. Except I have more than I know what to do with. Too many to really focus on at once. I admit, sometimes I just want to go play Knights of the Old Republic, too, but mostly, I just don't have time for all the things I'd like to develop beyond the idea stage. There's a lot of them, and even if I was still young and fit, I'd never get to all of them.

Sometimes, though, I find one that's just too good to leave alone. Something with so much potential, I've just got to try and find some way to make the time for it. A real gem, you might say.

So, the other day, I'm digging around in the old ideas folder, and I come across this untitled project that I ended up moving to the current projects folder, just because I can't not. I don't recall when I had the idea, but the creation info on the document is from 2009. Until I read over it, though, I'd totally forgotten about it. Which I'm a little ashamed of, because this is a really nifty idea.

Okay, so first off, it's set on a world where magic is real, and there are several intelligent races. Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, Orcs, Trolls and Goblins. This is actually important to the story. Each of these races is equally developed in terms of civilization, technological development, military might, and magical power. They are also completely distrustful of one another, putting them into a Cold War type situation. Nobody wants to make the first move, but everybody thinks the others are ready to.

More than that, within each society is numerous factions that don't get along, either. There are multiple nations of each race, all with varying degrees of power and influence. Inside even these, there are further divisions, different political views and so on. The whole world is basically a giant powder keg waiting for a spark to set it all off into civil wars and multinational conflicts, all of which, everyone knows, will lead to global war.

The thing with this situation is that nobody actually wants that. They are all aware of just how devastating that would be. Everybody knows that there would be no real winner, so they are constantly making and breaking alliances, forming pacts they promptly ignore when something better comes along, and doing everything they can to avoid the fate they all fear, but can't put aside their differences and old hatreds long enough to actually avoid.

Which is when the aliens invade the planet.

Yup. You read that right. Alien invasion. Told you it was a neat idea.

Okay, so aliens invade and take over the world. The whole battle lasts like a month. Magic is great and all, but the aliens have spaceships, energy weapons, and exosuit armor. Pretty much a sure thing they are going to win.

Now, during the first stages of the invasion, some nations figure out they are going to lose, so they surrendered right away and negotiated a good position for themselves, ensuring that their old rivals in the other nations get the shit end of the stick. Everyone gets enslaved, but the ones who bent their knee the fastest get positions as servants, while everyone else either gets wiped out, or put to work in the mines the aliens are quick to build.

Twenty years pass. The aliens are basically strip mining the planet for crystal the native people find useless. Those who turned quick are given good jobs overseeing the mines and tending to the aliens needs, while everyone else just suffers. There is a resistance group, but those old prejudices still linger, making them largely ineffective, since they can't trust each other enough, even now, to work together.

Into one of these cells wanders a battle scared Elven swordswoman, dragging a young Elven man behind her. The resistance members she meets soon learn he is the last heir to the largest and most powerful Elven nation, and she is his bodyguard, charged by his father with keeping him safe until they can return to their homeland, reach a mcguffin, and according to the kids dad, banish the invaders in a single instant.

Naturally, they like this idea, at least, at first. Then they start wondering if this whatever is some kind of weapon of mass destruction, and if so, what's to stop the kid from turning it on them after he gets rid of the invaders. Those old feuds pop back up, and the bodyguard has to find some way to navigate these folks at least long enough to fulfill her mission, and save their world.

So, despite the aliens, this is still a fairly straight forward fantasy adventure. World needs saving, there's a hero who can do it, a quest, and all that jazz. Which is when we flip perspectives and bring in the alien point of view.

Again, told ya this was a nifty idea.

So, with the aliens, as it turns out, things aren't as straight forward as they seem. About ten years before they invaded this world, they had finally signed a cease fire with an enemy of their own, another alien race they had been at war with off and on for generations. This time around, things got really nasty, with billions losing their lives and whole planets getting rendered uninhabitable. Both sides were, at least on the surface, happy to end the war, and a new Grand Chancellor was elected from the anti war party, with the general populace believing that this time, they could go about their lives for a while without worry or fear.

Except, the basis of their technology is in those crystals they are mining. Their power reactors use them, then transmit the energy wirelessly to whole planets. Their ships run off them, as does everything. Without those crystals, the aliens go back to the stone age overnight. Yes, you guessed right, they are running out. Mines on every world have begun to show less and less for the effort, and what they do get is not pure enough or big enough. Within fifty years, it is predicted, they will lose everything.

Their old enemies, the other aliens, use a totally different kind of power generation, one that will keep them going for a long time. So, right after the new Grand Chancellor gets elected, he learns of this. Being anti war is great and all, but suddenly he realizes that in fifty years time, their old enemies are going to fly in and take over without any kind of a fight at all. If they are lucky, all they will get is enslaved. Worst case scenario, they are wiped out completely. All that they are, their entire history, their culture, their achievements, everything, will be gone.

There's a chance they can find a new way to create energy to power everything, but it's going to take time, which they don't have. However, a scout ship recently detected massive deposits of the crystal on a previously unknown world, one that is seriously undeveloped technologically. The fantasy type world we started with.

After a brief exploration of the planet, they find the whole ready to explode political situation and realize they will never get mining rights from enough nations to make a difference. So, the Grand Chancellor and the heads of the military make a decision without the knowledge of the rest of the government, or the general populace. They decide to simply go in and take what they need.

Here's the thing about this idea I love so much. The aliens aren't evil. If the general public knew what was happening, they would be outraged, even knowing the stakes. These are civilized people. They would not condone the invasion, conquest, or enslavement of another world, even to save their own civilization, because any civilization that would do that doesn't deserve to survive, in their mind. All of this is kept hidden from the public, because even the handful of people who agreed to it know it's wrong. They are allowing their fear to drive them, not just of the worst case scenario, but of the public outrage they know they would face.

The Grand Chancellor was elected on his anti war platform, but he controls a minority in the parliament. There are several political parties, and of them all, he knows he can get the support of maybe one, so long as he doesn't do anything too radical, like invading a planet without provocation. Never mind that he sees no other option to save his own people, it's political suicide, and he's already wildly unpopular with the other parties, even while being wildly popular with the public.

So, the invasion is kept secret. They spin it as a sort of good will mission. You can't hide large scale military operations, after all, so they just tell everyone that the world they have invaded was war torn, and on the brink of annihilation. As far as anyone knows, they are heroes, coming in and saving this backwards world and its people from destroying themselves. Patriotism rises, everyone feels good about themselves, charities to help those poor pathetic people are held, you all know how this goes. We've seen it enough times to know just how this kind of thing works.

The General who oversees all operations on the fantasy planet has been keeping up a steady supply of crystals for the last twenty years, and according to estimates, if they mine the world dry, they won't have to worry about power generation for several hundred years, which gives them more than enough time to figure out something else. The resistance has managed to get their heads out of their asses long enough to actually take out one of his subordinates, so the General has to bring in a new guy to oversee mining operations and what not on half a hemisphere.

The officer he brings in served under him in the war, they are old friends, and the General has to explain whats really going on. The officer is, naturally, horrified, disgusted, and refuses to have anything to do with it, until he is told the whys of it all. Faced with looking the other way or letting his people die, he looks the other way. Dude's got a wife and three kids, which the General uses to convince him.

In my notes, it's plain that the General is disgusted by his own behavior. He hates himself for co-opting a good mans principles the way he did, and the whole operation on the planet appalls him. While there was a time he was a war hero, he's now a drunk and so overwhelmed by his own self loathing, he is constantly asking to be transferred away from the planet so he can retire and drink himself to death somewhere obscure.

Meanwhile, the officer he brings in finds it harder and harder to look the other way. Everything he fought for in that war, this goes against. His morals, his principles, his belief in his government and the uniform he wears, all of it, everything about him, rejects what he sees happening. For his family, though, for the future of his children, he tries to bear it.

This is where we bring in the closest thing this story has to an antagonist. When they invaded, the aliens did notice that the native people were able to throw fireballs and lightning and the like. They noticed that magic is real on this world, but they can't figure out how it works. In the aftermath of the invasion, they tried their best to round up and do away with the magic users, but a lot of them are still out there, hiding their abilities. All the libraries were looted, as the aliens tried to understand this magic.

Our antagonist, such as he is, is a military scientist charged with understanding magic. He's read all the books, he's learned the forms and the words from prisoners, but he still doesn't get it. None of the aliens are able to use magic, even though they know it's real, and have learned all the native people know about it. Something is still missing, and this scientist has grown obsessed with learning what it is, and for good reason.

Those crystals that all of this is about? Yeah, they only last so long before shattering into dust. When that happens, the aliens put new crystals in, since all their attempts to create artificial ones have failed. The native peoples magic, however, can turn a shattered crystal back into a whole one. They can recharge them when they are weak, and even create them as the need arises. There's a reason the native people found them useless. This scientist has wandered into the greatest discovery possible, the means to have unlimited energy, forever.

He just can't figure out how it works. Which has driven him to do some pretty unethical things, like experimenting on the native people, in ways that are gruesome. Yet, despite the fact he does this, he reassures himself, and anyone who questions him, that his reasons are for the greater good. If he can unlock the secrets, his people will never find themselves in a situation where they have to do something so horrible as invade another world. They won't have to enslave people. They won't have to do any of the terrible things they have done, ever again. He even believes, or rather, has convinced himself, that the lives he is taking are in the best interest of the planet itself, for if he can discover how this works, the aliens can leave, giving the native people back their world.

This is something he clings to, out of desperation, to justify his actions. The same as everyone else involved in this. Each of them, in their own way, has found the means to justify doing things they know are wrong. Things that destroy them. Things they can't forgive themselves for. Yet, they do them, because they feel they have no other choice.

It's for the greater good. We'll make it right later.

So, all the pieces are in place. The hero on her quest. The young man who can save them all. The resistance that could, possibly, build a better world. The officer who cannot avert his eyes forever. The scientist driven by need. I can see how all of their stories intersect, the emotion of the story each of them has to tell, as all of them choose between their morality, and their need. I can see how the choices they make affect the others, and how the whole thing brings them all together into a clash that will determine the fate of many worlds, from the actions of a few people.

Like I keep saying, it's a nifty idea. I'm a little embarrassed I forgot I had it. Hopefully, I'll find time to develop it out, make it the story it deserves to be, and do it justice in my telling it.

Now, I'm sure any number of people reading this see the many, many, so very many parallels in this story to things that have and are happening in own world. Those may even be intentional. However, I don't want anyone thinking I'm some great author who weaves these kinds of stories on a regular basis. I only do that when I get lucky. The rest of the time, it's just weirdness.

Like this other project I came across in my ideas folder, titled only Them. In it, a mob hitwoman, a real estate tycoon, a middle aged waitress, a PTSD suffering former soldier, a homeless street musician, and a hippy wiccan martial artist team up to fight invisible vampire zombies because a voice in the florescent lights told them to.

That, right there, is what I usually do. I'll let you be the judge on which is the better story idea, more worth my time to write. I moved both of them to the current folder, though.

I'm like that.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Writing Women, Or As I Call Them, People

As usual, I am terribly unreliable about frequent updates here.

The thing with that goes to my tendency to not just yammer about whatever comes to mind, with no real purpose behind it. Well, okay, I do that, but I keep it to Twitter and The Mary Sue comments. Here, I try to have a reason for making posts beyond just making a post. I find it's a good rule of thumb that keeps me from sticking my foot in my mouth.

I should probably find a book to read and give my opinion on, chapter by chapter, or a tv series to watch and comment on, but I'm a little lazy, and that smacks of commitment. I mean, come on, my girlfriend and I have been dating for twenty years. Take from that what you will.

Today, though, I saw something, and it sparked my need to talk here. Specifically, I read an article over at titled “Oh No, She Didn't: The Strong Female Character,Deconstructed” by Ilana C. Myer. In the article, which I've linked so you can read it for yourself, Ms. Myer talks about how frequently male writers manage to get female characters wrong, and why.

The big point, obviously, is the failure to just write them as people, rather than 'female characters', as if they are somehow different than male characters. More or less human, or some impossible to understand creature from the misty times of myth and legend. You know what I mean. Something other than just people.

This is a thing to me, due in no small part to War Witch being published in the ever dawning near future. A fantasy novel that revolves around two women as they head out on a quest, with a solitary guy in tow. A story where these two women are the heroes, the leading force, and well, the word revolves pretty much covered it, I think. It's their story.

Before I saw Ms. Myer's article, I read another criticizing the manner in which certain superhero shows completely fail to make the 'girlfriend character' anything but an annoyance. Gotham, Flash, and Arrow were rightly called on their complete mishandling of these characters that should be treated a great deal better.

It all got to me thinking about what I'd done in not just War Witch, but other things I've written. Especially my ongoing series, Bunnypocalypse, and the main character of Bunny Beckman. It made me want to step back and reexamine them, to see if I'd fallen into the same trap of failing to write the women of these stories as people first and foremost.

It's important to me, that I not make this mistake. I know that I will never make everyone happy with what I write, or how I write it. That isn't my goal. My only goal is to tell a good story, and maybe tackle some difficult subject matter in a way that is not condescending, or have a male authority figure make it all better with a speech.

Oh, come on, we've all seen that enough to know that's a thing. Something happens to a woman in fiction, and a dude fixes it all by saying something. Boom, she's magically cured of all her womanly woes because her man told her to be. That shit annoys me. That's condescending, because it reduces anything and everything a woman faces in life to something a man can fix with ease by telling her, in essence, to buck up.

Guys. For real right now. That's bullshit.

So, what am I trying to accomplish, then, you may ask? I am a puppet of the matriarchy? Am I espousing feminist propaganda? Have I been neutered by the left wing into thinking men are less worthy of attention than women?

No, and if you did actually ask those things, what the hell is wrong with you?

There are things I think we should be talking about, and not ignoring. Racism, for one. Sexism for another. As a writer, I tackle these issues via fiction. It's what I do. There is an abundance of white dude hero manpain stories out there. Too many. So many that it literally chokes the market. There's no room left for more, yet we keep getting more. All of them screaming at us, while saying nothing.

Pardon my ass for doing something different.

As I said a moment ago, I know I'm not going to appeal to everyone. Odds are, there will be many staunch feminists who will see plenty I did wrong. I'll be happy to listen to their criticism, too, and apply it to doing better in the future, rather than getting defensive, like some people do. Because I want to do better. I always want to do better. Writing is the art of growing. It's placing yourself inside the heads of lots of people, and seeing the world through their eyes. It's about broadening your personal horizons.

So, all of that said, how do I feel I did with presenting the women of War Witch? Overall, not too bad. They are people first, not their gender. I write them as people, complete with flaws that I already know, will get me side eyed by people on both sides of the feminist debate. That's fine, too. Nobody can make everybody happy. Only a fool tries.

Allow me to take a moment here to talk about some of these women I've written about.

From War Witch, the first one I want to tackle is Ramora, the book's primary protagonist. A mute warrior priestess, and a Blessed of the God of War, Ramora is a natural leader. In a combat situations, she takes charge without a thought, and people follow her, because again, she serves the God of War. Tactical capability is second nature to her. When it comes to other things, however, like being around people in a social setting, she gets more hesitant.

Having lost her family horribly, Ramora was raised by the God of War and lived ten years among he and his demigod assistants, the Ascended. She doesn't know how mortals act anymore, or even how to relate to them properly. Add to that her inability to talk, and she suffers from a mild form of social anxiety.

In battle, she's confident and certain, but outside of it, she second guesses herself constantly. She's always uncertain if she's doing this or that the right or wrong way. She has a naturally outgoing personality, but that awkwardness often holds her back until she is comfortable with people. In her more unguarded moments, she's got a wonderful sense of humor, and gets to be one of the funnier characters in the book.

Now Chara, the other primary protagonist, is almost too self confident in social situations. She likes to talk, and loves being the center of attention. Where Ramora is often timid or shy, Chara is overwhelmingly sure of herself. She has no problem at all with meeting new people, and is kind of like a bulldozer in her ability to be tactful.

Clever, resourceful, and brave, Chara hides her insecurities deep. She is plagued with doubt about who she is, where she belongs, and what she should do with her life. The daughter of innkeepers from a remote village in a tiny nation where women are told their place by tradition, she has rejected all of that to travel with Ramora and see the world. Despite her refusal to adhere to the ways of her homeland, though, she struggles to find who she is without the only things she's ever known.

Both of them are very much out of their element. Ramora, use to demigods, tries to understand mortals, while Chara, raised by strict tradition, tries to understand who she wants to be without it. Both of them make mistakes, have regrets, and try harder after their failures. They aren't perfect heroes, or perfect people.

They are, however, people.

Through the book, as Ramora struggles with how to connect with others and Chara tries to define herself , I got to spend a lot of time in both their heads. I got to really sort through their thought processes, views, opinions, and I know them. I know what they are proud of, what they are ashamed of, what makes them happy, and what makes them cry. I know where they are strong, and where they are weak, even when they don't.

So, yeah, I think I managed to write them as people first. I'm pretty happy about that.

Now, when we get to Bunny Beckman, things get different.

Bunny is brutal. I can think of no other way to say it. She was hard before the world was over run by zombies, and in the aftermath, has become harder. She's almost a force of nature, defining herself as she goes, yet always struggling to learn who she is. Savage and tragic all at the same time, she refuses to bend to anything or anyone with an iron will. A whirlwind of destruction and sorrow, Bunny is most certainly a character that is not ever defined by being a woman, or a lesbian.

Everything in the Bunnypocalypse books is told with her as the focal point. I call it over the shoulder narration. Not first person, but the view never leaves her. Her thoughts and emotions are always at center stage. What Bunny knows is what the reader knows, and it is through her that the world is shown, no one else.

As the story progresses from one book to the next, Bunny grows darker, her personality and views shaded by the things she's had to do to survive, and the things she's seen. She deals with her anger, her isolation, her loss, and dives deep into depression and suicidal tendencies. She is, as I said, a brutal figure, and not one I will ever apologize for failing to write as more feminine, because she's Bunny.

She's a person. She's not a gender, or a stereotype. She isn't interested in what others want her to be, either within the world she inhabits, or outside of it, with readers. She's herself, first and foremost, for better or worse, with all the good and bad. Her beauty is incomplete without her scars. Her cunning is nothing without her failings. Her courage is meaningless without her tears.

Yeah. I love her. I have since the moment she came busting into my imagination, barking orders and telling me how this fucking story was going to get told. I love her even when she takes over my narrative. I love her when she falls down, and I love her when she gets back up, more broken and savage, more wounded and tragic, more wonderful and strong.

So, yes, I do write people who happen to be women. I do write characters rather than genders. They won't be for everyone. They won't fit everyone's description of what I should be doing. They will be, however, always and forever, true to themselves.

I'm okay with that. I hope you all will be, too.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Livin The Dream

So, here's a little story that you might enjoy.

In January, I decided to take the advice of friend and fellow writer Mike Munz and submit a manuscript to Booktrope, a Seattle based publishing company. He'd worked with them before, and last year had his novel Zeus Is Dead published by them. If you haven’t read it, you really should. It's amazing. I even linked it, so no excuses.

Anyway, I fumbled around for a bit, trying to decide what to send them. I've got so many half finished projects it's absurd, and all my completed manuscripts had already seen the light of day through the Createspace self publishing platform. Which left me with one finished manuscript I'd not yet put out.

The thing is, it's kind of a daunting book. It's intended to be the first of a series, and by itself it managed to rack up just over 218,000 words in length. So, I didn't really expect much. I figured, if nothing else, I'd have at least accomplished putting my name and writing style within their sight, giving me time to finish something they'd find more acceptable for when they were open to submissions next time around.

I'm a realist at heart, with the soul of a pessimist. I never expect anything but rejection and dismissal. It's just who I am. If you never set your expectations too high, you can never be too disappointed. That isn't to say you can't aim for the stars. You can. You just have to know they may forever be out of reach. You have to temper your goals with expectations that are not sky high.

Well, you don't. I do. That's just me. If you want to imagine yourself walking on Jupiter, go for it. I'll have the spatula ready to scoop you up from orbit.

Honestly, the last thing I expected was for the book I sent to get accepted. Yet, that's what happened. It was accepted. I had a novel accepted by a publishing company.

The world continues to be strange and unpredictable.

Basically, this was me.

I want to talk a little about the process after the acceptance letter, but first, other stuff that is relevant.

I started taking writing seriously when I was 16. I'm now 42, and have just gotten my first novel publication. I cannot even begin to express how I feel about this. More than overjoyed. I'm beside myself at finally getting a break. Finally getting a chance. It's not an opportunity I intend to let slip by me. This is everything I've worked for, since I first decided to take the idea of being a writer seriously.

This is everything to me.

Now, Booktrope isn't like one of the big publishing houses. They do things a little differently. I'm not really sure how to explain it all, but as a publisher, they take full advantage of the internet, and create an online workspace where the author, editor, cover designer and project manager can work together in real time. It's fascinating, and though I've only just gotten started, I'm really excited to be getting to be a part of this.

The internet changes things far more than I think people realize sometimes. The instant connectivity it brings allows for new ways to approach things, and seeing a company in the publishing game taking advantage of that really thrills me. These guys know where things are going, and are ahead of the game. It's exciting to be a part of that.

I got the acceptance email in the morning, right after I'd gotten up. I was still waiting on the coffee to be ready so I could have my first cup when I looked at my email and saw where it said Accepted. I think I stared at it for a good five minutes trying to figure out how that word could be connected to anything I'd written and sent to a publisher.

I finally sorted it through my brain, told Storm, and we slowly began to accept the reality of it. I had several cups of coffee and spent some more time really accepting it. I went to work, spent more time letting it get into my brain, and came home, ready to do whatever I had to do to make sure this opportunity did not get by me.

There were online forms to sign, agreements to agree to, and websites to get invited to join. There was all this stuff happening and I felt like I was just plugging through it, still waiting to wake up and find it wasn't real.

When I signed into the Booktrope website for the first time, and saw my book listed as a pending project, that is when it hit me. That's when it became real, and man, out of nowhere, I was focused. I was ready. I wanted to get to work that very instant.

Turns out there was a lot of material to read first. How the company worked, how I assemble a team to work with, what all we each need to do, so on and so on. I'd be lying if I said I completely understood everything that I read.

What I did get is the thing about Booktrope that is genuinely unique. They don't assign you an editor, manager, cover designer or proofreader. You go and start putting together your own team. There are hundreds of people working in the Booktrope family, and you need to sit down, sort through, find people you are compatible with, and get on the same page with them about the manuscript.

So, I'm not really a pushy person. I don't like just messaging complete strangers and going, hey I wrote this book, let's rock it out together. It feels rude and presumptuous to me. At the same time, I really want to do this. Like, really really really want to do this. Which means pushing that side of me down and doing it.

Then waiting for responses. Waiting, and waiting. Because, as you can imagine, the editors and so forth that work with Booktrope are getting a LOT of requests. They have to sort through them, look at the manuscripts, decide what they want to work on, how many projects they want to be involved in, and if they like the attitude of the person who wrote the book.

This really is a team effort. Everyone has to want to be involved, and want to be part of this. Every team member has to be invested, and for me, the writer, that investment is easy. I wrote the book, so obviously, I'm there. The hard part is if I've written something they want to be involved with.

So, I finally start getting responses, and they are so positive. None of them are acceptances, but they are positive. I see my work being called lyrical, beautiful, compelling, and get the name Kelly Sue DeConnick tossed my way as some one I invoke.

Not gonna lie. I can take that kind of rejection with a big ass smile.

It doesn't get me any closer to getting a team together, though, so I turn to Mike Munz for advice. So you all know, Mike is a fantastic human being. One of the truly great and generous souls on this sad planet of ours, and I will never, even as a writer, be able to find the words to convey how much I value his friendship and advice. Thank you, for everything, Mike. You are a splendid human being.

His advice was, simply, to get to the Booktrope Facebook page, where everyone hangs out, and ask for some folks to jump on board and do this thing with me.

In other words, public speaking. Or at least, that's how brain interprets it.

Now, if it's acting, I'm aces. I can speak in front of an auditorium, when I'm someone besides me. When I'm me, it gets really hard. I don't find myself to be a very interesting person. The stuff I write, that's what deserves the attention. Me, I'm just a dude with a weird obsession for Dungeons & Dragons and a kick ass anime collection. Not much of interest there.

Again, I suck it up and put myself out there, complete with a synopsis of the book. Two hours later, I've got an editor and a book manager. Because Mike Munz knows his shit.

My book manager, Allison Winfield, is a truly brave human being for taking this on. As I said, the manuscript is huge by normal standards, and as she told me, she doesn't have a lot of experience with the genre of fantasy, which this book is. On the other hand, in our conversation about the book, I see her mind already at work on how to promote it, the things she invokes, the views she has of pop culture and what's big right now. I have nothing but confidence in Allison. She's a rock star.

I owe some special thanks to my new friend, Sheri Williams, for introducing us, too. Never gonna be able to thank you enough, Sheri. You're a hero.

My new editor, Wendy Garfinkle, is a straight up superhero, though. She already had a full plate of books she was working on when she straight volunteered to be my editor, because she really loved the synopsis I put forward. That she would do this, when already covered up with work, I can't even tell you how much I admire her. She's Wonder Woman with a red pen to me.

Here's the part that I am most pleased about. I've got two women working on this project with me. It is my dream come true. Why, you ask? Well, let me answer that by telling you about the novel Booktrope accepted, by sharing the synopsis that landed me these two heroic women.

Seriously, they are either superheroes or lunatics for working with me on this, but I prefer superheroes, since I'm already a lunatic.

War Witch: Rise

In the beginning, when the One World was new, the Gods were betrayed by one of their own. Ker Zet, the Black Tigeress, committed a deed so foul, her sister Isel, the White Tigeress and Empress of Heaven, cursed her and drove her from from their midst. Ker Zet's betrayal deepened when she brought forth her vile brood, the Demon Gods, and laid siege to creation.

Grannax, the Divine Tiger and Emperor of Heaven, was forced to divide the One World into three, locking Ker Zet and her children away in the Low World for eternity. Ultimately this failed, and the Demon Gods brought forth creations of their own, the Demon Seed, vile monsters bent on destroying the Middle World, and the Six Races birthed by the High Gods.

After many wars, the Demon Gods were poised for victory when the High Gods employed a new weapon, the Blessed. Mortals granted Divine Power, these noble warriors, flawed and frail though they were, were charged with holding back the tide of darkness, and saving all of creation.

Ten years ago, the Demon Seed, lead by a Dark Blessed of the Lords of Hell, destroyed a village, leaving a twelve year old girl as the sole survivor. Taken to live in Heaven by the God of War, the Father of Honor, the Lord of Family, the Divine Wolf himself, Ramor, she grew to be a skilled warrior, and Priestess to her new father. Though he desired to raise her to join the ranks of his demigod assistants, the Ascended, she felt the slaughter of her family and home must be addressed, and justice brought to the man responsible. Marked as one of Ramor's Blessed, she returns to the Middle World to hunt the Dark Blessed who took everything from her.

Nameless and mute, she is joined by Chara, a young woman from a remote village who wants to see the world, and acts as the warrior priestess's voice, naming her Ramora in honor of the God she serves. Chara is not without her own secrets and sorrows, but is blinded by her naive beliefs and illusions about the nature of the world she lives in. Nor does she suspect the role a rogue agent of Heaven has in store for her, an Ascended so pained by the loss of the Blessed he served, he will risk Chara's soul for a single chance to end the war.

The two women are soon joined by a scholarly werejaguar, the adopted son of an aging sorcerer. Timid and shy, having lived his entire life in a remote keep, Esteban seeks only to find peace in a world torn by war. His fate becomes intertwined with Chara and Ramora's, leading him down a dark path he quickly fears there will be no escape from.

As the few leads they have on the Dark Blessed take them to the city of Lansing, the crown jewel of the north east, the three would be heroes find themselves on a collision course with the very man they seek. Dangerous beyond their wildest imaginings, he plays a game for the fate of creation, and may well be impossible to defeat.

Now, there are two extra things I want to share about this novel, and the world in which it is set. The first being a bit of how magic works. Only people who have an Awakened Avatar may work magic, as it provides them with a conduit to the mystic energy of the universe. Ramora's is a rabbit spirit that is a character in it's own right, as well as being some what immature and a bit shameless.

The second thing is three words. Magic blaster pistols. I got 'em.

If that doesn't make ya happy, you got issues.

Now, here's why I was so thrilled to not only get this novel, especially, accepted, but why putting together a team dominated by women mattered so much. Simply put, it's because this novel is built on the idea of women kicking ass in a fantasy setting.

Most fantasy, while a genre I adore, is built on men being the heroes. Women exist most of the time as the love interest, the damsel, or serve as something to be obtained. The genre is not always very welcoming to women, which is not something I've ever been terribly comfortable with.

I've played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons with female characters, and across the table from women. They have every bit as much love for the genre as guys do, but have been traditionally ignored. Getting the chance to do something about that, to write a fantasy novel, and get it published, about capable, intelligent, complex women being the heroic figures in a fantasy world is a dream come true for me.

War Witch has not one, but two women in the leading roles. That's not even touching on the number of other women that appear as supporting characters, and occupy major secondary roles. This book really is about women being the driving force of the story.

I didn't stop there, though. No, there are other things I've come to see need to be brought in and made a normal thing in fantasy. I've seen the genre beginning to really move in this direction, and I'm so glad for that, and it makes me feel blessed to be a part of it happening now.

You see, in the world of War Witch, bisexual is considered the default, normal sexuality. Sure, there's people that lean one way or the other, but in general, everyone is bi, including my two leading women. No one in the Middle World considers it odd or weird, for in that world, the world of my imagination, the Gods teach that love is love, and the spirit within knows no gender.

I also get to explore the idea of a world where people of color are not seen as people of color. What bias does exist is directed more at Half Elves, for they are half breeds, but even then, no one is really so much racist as uncertain of how to deal with them. The subtext there is small, but it was a big thing for me to bring to life a world where the kind of racism we deal with every day simply doesn't exist.

Get to I have, as well, with several characters of color. I don't get to paint them in our worlds terms, but they are of color, and they belong, for that is their world, too. It's something I'm happy about, because fantasy as a genre has too long been the domain of straight white men.

In my life, I can't say that straight white men have mostly been the ones who were there for me. I may be one myself, but they weren't the ones who supported me, encouraged me, believed in me, advised me, and stood up for me as much as it was literally every other group of people out there. This is why I I see people, not demographics. If we want to really put things into that demographic game, straight white men don't even tick in the top percentage anyway.

If you are asking me, if for no other reason, like compassion, humanity, understanding, empathy, and decency, then the fact that the long presumed dominant demographic actually, factually, being nowhere near the top is enough cause to start changing how we look at our fiction, and expanding its boundaries to include everyone.

Humanity means all of us, not the vocal minority, which I hate to tell the straight white guys, but that's us.

As an extra, bonus feature, just for me, the two main characters are inspired in many ways by the two most important women in my life. My girlfriend of 20 years, Storm DeVille, very much served as my inspiration for Ramora, not just in her looks, but in her attitude. Meanwhile, Chara carries so many elements of my little sister, Amber, that I do not think, for even a second, that the character would be who and what she is without her.

I am so excited to be bringing this world, the world of The Mythic Age, the Middle World, to our world, and to all of you. I'm honored to be small part of helping to change the landscape of fantasy fiction. Mostly, though, I am thankful to the folks at Booktrope who have chosen to believe in not just me, but the world of War Witch.

There's a lot of work to do yet, but I'm ready. Tomorrow is gonna be a brighter day than today. It's time for it. We, the human race, are ready for it.

Here we go.