LTUE 2k18 recap

Life, The Universe, and Everything at Provo, UT is over now — yesterday was spent entirely in transit, and the jet lag has been properly dealt with. I attended for all three days, and my editor/cover designer buddy came with for days two and three. This was my first proper con, let alone writers’ con, and I think I’ve been stuffed so full of new ideas they’re coming out of my ears.

It was amazing.

As advertised, this was a con (or symposium) for the craft and business of writing, as opposed to a con designed for fandom. Indie distribution, school visits, construction of ancient languages, the tips and tricks of writing mystery … I learned something new at every single panel I attended. I have so many notes to write up.

And I have a long list of things to read, too. Research of course, and novels written by panelists and people I met at the book signing. Between new things to read and my own writing projects, I think I’ll have enough to keep me busy until Thanksgiving at least — at which point the word “audiobook” comes into the conversation. (And wouldn’t you know, there was an LTUE panel on audiobooks, too.)

Most of all, it was just awesome to be around fellow writers for three solid days. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

countdown to the end


A teaser for Cliff’s Edge, the last of the Callan books in the Iron Gentry series.

The forest rolled across this part of the country like a thick green blanket, covering the northern sprawl of mountains down through a spread of flat land, where the only things that interrupted the green were the patchwork brown of farms and the massive gray clutter of a city. In the swath of land between mountains and civilization, take a magnifying glass and look closer at the forest there. The road was relatively narrow, compared to the greater thoroughfare on the southern end, and the trees were just beginning to be tinged with the gold and scarlet of autumn.

A meandering half hour’s walk away from the city, among the gray and brown tree trunks, there was a flicker of something that could only be seen by the right eyes.

The wrong kind of eyes — or rather, a person with the wrong kind of eyes — squinted against the setting sun. The light filtered through the multicolored trees and turned the road into a dappled kaleidoscope of emerald and amber, alternately searing into his vision and leaving him in sudden darkness. The air was crisp and cool, but not unpleasantly so; what leaves that had already fallen crunched gently under his boots; it was the kind of evening that promised to get darker very quickly, but that would be no less benign when the sun had finished setting.

Therefore when the traveler heard a rustle, behind him on the right side, at first he thought it must be a squirrel or a rabbit. And when he turned, and could not find the source of the sound, he shrugged and put it down to the stillness and camouflage that prey animals often employ.

Then a shiver went down his spine, like someone had very lightly traced a finger down the middle of his back. But those shivers happened sometimes for no reason, didn’t they. “Someone walked over my grave,” he muttered to himself, and shook his head.

Close by, something laughed. Only it wasn’t what you’d call a laugh, exactly — it was closer to a snicker, the kind of sound you stifle behind your hands when you’re about to pull an awful prank on someone.

It wasn’t the kind of sound the traveler liked to hear, even on a sunset-dappled road not too far from home.

“Who’s there?”

The trees, innocent in the whole affair, remained silent and immobile.

“All right, come on out, I won’t whup you if you don’t deserve it,” the traveler said, using the same stern tone that he took with his oldest children. “You leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone. That’s the end of it.”

Something else rustled behind him, and he spun on his heel to find the source of the sound, and now it was beginning to unsettle him that he still couldn’t see it. Whatever or whoever it was, it wasn’t possible to move that quickly, was it? Unless there were more than one …

“You stop that nonsense right now,” he said sharply.

“Or what?” said a rusty voice behind him.

This time he knew that it was a finger tracing down his spine, and he couldn’t suppress the automatic shudder of revulsion.

“Or what?” the voice repeated. “Tell us.”

He whipped around again, and he still couldn’t see the owner of that voice, and his own cracked automatically. “Show yourself!”

“If it please thee,” said a second voice, slyly, and he shuddered again.

Suddenly before him there were two feathery silhouettes. One of them turned to snicker at the other, and he saw the thick, sharp shape of a crow’s beak.

“What, thou wilt not speak, now?” said the other. It drew closer, its scaled clawed hands flexing at its sides. “Seelie got thy tongue?”

The first one laughed again, nastily.

“What are you?” he croaked.

“Stop talking,” said the second. With a click of its beak and a wave of its hand, suddenly the man felt his jaw glue shut. Instinctively he yelped with surprise, but only a muffled sound came out; and when he then tried to shout, he was just as unsuccessful. This, more than anything else, made his heart beat wildly against his ribcage. He stumbled backwards; his breath came fast and hard; he felt as though he were breathing through a straw, and wanted desperately to throw up, to scream, to do anything. He wanted to run, and knew that he would only fall over if he tried, because he couldn’t breathe; and he couldn’t, he couldn’t fall down around these things. He might be frozen stiff with fright, but at least he was upright.

“This one en’t putting up no fight,” said the first creature to the second. “Recall the last one?”

“Oh aye,” said the second. It sniggered. The creatures’ clawed feet made the leaves rustle as they approached, circled around him slowly once, and came back to stand before him. “Then again, the last one had somethin’ goin’ for it. This one? Not so much.”

“Still,” said the first. It stepped close to him — uncomfortably close, and he smelled the fug of decay on its glossy black feathers and gagged — and with its neat clawed hand, it prodded sharply at his shoulder.

Its bright black eyes glittered with cruel amusement.

“There now, human man, let’s see how fast thou can run.”

He didn’t need telling twice. But it wasn’t long (in fact it wasn’t much longer than a minute’s worth of reedy panicked breaths) before he tripped, and went down, and they caught up to him with their wicked-sharp claws.

And it wasn’t until the next day, around mid-morning, that a different traveler on a wagon found a mute, terrified, mutilated man by the side of the forest road.

“You’re lucky to be alive,” said the second man to the first, but bundled him up in his spare cloak to keep off the autumn chill and helped him onto the wagon …

… And never knew, or never understood, the haunted look in the first man’s eyes that told him he knew exactly how lucky (or unlucky) he had been.

2018 reboot

Recalculating …

“New year, new me,” she proclaimed, and then proceeded to act the same as always.

2017 was the year I finally got off my butt and started writing things I wanted to publish – and publish I did. Not as many as I’d aimed for (yes, IG book 3 is still pending), but 2 books published is still yonks better than none. I’d say 2017 was a vast improvement over 2016, personally speaking. As to the rest of the world, well, let’s leave that alone, shall we.

In preparation for the new year kick-off I spent most of NYE and NYD making lists. Astoundingly exciting, yes, I know. What can I say. I enjoy making lists. It helps me calm down instead of worrying my head off. And if I have a list to stick to, a schedule to follow, then I don’t spend my time faffing around and not getting anything done.

First item on the agenda: write more.

Write more here, specifically. I’ve been pretty bad about posting here lately, and I want to fix that. So hand-in-hand with sticking to an exercise schedule of 5 days a week, I’ll also be writing here 5 days a week. Now, whether they’ll be posts about writing, or movies, or flash fiction, that all depends – and if you tell me there’s something you’d like to see, I’ll try to provide more of it. But having a more constant presence on here is the main thing.

And writing more fiction is the other big thing, of course. I want to try to hit the 10-book mark in 2018, and have them be longer books, too, not just 50k novellas. Along with that, I’d like to try my hand at short stories so I can have some free reading material for y’all to peruse. Hopefully, along with the novels, I’ll be able to put up one short story every other month, and in different genres, too.

Second item on the agenda: get out and about more.

It’s really flarking cold outside, but I found an exercise schedule that I think I can persuade my suspicious lazy lizard brain to actually agree with. This pairs nicely with the “blog more” goal; if I already have to spend 20 minutes sitting down trying to stop sweating, I might as well put that time to good use on WordPress. And this way, when the local HEMA longsword class starts up in February, I’ll be in enough of a shape (besides “round”) that whacking people with pointy bits of metal will be something that doesn’t leave me wheezing after the first ten minutes.

(Longsword class is something I wanted to do not just because it’s cool (it is very cool), but because, hey, I’m writing a series about fairies with iron swords. Maybe I should learn how to actually fight with one of those.)

And the other fun thing that’s happening in February: I’m going to LTUE! Cue the pterodactyl shrieking – Larry Correia and Sarah Hoyt will both be there (two giants in the indie writing world, and Mad Geniuses, too), along with a whole slew of amazing panels and workshops. My editor/cover artist/all around renaissance friend will be there too, and we are gonna take Provo by storm. I can hardly wait.

There are other things that I want to do in 2018 as well, but those are the main things. I’m not going to say “here’s hoping I can make them all happen”, because I know I can, and hoping never did diddly squat. As Sir Terry himself said in The Wee Free Men:

“If you trust in yourself … and believe in your dreams … and follow your star … you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”

Words to live by.

attack the (writer’s) block

The yearly review for the day job is coming up, and I’ve been doing some evaluating of my own. There are some things that I hoped to accomplish this year that I haven’t, but one pretty big thing that I have accomplished is – well, is getting published. If this time last year – or two years ago – someone had told me I’d have published two novellas and be working on the third by December 2017, I’d probably have laughed. Which is silly; it isn’t the easiest thing that I’ve ever done, but it’s not the most difficult, either. Indie publishing is the comfortable-chair epitome of DIY. It’s not making my own furniture, but it’s pretty darn satisfying.

I’ve not finished the draft of Cliff yet, but hoping to get that finished by the end of the week so I can get all the edits (& the finished product) out of the way before the holiday break. I’m slower at cranking out drafts than I had hoped, but this is still my first year at this – and if I keep practicing, I should get faster. I have to keep reminding myself that writer’s block is a state of mind rather than an actual obstacle. Especially when I’m tossing all these other words at these other projects I’m doing with my friends.

So writer’s block isn’t about “I can’t figure out what to do next.” There’s always another idea of what to do next; and when you’ve got the plot mapped out, you know exactly where to go, so the issue is just how to get there. And the issue isn’t necessarily “I can’t figure out how to get from A to B” either, though that can sometimes throw a handy wrench into the scrolling cinema behind your eyes (or my eyes at least). Because even if you don’t know how to get there, if you want to get there then you’ll find a way.

Writer’s block is about wanting to get there. It’s about wanting to tell the story, and the tangible feel of unrolling the story in realtime.

You can’t force yourself to want to do things. You can force yourself to do them, and achieve a result, but I know my editor can tell when I’ve been dragging my feet and when I’m actually enthusiastic. (The difference is whether I have to rewrite the entire chapter or not. This isn’t me complaining about my editor, you understand; this is simply awareness of the way we work through a draft.)

In the spirit of finding a way to make myself want to finish telling the story instead of slogging through an awkward ending, I’ll be conducting an experiment this evening on the commute home. Instead of listening to music, for a solid half hour I’ll be monologuing about the current draft in progress and recording it with my phone. Hopefully the act of talking about it out loud for an uninterrupted half hour will do me some good, and having a record of it will mean that any ideas I come up with will be preserved in their entirety. If it doesn’t work, that half hour wasn’t wasted because I would have been driving home anyway. If it does work, it means I’m on to something I can use with future projects.

old ideas

Since today is a kind of a braindead day – must be Tuesday – and seeing other people’s writing can sometimes lead to feelings of inadequacy (especially when Autocorrect has to come to the rescue), let’s go down memory lane and see what sort of things I was up to in middle school. That’s always good for a laugh.

In no particular order:

  • A pair of middle school kids get possessed by ghosts who live in the garnet studs on their glasses (green garnet for the boy, red garnet for the girl) and magically fall in love.
  • A blind seer accidentally kidnaps a man who wandered, injured, into her cave, and who subsequently gets captured by evil villagers and has to be rescued.
  • The Pirate Story, lovingly ripped off from Pirates of the Caribbean and a romance book I read in sixth grade, with a highly amusing misunderstanding of the way drunkenness works and a gunner named Romulus. Rampant abuse of the Stockholm Syndrome trope. Also the first story I’d ever written (and finished) that made it past fifty pages.
  • A girl magically travels through time for no apparent reason and, through her intense nerdery and love of Ancient Egypt, learns to decipher spoken Ancient Egyptian and falls in love with Thutmose III.
  • A princess in a fantastical pseudo-medieval court named Aiden disguises herself as a boy named Aidenof and … I don’t really remember, but I think there were dragons involved. I mostly just remember that her nom de guerre was created through an unfortunate accident of “add to dictionary” and I decided I liked it.
  • Two high school kids (a Jock Boy and a Nerd Girl) magically fall through, uh, a portal in the air? And enter this alternate universe, again with a fantastical pseudo-medieval theme. The boy becomes a … knight? I think? And the girl becomes a bar maid, and they live in this world for a solid five years or so before … banding together to defeat … somebody? An evil prince? Something like that. And then they fall in love, yadda yadda, they get married, and they both fall back through the portal to the same homecoming dance they had left, only a split second having passed in the real world. I remember writing extensive notes and snippets on this universe and then not writing a lick more of actual scenes.

Dang. Some of these would actually be pretty cool if I revisited them now and took the time to work out the plot holes and characterization.

Maybe I should start writing romance novels?

this is why I don’t kill my characters

Redemption arcs seem to go one of two ways: either the character dies, or the character lives. Sometimes their dying acts are the ones that redeem them – sometimes the only possible thing that can redeem them is death – sometimes they die immediately after having redeemed themselves, just when things have started looking up again. It all depends on how much you want your readers to yell at the book.

It seems to me that a dead-but-redeemed character is – well, not lazy per se. It definitely has an emotional impact on the other characters, and can throw a nice wrench into the plot. But in terms of character development, there’s not much you can do with a dead person unless you reanimate them somehow. Ghosts, zombies, someone from their past ready to rain bloody vengeance on them, a long lost child, et cetera – a little far-fetched, maybe, but you get the gist. It’s still possible to influence how a character is perceived if you have secrets ready to be revealed at a plot-convenient point. Cough, JKR, cough. But even then, what’s mostly happening is the changed perception of a character – Dumbledore can’t exactly react to having his secrets revealed. Oh no, he used to be Very Good Friends with Wizard Hitler back when they were teenagers. That’s … some loaded information right there, but the guy is dead. Harry can’t confront him about it. No one can. Unless you’re doing a prequel (where the dude is alive), it’s essentially an “oh that’s nice, but what does it have to do with the plot?”

Whereas a redeemed character that lives – now that’s where it gets nice and messy.

Because the thing about redemption is that it isn’t a one-and-done deal. You can’t take a villain, or an anti-hero who’s done some messed up things, and then wave a magic wand and say that everything is fine now because he Had a Change Of Heart. Okay, again, that’s nice, but why did he have a change of heart? How did he take that change and use it to affect the world around him? How are the other characters reacting to this change?

You can’t wring your hands and say “oh I’m terrible” and then just keep doing the destructive things you were doing before. Or, you can (and people often do), but it has to have consequences, and also it doesn’t count as redemption.

Roll your eyes all you like, but the best example I can find of a redemption arc is in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Zuko has a few false starts, and they matter to the plot and the other characters. He’s forced to confront his mistakes and how they affected the world around him. He acknowledges what made him the way he was, and he takes responsibility for his actions, and he actively works to heal the damage he’s done. He develops friendships with the people he once considered enemies. He reconciles with his uncle. He overcomes his rotten family – confronts their toxic behavior – and at the end of the series, he’s grown as a character and become an actual good guy. Yes, it’s a kids’ show that aired on Nickelodeon, but it goes over some really important themes, and it shows that goodness and kindness are things that you do, and traits that you can practice. The show never took it easy on Zuko. He wasn’t handed redemption on a silver platter. He had to work for it, and it made his characterization a hell of a lot stronger.

It’s easy to die for a cause. It’s harder to live for one.


Let’s talk about translations.

If you’ve read Cyrano de Bergerac in English, or seen the filmed version with Gerard Depardieu that has yellow English subtitles, that’s one thing. It’s a tragic story about unrequited love, and assumptions, and carefully constructed perceptions of other people, and also two guys willfully deceiving a woman for a ridiculously long period of time. Neat. I kind of want to yell at everyone in that play, but for a lot of French literature that’s par for the course.

If you’ve read Cyrano de Bergerac in French, you very quickly realize that the entire play is written in rhyming couplets.

Now – speaking as someone who’s performed a bit of Shakespeare – if you act in a show that has rhyming verse, and you recite it to emphasize that rhyming verse, pretty soon everything sounds like a nursery rhyme and you want to bash your head against a wall, and so does the audience. It’s much easier, both for the audience and the actors, to pretend that the rhymes don’t exist until you decide to emphasize them for dramatic effect. Great! Spectacular.

The fact remains that Shakespeare, one of the greatest poets in the English language, didn’t write everything in rhymes. There’s a lot of blank verse in there, with some prose tossed in for the peasant characters to remind us that they’re the salt of the earth etc. etc. Shakespeare used rhymes pretty sparingly, specifically for dramatic effect.

Edmond Rostand, who wrote Cyrano de Bergerac – that guy wrote the entire play in rhymes, line for line.

Mind you, French can be a lot easier to rhyme than English, but it’s still impressive.

But it is impossible to translate the entire play from French and still keep all of those rhymes as well as the sense. At some point, you either sacrifice the literal meaning for the aesthetic of the rhyme scheme, or you sacrifice the rhyme scheme. Maybe sometimes they can coincide, but for an entire play that’s nearly 80,000 words long? Yikes. I can respect the man as a poet, that takes some serious chops, but I don’t think even the best translators would be able to preserve 80k worth of pristine rhymes.

Which is … I don’t know if it’s sad or not. In translation theory, there’s the ethnographic which includes connotation and historical context, as well as the literal and the aesthetic. There are some linguistic things that you can only truly get the sense of, by encountering them in their native languages. There are some things that are elegant in one language but that become clunky in another. There are some things that will always be lost in translation, because it’s impossible to convey every connotation of every word without a billion footnotes. And that’s – weird, really, because there are so many works of literature that we wouldn’t have if they hadn’t been translated. How much smaller, how much poorer would our culture be without shared literature from other cultures? Can you imagine a France without the influence of the American Declaration of Independence? Can you imagine a Europe without the influence of Voltaire, or Marx, or Martin Luther? I know I can’t.

Good excuse to push for a multilingual society, I guess. English as the lingua franca is convenient for those of us who learn it from the cradle, but it engenders a complacency that to me feels stagnant, if not toxic. That stereotype about French people gossiping about American tourists is absolutely true – and, look, we get mad when other people refuse to speak English, so why wouldn’t they be mad when we don’t even try to learn French, or Spanish, or any other language? I absolutely get that it’s hard for some people the way math is hard for me – but again, it’s a skill that can be practiced rather than solely a talent to be born with. It means that no matter where we go, we can find a way to communicate with the people around us.

zoom zoom

I really like to travel. I mean, I stay at home a lot, because a) The Day Job and b) traveling means throwing money at things like transportation and a place to rest my head at night and also food. And when I was in France, I didn’t really do any day trips out to places – when I went out, I went for a week or for two weeks at a time. Unless I’m already familiar with a place, I want to spend at least two days there to explore it a bit. I’m kind of useless at navigating without constantly checking the map every three seconds, but I like to get the feel of a place. And once I’ve gone from Point A to Point B with a map, I can pretty much retrace my steps without a map without very much trouble.

Unless we’re talking the Green Belt metro. Don’t Talk To Me About the Green Belt Metro.

Thank God for GPS, that’s all I can say.

It helps to take pictures, and it helps to write it down. I can press memories into a page like a dried flower, and the words help me to remember those places almost as vividly as the first time I experienced them. I’ve been putting them into my fiction, too, along with my little black book. What’s the point of recording something if I’m not going to share it with others? (As for the little black books – maybe after I’m dead. There are some things, especially in the older ones, that are a bit too embarrassing to have other people read while I’m still alive.) I put Arras into Singing in Key, and I put Arches National Park into The Wayward Changeling, and what’s cool is having people who have also been in those places recognize them in my writing. There are some places I’ve never been that I’ve experienced through books, and I’d like to be able to do that with my own writing, too.

weekly word count / series update

38,140 words.


With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, sister home from college, and an unexpected reunion of old friends last week, the social life decided to hit me over the head with a hammer and remind me that yes, I am a human being with connections to other human beings, and cranking out 5k words every night isn’t the most realistic goal to have.

Originally I was going to aim to have the first draft done by Thanksgiving, but – again – life is short and we ought to treasure the loved ones we have. So we’re still looking at finishing the 55k first draft by the end of November. Just looking at the end of November as the solid deadline, instead of sprinting as much as possible, and then aiming for a mid-December publication date for IG3.

Aka: Countdown to the End Of The Trilogy!

After this I’ll be working on a space opera series, as well as the meat of the Iron Gentry series. The Callan books are essentially one big prequel to what’s coming up – not that I don’t love Callan and Brianna and Hazel – but these books are basically a stepping-stone to introduce the world of the Iron Gentry, Willow and Aspen and Larkspur and the rest. Eventually I’m looking at putting together an omnibus of the three Callan books, illustrated by my favorite renaissance artist/editor, possibly with bonus material that isn’t plot-essential but that’s fun to think about. As for the rest of it — how long is the main IG series going to be? Who knows? I have a lot of ideas I want to explore in the Un/Seelie courts, and I’d like to take the proper time to examine them. I’m pretty enthusiastic about the whole thing – which, duh. If I wasn’t excited about it, I shouldn’t be writing about it.

Harry Potter and the Death of the Author

I promised I’d talk about Pottermore and touch on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, so … here we go.

As someone who grew up with the Harry Potter books — in first grade one of our field trips was to see The Sorcerer’s Stone in theaters — I pretty much live and breathe this stuff. It’s not so much something that I actively seek out as something that I know like the back of my hand; it’s as familiar as a beloved stuffed animal, and the series grew along with us. You could probably call millennials the Harry Potter generation and we wouldn’t really protest that much.

Before the Pottermore site ever went live — I want to say this was around 2005 — a piece of fanfiction was written called The Shoebox Project. It centers on the Marauders, James Potter and Sirius Black and their little band, and it’s over two hundred thousand words. Now, say what you will about fanfiction, but even without having read it you’ve got to admit that 200k of anything is a great deal of time and energy to spend on something you’ll never get paid for. Having read it, I think the writing is pretty darn good, and it tells an engaging story. A pair of writers sat down and wrote this Project, and included drawings and photographs, and it was a labor of love.

The reason I was aware of the Shoebox Project — long before I ever felt the interest to read it — was because within that story, one of the plot points is that James Potter’s parents are murdered by Death Eaters.

J.K. Rowling went to the media to say that no, that was incorrect, James Potter’s parents died of old age.

… Which is … great, I guess, except that none of the actual Harry Potter books that were out at that point mentioned the fact that Harry’s grandparents died of old age.

And I remember being ten or so, watching the Today show before heading to school, hearing about JK Rowling saying, very seriously, that James Potter’s parents died of old age and it was incorrect for these fans to write a story in which they didn’t survive to old age.

Ever heard of a concept called “Death of the Author”? It means that once you’ve written something and published it, as long as people are drawing their conclusions from the text, they can draw whatever conclusions they want. You, the author, cannot force them to come to a particular conclusion, nor can you prohibit them from coming to a conclusion you do not like. What’s in the published work is all there is. If you want to write a sequel, then write a sequel; but whatever you write, once you’ve released it into the wild, you can’t control what other people think about it.

It’s the old English Major Maxim: As long as you can prove it with textual citations, you can argue for it.

So JKR, the author, had this idea about James Potter’s parents. She didn’t write it in the books. The fans aren’t mind readers. How could they know? How could she expect them to know? And how could she get mad at them for coming up with a perfectly logical idea with regards to what she had already written?

That incident in ’05 (or ’04, or ’06; I’m hazy on the dates) is JKR saying “Death of the Author doesn’t apply to me.”

Pottermore is that incident magnified, and prettified on a website.

And yeah, it’s neat to be able to Sort yourself into a Hogwarts house (Hufflepuff forever) and see what the website thinks your Patronus should be (polecat?), and it’s neat to have a message board for other fans.

But she’s continually coming out with new content about books that were published … over a decade ago. And treating it like it’s just as canon as the published books.

Sorry, lady, but at this point those are just fancy headcanons, as the fans call them. Ideas that are nice to think about, but that can’t be read as law within the fictional universe, because they only exist in your head. If you want us to think a certain thing about this character, then publish a short story or a sequel or a separate series. Don’t dump snippets on a nice website and then get your nose out of joint when people ignore it.

— which leads into the next subject, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Also known as, Harry Potter and the Flogging the Dead Horse.

Also known as, Harry Potter and the Maybe Quit While You’re Ahead.

Also known as, Harry Potter and the You Actually Wrote A Blue-Haired Daughter of Bellatrix Lestrange And Voldemort? Did You Take A Minute to Maybe Think About This First?

Sometimes — and I would count having your own theme park as one of those times — it’s okay to step back and let a series be finished.