Noble women

On Tumblr, Kate Elliot shared a group of movie posters that I just loved. I wanted to repost one of the pictures here, because whenever I thought of the Sygnosian queens in Cygnet Moon, this was exactly the kind of woman I envisioned:

Cheng Pei-pei as She SaihuaThis is Cheng Pei-pei dressed for her role as She Saihua in the 2011 movie Legendary Amazons. She wears her age like a badge of honor, and she is far more interesting and beautiful than the younger women in the cast.

on endings and being strong ... (#SFWApro)

I've finished Makar's story, tentatively entitled Cygnet Moon, and I've shipped it off to my beta readers. While I'm waiting for them to get back to me, I worked on the blurb and the submission package. This is the part where I evaluate the characters and the major plot lines.

As I worked, it occurred to me that I've finished a book with a protagonist who is not homicidal in any way. He doesn't use violence as the means to get his way. He is intelligent but inexperienced, and in some ways these traits might make him seem weak. Yet he's not. His strength is his ability to be flexible and not become overwhelmed by his circumstances. He is willing to learn, and that willingness to learn and listen to others becomes his greatest strength.

Killing is a last resort to him.

As I'm thinking about the blurb and synopsis, I'm wondering how we define "strong" in genre literature now. Is a willingness to kill the criteria for what makes a character strong?

Part of this musing arises from a review that Justin Landon wrote about The Hunger Games:

In other words, I find Katniss to be an incredibly unappealing character who’s saved by being able (if tentatively unwilling) to kill her peers ... And yet, Kantiss is touted as a heroic character. She is something of a icon of the “strong female character”. I think shoehorning her into that role does her, and Suzanne Collins, a grave disservice. She is, actually, a much more layered character than that.

Without digressing, I think Justin is right, but part of his rationale stuck with me for a different reason. Why do we tend, at least in genre fiction, to equate killing with strength? The proverbial "strong female character" is one who "kicks ass." She kills without blinking and fights with the same savagery as a man. We expect the same out of our male characters: he must be willing to fight and sacrifice all. Yet we seem to be putting our emphasis on the ability to kill, not the ability to reason.

In spite of their willingness to kill, the Katnisses and Jorgs of the world don't possess strong character. Justin gives an excellent overview of Katniss. Mark Lawrence's Jorg is also weak in many ways. He is a child seeking his father's approval, and he will go to any length to acquire that approval. He is clever, but he is not emotionally strong. The one thing I like about Abercrombie's work is that he doesn't claim his characters are heroes, except in the most tongue-in-cheek manner. He portrays everyman in situations that demand hard choices, but he doesn't call them heroes.

This isn't saying that these stories are bad or inadequate in any way. I'm a big fan of dark fantasy and enjoy writing horror as well. That isn't the issue I'm trying to raise. The issue is how we, the readers, equate strength with killing. Our heroes are essentially murderers who find a way to justify their homicides.

Blog post after blog post has been written about women who fight as if they are some anomaly. Women have fought alongside men since the beginning of time--only the most obtuse individual would claim otherwise. I was fortunate in that my father was a historian and a teacher. He directed me to good sources when I asked about women in history.

As a young woman, and even today, my heroes were Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. These two women fought against the injustices around them, but they didn't go around "kicking ass." They fought with their intellect, their cunning, and they were unafraid.

If women want any rights more than they's got, why don't they just take them, and not be talking about it. --Sojourner Truth

As I grew older and read more history, Eleanor Roosevelt became another hero. Roosevelt knew that other women looked to her as a role model, and she gave us ammunition in the form of words. She rose to meet every challenge around her and told us all that we could do the same. She fought with the strength of her character.

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot. --Eleanor Roosevelt

I thought about all of these things as I wrote Cygnet Moon. I could have easily made Makar a kick-ass killer prince. Yet the biggest battle is often with oneself and one's own nature. This applies to men and women. I wanted to explore Makar's desire to be humane in spite of the inhumanity around him. That takes a much deeper form of strength.

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. --Harriet Tubman

So with Cygnet Moon, I wanted to look a little more deeply at heroes and how they are made. I wanted to bypass the thieves and the everyman. Other authors are writing those characters much more skillfully than me. I don't think we need another kick-ass hero of moral ambiguity. That's just more of the same.

Makar wants to change the world around him, and in doing so, he has to make hard choices. I don't think his lack of murderous intent lessens the tension of his story in any way. He is not the golden hero who always makes the right choices. He is flawed and quite vulnerable at times. He is a young man who wants to use his status and his privilege to protect people rather than exploit them.

I think those goals are just as worthy as kicking ass.

A Friday peek at Cygnet Moon (#SFWApro)

Every other Friday, my critique partner and I meet to go over our respective works and brainstorm the next step in our stories. We had to reschedule this week due to my cold, so I thought I'd share a little piece of the current work in progress:

Mother rose and looked down on me. Her ar’nel temporarily blinded my vision as she probed my mind for a lie. Without the drugs, I could have shielded my thoughts and memories from her, but whatever Sun had slipped into my food left me rotten and naked before her magic. She saw my inhibitions laid bare.

She finally announced, “We believe you, Makar.”

Before she could withdraw from my mind, my ar’nel rose up and vomited my animosity in her face. My darkness burned holes in the mists of her magic.

I struggled up through the narcotics and enunciated each word. “I. Hate. You.”

She turned her face from my rage. “Take care, Makar.”

“Father loved you, and you ran him away too,” I said with tears in my eyes. “You made him hate us.”

Her open palm struck my cheek so hard I felt the sting of her blow in spite of the narcotics. I pursed my lips and tried to spit at her but my mouth was too dry.

She flinched anyway. I’d taken her by surprise. She expected my tears, my sorrow, but she had not anticipated my rage.

When she looked at me again, her glare had turned diamond sharp.

We became enemies that night.

I'll be back on Monday. I've got a contest coming up soon, so stay tuned for that. 2014 is going to rock. You just watch.

Year end wrap-up (#SFWApro)

A look back on 2013

I read a lot of novels by men during 2012 and 2013, because I wanted to analyze the differences between male and female authors. The Gender Bending post of late 2012, early 2013 was one of my most popular posts ever; although, I hesitate to call it mine. Several wonderful authors contributed to that project in late December 2012 through early January 2013, so in many ways it belongs to all of us. Thank you again to everyone who contributed their time and energy to make that project work, especially to the fans who guessed and commented.

What we found out was what we already knew: unless the name automatically indicated a gender, there was approximately a 50/50 chance that the participants would guess wrong.

My writing

Dolorosa (Book 2 of the Katharoi series). I completed a solid first chapter to Miserere's sequel, Dolorosa. I had just started work on the synopsis when Night Shade Books initiated the sale of the company to Skyhorse/Start. For a variety of reasons, Dolorosa was put on hold.

Given the time limitations that I have for writing, I have to focus on projects that have a chance of selling. I spent most of April and May trying to work out a feasible schedule for the project and finally decided that anything with the Katharoi series had to be placed on hold for the duration of one year at the very least.

Miserere: An Autumn Tale. Is now available at Audible where it is drawing some very nice reviews.

In other good news, Miserere has officially earned out on the Skyhorse side of the debit sheet. For that little miracle, I owe all of my thanks to everyone who has purchased a copy of Miserere, either ebook, print, or audio. You have my deepest gratitude.

Miserere also took a major shout-out on Tor.com in the Under the Radar series. Check out the Under the Radar series for more great books that you might have missed.

Short Stories. Given all of the upheaval going on around me in April/May, I concentrated on short stories:

  • "La Santisima" is an original short story that is here on the blog and you can read it for free.
  • "Naked the Night Sings," is merely one of the many fine stories featured in Manifesto: UF, edited by Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann, Angelic Knight Press, 2013.
  • "Love, Crystal and Stone," will appear in Neverland's Library Fantasy Anthology, edited by Roger Bellini, Neverland Books, March 2014. You can read an exclusive excerpt from "Love, Crystal and Stone" at Fantasy Book Critic.

I also wrote two more short stories that will be going on submission after the first of the year:

  • "Down to the River" a coming of age story about a young sin-eater.
  • "White like Snow" a story about two brothers who find a haunted castle.

Cygnet Moon. I have a synopsis and almost 50,000 words on this novel. I'm really pleased with both the story and the characterization so far.

General observations

In spite of all of the set-backs, I don't feel too bad about 2013. I wrote over 30,000 words on short stories and 50,000 words on a new novel. That figure doesn't include word counts from submission packages, blog posts, interviews, etc.

Not bad. In 2014, I will finish Cygnet Moon and begin work on Dolorosa. More and more people are asking for Miserere's sequel and in every review people mention that they would like to revisit Woerld. I hope to make that possible for you.

To all of the awesome people who have been so kind as to read Miserere and give the book a shout-out whenever and where ever you can. Thank you!

Celebrate the season in whatever way you see fit. I'll be with the most tolerant people in the world ... my lovely family.

I'll see you again in 2014.

Watch for me.

all the things ... and a snippet from Cygnet Moon

The joy of having a writing partner (or group) is that I am on task to finish certain projects within a specified period of time. My writing partner and I are old friends, and I am so very fortunate that she is in my life.

We meet every two weeks and we are determined to have at least one chapter ready to be read. On the weeks that we do not meet, we touch base via email and describe what we've been doing. Most people think that writers write and that is all that writers do. However, part of her list included organizing her notes and outlining where she wants her chapter to go. My list included marketing (revamping the web site, setting up a profile on BookLikes, and working on a guest post for Bastard Books), writing chapter three of Cygnet Moon, and world-building.

World-building this week included coming up with animals to represent certain hours such as in the Chinese zodiac. I want to do something similar with Cygnet Moon, but I wanted to change the animals so that they all were birds. So my hours look like this:

Chinese zodiac

Hours

Cygnet zodiac

Rat

23:00 – 00:59

Heron

Ox

1:00 – 02:59

Stork

Tiger

03:00 – 04:59

Swan

Rabbit

05:00 – 06:59

Grouse

Dragon

07:00 – 08:59

Dragon

Snake

09:00 – 10:59

Crane

Horse

11:00 – 12:59

Phoenix

Goat

13:00 – 14:59

Gull

Monkey

15:00 – 16:59

Osprey

Rooster

17:00 – 18:59

Rooster

Dog

19:00 – 20:59

Dove

Pig

21:00 – 22:59

Swift

 

These are all fairly arbitrary right now. I didn't really put a lot of thought into why I chose this bird or that one, it was more like scrolling through a list and seeing what felt right. I don't let myself become too hung up with minor details during the zero draft portion of the story. What I have created is what I like to call "place holders." These are details that may or may not change, but they give me the ability to achieve the desired mood while filling in the broader strokes of the story itself.

So that is what I did with my week of writing.

Oh. And I've almost finished chapter three of Cygnet Moon, which is turning into a very dark fairy tale. I'll leave you with a teensy snippet:

“Makar,” Mother whispered my name. A thin line of salvia trailed from her bottom lip to the rim of the cup. “I feel as if he is here.”

Fear hardened around my heart.

Balian gestured to the guards with her staff. “Search the room! Seize him!”

Mother raised her head. “Be still!” Her voice emitted a shrill note I’d never heard her use before.

Balian seemed to shrink inside her voluminous robes.

“They will not find him. His body is not here, he is merely watching, hiding in the shadows, seeing what shouldn’t be seen. Ungrateful, spiteful child.”

Mother makes Catarina look like a novice, because Mother isn't emotionally unstable, she is just plain evil.

Wicked women rule.

Carry on and read books for pleasure.

I'll be making words ...