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I realized recently that not only do I not have an icon for Within the Sanctuary of Wings, I don’t have one for In the Labyrinth of Drakes, either.

So! I have two ARCs of Sanctuary to offer in exchange for people making me pretty icons out of the cover art for those books. You can find the full images for Labyrinth here and Sanctuary here. The icons need to be 100×100 pixels and contain the titles of the books; beyond that, arrange ’em however you like. I’ll pick two recips out of everyone who sends me an icon — so if you want the book early, fire up your mouse!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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It isn’t nice to taunt . . . and you still have nearly five weeks to wait before the novel itself can be in your hands. But if you need your appetite whetted just that little bit more, Tor has posted the first chapter of Within the Sanctuary of Wings.

April 25th. If you think you’re chewing your fingernails off, know that mine went away months ago!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I’ll keep this short and to the point.

The intended replacement for the Affordable Care Act is going to kill people.

It sounds melodramatic — but it’s true. It will leave an estimated 24 million Americans without insurance (compared to the ACA), which will make it extremely difficult for them to afford healthcare. It cripples Medicaid, because poor people don’t deserve to be healthy, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, because children only matter while they’re fetuses — oh wait, insurers wouldn’t be required to cover maternity care, either. Nor birth control. Nor gynecological exams. And we all know what the right wing wants to do to Roe v. Wade. So you’re having that baby whether you like it or not, but don’t expect any support from conception until after your kid has graduated. Guess you should have kept your legs closed, bitch.

Call your elected officials. Call them until you get through, because their lines are swamped, and it may take you a while. Especially if you’re represented by a Republican in either chamber, for the love of god, call them. A number of them are already wavering; they know this is bad. But this isn’t the kind of bad where it’s okay to let it happen and let them reap the consequences later, because for them, the consequences will be that maybe they get voted out of office two or four years down the road. For other people, the consequences will literally be death. They need to hear voices telling them not to do it, before we get that far.

For the sake of the millions of people who will be hurt by this, speak up. Make your voice heard. Make a difference.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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My second Patreon post — first if you don’t count the introductory riff — is now live at Book View Cafe! Comment there, or head over to my Patreon page to become a patron yourself.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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After a hiatus following the completion of Dice Tales, I’m back to blogging at Book View Cafe, this time with a series I’m calling New Worlds. I’m putting ten years of anthropology education to good use by writing about worldbuilding: different aspects of setting and society that can make for an interesting story, with copious examples drawn from the wide array of places and time periods I’ve studied. The introductory post is up now, and the series will continue every Friday until I run out of things to say.

But wait — there’s more!

Those of you who have already clicked through to that post will have seen that this is a Patreon-funded project. That’s right — I’m taking the plunge into the subscription model of crowdfunding. The Patreon page has details, but the short form is that by backing the project, you can get photos, ebooks, extra essays, or more personalized rewards: the opportunity to request that I cover topics of your choice, feedback on your own worldbuilding questions, or even story critiques. More complete details on the reward levels are posted here. The Patreon is set up so that the subscription is per month, not per creation, and you can change your backing level at any time.

If you have any questions, drop me a line!

Patreon banner saying "This post is brought to you by my imaginative backers at Patreon. To join their ranks, click here!"

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: a headshot of Clearbrook from the comic book series Elfquest (Clearbrook)

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

It’s tempting to see Winnowill as an aberration, because in many ways she is. No character in this series, be they elven, human, troll, or Preserver, ever comes close to her level of persistent malice. But in focusing on her, it’s easy to lose sight of something else:

The Gliders as a whole are seriously messed up.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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During the event I went to at a local mosque a few months ago, one of the visiting religious leaders recited a poem that, upon googling, I find attributed to Edwin Markham:

He drew a circle to shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win
We made a circle that drew him in.

It’s a sentiment to keep in mind these days: solidarity, inclusiveness, answering condemnation with love.

This is our monthly tikkun olam post, a place to share your efforts to repair the world and take heart from the efforts of others. The usual principles apply: nothing is too small to share. Ongoing things are good, too; don’t feel like everything you say here has to be some new undertaking. If you’ve made donations of money or supplies, volunteered your time somewhere, helped out a neighbor, changed your life to be better for those around you, or otherwise done something to make the world a better place and counteract the forces pushing it in the other direction, share it here. It reminds you of the good you’ve done, gives you a chance to see the good of others, and may inspire you to new efforts you hadn’t thought of before.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: a headshot of Clearbrook from the comic book series Elfquest (Clearbrook)

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

I can’t think of any character in this entire series who more strongly merits their own post, with the possible exception of Two-Edge.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Wanna know how Lady Trent’s story concludes — before the book hits the shelves?

This Wednesday, March 1st, I’ll be giving away an advance reader copy to one newsletter subscriber. If you’re already signed up, you’re set; if you aren’t, you can do that here.

And when I went on Twitter to post about the giveaway, I saw I’m quite close to having two thousand followers. When I hit the magical 2K, I’ll also pick one Twitter follower to receive an ARC. I’m @swan_tower over there, if you’re interested.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: a headshot of Clearbrook from the comic book series Elfquest (Clearbrook)

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

When I was a sophomore in college, I wrote an archaeology paper on Elfquest.

No, really.

It was supposed to be a paper looking at the Wolfriders as hunter-gatherers and the Sun Folk as horticulturalists/early agriculturalists. Naturally, when I finally had a paper topic I enjoyed and could have run well past the guideline of 10-12 pages, I had a professor who said anything past twelve pages he would chuck in the trash, and then dock us points for not having a conclusion. The result is that the paper wound up only addressing the Wolfrider half of the equation, because I ran out of space for anything else.

I was going to rehash the paper as my third and final post for The Forbidden Grove, but in re-reading it, I discovered that it was a) longer than I recalled (I thought it was 5-7 pages) and b) way more technical. So rather than trying to recycle the whole thing in a quarter the words, I decided it would be better to just post the paper on my website (pdf link), for those of you who actually care to see the whole thing, bibliography and all, and then use this post to talk about the things that didn’t fit into the paper.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I’ve fallen comprehensively off the wagon of recording what I read and posting about it, but I’d like to get back to that. So, without any attempt to catch up on the year or so that I missed, here’s the log from January.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Charlotte Gordon. The premise of this dual biography is that Wollstonecraft and Shelley influenced each other, even though Wollstonecraft died a few days after giving birth to Shelley. The mother-to-daughter influence is easy to see; the daughter-to-mother influence is much more heavily inferred, based on the idea that Wollstonecraft was concerned with the future and with the lives of women, ergo with the life her daughter would have. I’m not quite sure I buy that half of the premise as much as the introduction made me expect, but that in no way stops this from being an excellent book that vastly expanded my understanding of both women. I had no idea how many other books both of them had written, nor the degree of respect Wollstonecraft had during her lifetime. (A respect that vanished almost immediately after she died, thanks to her husband’s misguided attempt to “rehabilitate” her image to the way he wanted to see her. She went from “respected intellectual” to “whore;” her daughter, who likewise got revised by her daughter-in-law, went from “whore” to “respectable Victorian wife.”)

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee. [Disclosure: the author is a friend.] The opening battle scene was gruesome enough, thanks to the exotic technology used, that I wasn’t sure what I would think of the book overall. Once I got past that, though, I was thoroughly sucked in (and the rest of the book is much less gory). The genre is space opera, but because the functioning of exotics is based on the enforcement of a calendrical system and heretical deviations from that system can make the tech stop working, it reads to me like fantasy poured through a mathematical framework. The worldbuilding reminds me of Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, not in any of its specifics, but in the sheer wealth of detail, much of it the sort of thing I don’t usually encounter in science fiction. And despite the fact that I am thoroughly sick of the “asshole genius who makes everybody dance to his tune because he’s so damn brilliant” trope, Jedao was my favorite character in the whole novel. There are ways to make that trope work, and this is one of them.

Women in Practical Armor, ed. Ed Greenwood and Gabrielle Harbowy. Anthology I backed on Kickstarter, themed around female warriors. Most of what’s in here is very much classic D&D/sword-and-sorcery fantasy. My favorite story was probably the one that took the antho title most literally: “Pride and Joy” by Eric Landreneau, wherein the hazards of boob-plate armor get hammered home.

The Just City, Jo Walton. First of the Thessaly series. Athena gathers together people from throughout history to found the city described in Plato’s The Republic and see how it works out. By dint of its subject matter, I mentally classify this with utopian SF, but from the start it’s clear that while the Just City is an attempt to create a utopian society, it is deeply flawed in multiple ways. (As Apollo says at one point, what Plato knew about love and relationships would fit on a fingernail paring.) If, like me, you are the sort of person who bounces in glee at the prospect of seeing Athena and Socrates square off in a public debate, this is the book for you.

Elfquest: Fire and Flight, Wendy and Richard Pini. Re-read. I love this series so much. For more detail, see the re-read posts (but beware spoilers).

Everyday Things in Premodern Japan, Susan B. Hanley. “Premodern” here specifically means the Tokugawa period, with some attention to what came before and after for context. Hanley’s main thesis is that, contrary to how Victorian travelers portrayed things, the quality of life improved massively in the Tokugawa period, in large part due to technological advancements that came out of the Sengoku/Warring States period immediately prior. What I found the most interesting was the discussion of how many aspects of what we now think of as traditional Japanese culture were Tokugawa-era responses to limited resources: with the country closed to outside influences, they had to make do with what they had in their islands, and this influenced everything from food to architecture to clothing to sanitation. (When you don’t have enough arable land to waste much of it on livestock, you don’t have animal manure to use as fertilizer, so human waste becomes a valuable enough resource that you not only put in place systems for removing it to agricultural areas, you start having problems with people stealing it.)

The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, Samuel Noah Kramer. I must have bought this back in high school or early college, because the price sticker on it is from Half-Price Books, which I used to frequent in Dallas. The book itself is a mildly interesting read, but I would love to compare it against something more recent, because I imagine the state of Sumerology has come on a bit in the fifty years since this one was published. I welcome any recommendations from the commentariat.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: a headshot of Clearbrook from the comic book series Elfquest (Clearbrook)

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

When humans appear in Fire and Flight, they are quite simply and straightforwardly the enemy. They capture and torture Redlance; they burn the forest because they believe that’s what their god wants. They fear and hate elves, and elves fear and hate them right back.

But it doesn’t remain that simple.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: a headshot of Clearbrook from the comic book series Elfquest (Clearbrook)

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

I like Fire and Flight, but this volume is where the story really hits its stride. After our simple, linear introduction, where the plot is straightforward and only a small number of characters get much in the way of attention, the narrative opens up: two strands, with Cutter and Skywise searching for more elf tribes, while back in Sorrow’s End Suntop receives a warning that sends nearly the entire tribe on the road again in pursuit of that pair.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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In the course of all the protesting and petitioning and calling my representatives and so forth, I remind myself that my normal activities can also be used to make a difference in the world.

The VeriCon Charity Auction is live right now, with proceeds going to benefit Cittadini del Mondo, which is working to help refugees. My own contribution there is a signed copy of Cold-Forged Flame, but there are many, many other items on offer, and the cause is a very good one.

I’m also involved with Children of a Different Sky, an anthology of stories about refugees, whose profits will be used to benefit same. My intent is to write a new Driftwood story for it: that whole setting is about the survivors of calamity carrying on in a new place, which makes it very fitting for this kind of project.

The last thing is a bit more indirect, but still important. I’m one of the judges for Fantastical Times, a writing contest for Tampa Bay-area high school students. I know the likelihood that anyone reading this post being eligible to enter is small, but I want to mention it anyway. Because right now I feel especially bad for our younger generation, the people looking ahead to the future, wondering what they’re going to inherit from us — and wondering if they can do anything about it. Their voices matter. They’re the ones who are going to have to deal with the mess we leave behind. If you know of a similar opportunity for kids in your area, promote it. We need their vision, and we need them to know we’re listening.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Appropriately enough, after the chronological trainwreck that was the previous volume, I never actually numbered this notebook. Because it was the one I was in the middle of using when I took the time to number the previous ones? Because I started using it after that? Not because I gave up on trying to fit it into the chronology; this one is remarkably coherent. Judging by the stories I was working on and the class notes that appear sporadically, this starts around the summer after my junior year, continues through senior, and fetches up in early grad school, without any huge skips or bits of Doppelganger showing up at the end.

I don’t know why, but I went through another phase here of writing a lot more stuff longhand — which is nigh unheard-of for me. I did it in high school because I spent all day in class and had to look like I was paying attention, but in college and grad school? Class occupied much less of my time per day, and I was taking much more in the way of actual notes. Not sure why I went on a kick of it here, but I definitely did; I have an almost-complete draft of “Such as Dreams Are Made Of,” a good-sized chunk of “Beggar’s Blessing,” and the entirety of “A Thousand Souls” — the latter with its wordcount helpfully written in the margins, because apparently I wrote it somewhere I didn’t have access to my computer right away, and that was the only way to figure out how long it was. (760 words in the first draft; counting wasn’t a very onerous task.) I have lots of planning for the still-unwritten novel that goes by the acronym TIR, including the page where I stumbled through a lot of phonemes on my way to the main character’s name. I have snippets from another unwritten Nine Lands novel, because I had an idea for an interaction between three characters and wanted to make sure I didn’t forget it. I have other planning for Old Project C, because this apparently coincides with another spate of work on that.

But the most interesting things in here, from my perspective, are the bits related to two novels that did get written. The first, from the standpoint of what shows up in the notebook, is Sunlight and Storm, the trunked novel I mentioned before. On the very first page I wrote:

I feel like I have this inability to tell the difference between an honest need for a break and simple procrastination.

Am I stuck on Sunlight and Storm? I don’t think so. Could I be writing something more powerful if I stopped and took a break and made some deep meaningful connection? Maybe. Or is that just laziness talking, uncertainty, stupidity. Who knows?

I can’t swear that taking a break would have produced any great improvement in my situation, but with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that powering through (which is what I did) left me with a completely lifeless first draft. The story had no energy; it was preachy and colorless and not at all what I wanted. It remains the one novel draft I have never tried to revise. Instead of attempting to clean it up, I wrote out a scene-by-scene outline of the story in its first incarnation, scribbled a few pages that I think are the single time in my life I’ve ever explicitly written out the themes of my story, and then started a white-page rewrite. I’m not sure I even looked at the original draft again, after I wrote that outline — I’d have to compare the files to see whether I kept any original text. My recollection is that I didn’t, but that could be mental erasure talking; that’s how much I disliked my first attempt.

Nor is that the only novel outline in this notebook. The other one is similarly an accounting of a book I’d already completed; I’ve never been much of one for outlining stuff before I write it. In 2001 I went to WorldCon in Philadelphia, and found that an editor I’d been submitting to was on a panel, so I hatched a plan to try and talk to her afterward. She’d written me a personalized rejection letter for what eventually became Lies and Prophecy, so I figured that would be my hook: introduce myself, remind her about the book, thank her for that encouragement, and then get out before I took up too much of her time.

I got as far as my name.

She remembered me. She remembered the book, before I even said anything about it. She remembered that I had another novel (The Kestori Hawks) in her slush pile. And she asked whether I was doing anything else in the setting of Lies and Prophecy. When I stammered out something to the effect of how I was thinking about revising it, she asked me to send it to her once I did.

And I know all of this because I wrote it all down in the notebook I’d taken to the con. 😛 (Though the memory is pretty vivid, too.)

So after that I have an outline of Lies and Prophecy, wherein I made a lot of progress in tightening it up and eliminating the stuff that was more just about the characters hanging out at magic college than anything plot-related. (I’ve mentioned before that Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin was one of the inspirations for the story; the original draft was waaaaaaay more Tam Lin-y in that respect.) Which means this notebook very thoroughly documents the period where I learned to be a lot more aggressive about my revisions, not just polishing up the story but going in there and hacking stuff apart to put it back together again. It’s a key skill, and one I didn’t have in the early days.

There are other bits and pieces in here — me poking at a story based on one of the only dreams I’ve ever remembered, research notes for my paper on Minoan bull-leaping, a quasi-journal of my first trip to Ireland, notes from a class with Henry Glassie the Most Amazing Lecturer Ever, a brief stab at my second Latin grammar/Irish phonology mashup conlang (for Tir Diamh, one of the countries in the Nine Lands) — but those two things, the Sunlight and Storm and Lies and Prophecy revision notes, are probably the most significant things in here.

Well, that and the seedlet for a novel that may never get around to writing. It’s entirely possible I’m going to repurpose it for a short story I promised to write this spring.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: a headshot of Clearbrook from the comic book series Elfquest (Clearbrook)

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

I suspect I’ll wind up making several posts about Recognition during the course of this series, because it’s such an interesting and complex topic: a spontaneous soulbond, with bonus reproductive instinct. You can spin a bunch of different stories out of that, and the Pinis hit quite a few of them; in fact, I’m not sure there’s any point in what I consider the main canon (the first eight volumes, up through Kings of the Broken Wheel) where they play it completely straight. Cutter and Leetah come the closest — but before I get to that, let’s talk about Recognition itself.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Fred Rogers, the uncanonized saint of American television, said it best: When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’

(via Making Light)

That is, in essence, what these tikkun olam posts are for: they’re a place to find helpers, to remind yourself that they’re out there, and even to motivate yourself to be one of them. So that when you’re like ickle Fred Rogers, the world might seem a little less scary.

So share your news of how you’re helping, be it big or small. Are you doing volunteer work, either through a formal organization or an ad hoc arrangement with someone you know? Are you changing your own life so that you’ll be a better citizen of your town, state, country, planet? Have you made a donation to some good cause? Don’t feel like everything you mention has to be new; continuing efforts are just as good as one-off or additional things. And remember that everything is fair game, even if it’s not very big. Sometimes the little gestures mean the most.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I’m starting to think there are two kinds of research — or rather, a spectrum with two ends. Quite possibly it’s a more multi-directional spectrum than that, but there are two ends that seem particularly applicable to my life.

The first kind is reading for facts. This is the type of research I did all the time for the Onyx Court books: I’m writing about a specific thing, and so I need to know stuff about it. What route did Elizabeth I’s coronation procession take? Where were the imprisoned members of Parliament held after Pride’s Purge? When did somebody calculate the moment of perihelion for Halley’s Comet in 1759? What actions were taken by Fenian terrorists in the later Victorian period? This extends to more general questions; a lot of my reading was to fill in broad topics along the lines of “what was life like in this period,” not because there was a specific detail I knew I needed, but because I needed a large mass of specific details to draw from in shaping my plot and laying out my scenes. And often one of those elements would suggest a new dimension to the story, so then I’m off down a new fact-reading rabbit hole; rinse and repeat until my deadline starts breathing down my neck and I have to quit adding to the pile.

The other kind of research is one I used to do all the time — but I didn’t really think of it as “research” back then. It was just, y’know, my life. I took an odd assortment of classes and read an odd assortment of books, and they all poured material into my head, and out of that came stories. This is reading for fodder, and I’m finally back to doing it, because I have several projects in the hopper that are all secondary-world, as opposed to urban fantasy (the Wilders series) or historical fantasy (Onyx Court) or what I think of as world-and-a-half (Memoirs of Lady Trent, halfway between historical and invented). It isn’t that I won’t wind up using specific details out of what I read; the difference is that in the end, I’m not actually writing about those things. Lately I’ve been reading a book on Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Everyday Things in Premodern Japan, the Mahabharata, a book on the Sumerians, a bunch of Wikipedia articles on ancient Greek philosophy and society because I finished Jo Walton’s The Just City. Am I planning on writing anything set in Georgian England, Tokugawa Japan, ancient India, ancient Sumer, or ancient Greece? Not necessarily. But it’s all going into the mental compost heap, to intermix and break down and become fertile soil for ideas.

Some subconscious part of myself feels like I’m skiving off of work reading these things, because it’s been trained by nine books of historical or quasi-historical fiction to think the only real research is the kind done for facts. I need to do this, though, or else the worlds I invent will stay firmly in the box of “modified analogues,” places that can easily be mapped to single real-world origins. I need to throw a bunch of different things into my head at once, so that I come up with a society where there’s a deified emperor (a bit Roman, a bit Egyptian) and a caste system (a bit Indian) with a meritocratic way of changing your caste (a bit Chinese) and a clockpunky tech level (a bit Italian Renaissance) and so forth, without it being straightforwardly any of those things. If they wind up having an architecture a little bit like Tokugawa Japan or a schooling system like ancient Sumer, it will be because that happened to click into place, not because I had to use one of those societies for inspiration.

As I said at the beginning, these aren’t clearly divided types. “What was life like in this period” is closer to being a fodder-type question than “how rapidly did the plague take hold in 1665,” because it’s designed to help me come up with ideas for that specific period. And you’ll see the Mayan calendrical system with a minor fictional paint job showing up in Lightning in the Blood because years ago I read about it for fun and wound up incorporating it into a story more or less wholesale, complete with fiddly little details about Year-Bearers. But it helps me to remember that fodder-type reading is a form of research, and one that’s very necessary for my job.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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If you need proof that my numbering for these notebooks is more what you might call guidelines than actual rules, look no further than this volume.

Our last installment was largely devoted to the spring of my junior year, with a brief retro-foray into my sophomore spring in the last few pages (where I was pondering which field school to attend and writing part of Doppelganger). This notebook, which theoretically follows in in sequence, opens with me as a sophomore again, dwells for a while on my actual time at Cas Hen, skips off my junior year like a rock off a pond, and then lands firmly in my senior year for a good half the notebook before wrapping up in the final pages with me settling into Bloomington the summer between college and grad school — except that the back has the nigh-obligatory couple random pages of text from Doppelganger (seriously, how many notebooks did I spread that across?) and page after page of Japanese vocabulary practice, which could date to any point between my freshman year of college and my third year of grad school.

Like I said. Guidelines, not actual rules.

Anyway, this bounces back and forth between NPC stats for the Japan-based Vampire game I never ran on the recto side of pages with Irish verb conjugations on the verso before getting to quite an assortment of writing stuff. The notes for Sunlight and Storm must be very early; I hadn’t named any of the characters yet, just referring to them as “the protagonist” and “flighty” and “Mrs. Dull.” (Who actually isn’t dull, but that’s how the protagonist first sees her.) Then, after a page of semi-outline for Doppelganger and a page of me conjugating laudare for no reason I can recall, I’m at Cas Hen!

I think my field school notes started when we were in Ireland for the middle two weeks of six, because the earliest stuff is about graveyards, and we spent a lot of our time in Ireland taking rubbings of old headstones and so forth. That and survey work: if I need to remind myself on the differences between resistivity, magnetic susceptibility, and magnetometry, now I can. Also phosphorous testing, which I’m pretty sure is how we snapped the handle on the auger before somebody got around to admitting we had totally the wrong kind of auger for the job and that’s why it never worked for beans even when it was intact.

Random line, reigning in solitary glory on the back of a page, I think said by one of my friends at the field school: “The reincarnation of Jack the Ripper is the son of Zeus.” No, I have no idea what we were talking about to wind up with a line like that. I don’t think it was meant seriously.

Some of this is actually kind of interesting, and I can only assume I got it from someone at Cas Hen, given its placement in the notebook. I have a page describing the tools a blacksmith uses: not just the obvious things like hammer and anvil, but also bosh, mandrel, swage block, drifts, sets, fullers, hardies, and the difference between cold chisels and hot chisels. Also the parts of an anvil, and the detail that the block it sits on is usually elm? And then another page of the different heats you bring a metal to (warm, black, dull red, bright red, bright yellow, light welding, full welding) and the techniques you use on it (drawing out, upsetting, bending, hot cutting, punching and drifting, welding, hardening, tempering, annealing, normalizing, case hardening). The next page talks about the right build for a workhorse versus a warhorse vs a horse for endurance riding; for all I know, I got that from one of my field school friends, who knew a lot about horses. I don’t think it’s really worth photocopying these before I send the notebook off, because I could get that info in much greater detail from a book if I ever need it for some reason, but it’s still quite nifty.

Then piles of notes for my final paper, about how the site of Cas Hen gets presented to the public through signboards, reconstructions, pamphlets, and shop displays. Unlike most of my classmates, I actually have the paper itself, too, because I went to the trouble of hauling my laptop to the back end of nowhere and running it off the electricity in the finds tent. I had to write my final draft by hand, which was annoying, but at least I was able to compose the paper digitally. I’ve preferred to write on a computer ever since I was nine.

Back to writing! There was a thing I was doing freshman year, that must have continued for longer than I recalled, where I was writing folktales and bits of pseudo-history as worldbuilding for the Nine Lands. I have one of them in here, about an incident in the political history of Tir Diamh. (In verifying that, I also discovered that what I thought was me trying to write poetry for poetry’s sake was actually an attempt at the satire that gets mentioned in one of the other bits of Diamhair history. It seems I used June Tabor’s “Aqaba” as my source for its melody and scansion.) Did that plant the seeds for something that shows up near the end of the notebook? I have there something of an outline for the early part of a novel I still haven’t written; whether I will or not, who knows. Then more Doppelganger bits, including the earliest evidence I’ve yet come across of what eventually became Dancing the Warrior, eleven years later.

Junior year is represented by me trying to work out floor plans for our dorm suite and about four pages of class notes for three different classes, before the next page declares HIEROGLYPHICS! in very large excited letters. Which means it’s now my senior spring, when I took a class on Egyptology. But wherever the first half of that semester is, it isn’t here, because the hieroglyphic bits are followed by my first trip to Japan, during spring break: thoughts on which places I might visit (I hit rather a lot of them, though didn’t make it to Sanjuusangendou, Arashiyama, or Fushimi Inari until a later trip), an attempt at a daily journal that died four days in. (Half in Japanese, half in English, of course.)

“Since I work on stories instead of taking notes anyway, I might as well use a story notebook.” Is that what this is? And here I thought it was a nonsensical hodgepodge of random crap. But while I may have been ignoring the professor in my Aegean Bronze Age archaeology class, I do wind up having actual Egyptology notes soon after that. Interspersed with bits from my push to write a bunch of short stories before I graduated, so I could send them in to what was then the Isaac Asimov Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing; it’s now the Dell Magazines Award for same, and it was my first monetary success with my writing. Of the six stories I wrote in those two months, “Calling into Silence,” “The Twa Corbies,” and “A Thousand Souls” wound up being published; the other three are currently trunked. But trying to brainstorm story ideas from folklore gave me my first notion of writing a short story based on “Tom O’Bedlam,” so while I can’t really say that I had the idea for “Mad Maudlin” in college, I did have the ancestor of the idea for it.

Unexpected treasure: notes from the Shadowrun game a friend of mine ran. It was, for a long time, the only campaign I played in that actually reached a conclusion — because it was planned from the start to be something like six sessions. People who know Shadowrun are invited to beat their heads into their desks when they hear that our party consisted of three physical adepts and a shaman. <g> Our GM was kind and tailored the game so we didn’t need a decker or a rigger or, y’know, any of the things that are normally core to a Shadowrun campaign. (One of our phys ads practiced . . . aikido? Some martial art that meant he had a penalty if he initiated violence. He was also built like a tank, so we generally stuck him in front as our meat shield, let the bad guys attack him, and then went to town once he started fighting back.) But really, our weird-ass party composition fit the plot, which turned out to be a modern-day sequel to the old wuxia film The Bride with White Hair. Sadly, the notes here cut off before the end of the campaign. I hope they turn out to be in another notebook, because I remember the conclusion wound up being very bittersweet: we had to decide which of several factions (the Bride, her lover, some triad group, I forget who else) to give the magic flower to, and waffled back and forth so much, more people died than might otherwise have done. My comment afterward was “I think my character feels like they made a wrong decision . . . but she can’t tell which one it was.”

The last thing in here, before the logistical notes from me moving to Indiana for grad school, the Doppelganger bit, and the Japanese vocabulary, is from what I dubbed Old Project C a while ago. I’d laid it aside round about my freshman year, maybe sophomore; years later I picked it up again, in the hopes that the intervening time would have given me enough distance to be able to really reconceive it as I needed to. The answer was both yes and no: I was able to make major changes, but not to turn it into something successful. I got far enough, though, that I started trying to write new fiction in the setting, plots wholly unrelated to my previous attempts. And this one is especially noteworthy because it’s pretty much the only thing I wrote that entire summer: I was working for a contract archaeology lab, getting up way earlier than I was accustomed to, which meant I also had to go to bed way earlier than I was accustomed to.

This killed my creativity.

I knew I was a night owl, but I didn’t know how much. I won’t say that I’m incapable of writing in the daytime, but my most productive hours are after 10 p.m. Always have been. And the shifted schedule, combined with a mind-destroyingly tedious job, meant I got no writing done — except for the one night I decided to say “screw it” and stay up later than I should. I wrote a short story that night, the story I apparently started here in this notebook. So it’s a reminder that yeah, my work schedule is a choice . . . but not a random one.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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