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Back in high school, my sister and I decided to respond to a friend’s tendency to call us “witches” by circling him in a swimming pool while reciting the entire cauldron scene from Macbeth.

(Yes, we were very strange. Still are, in fact.)

Anyway, as somebody who still has that entire scene memorized, I found this to be utter and satisfying genius: “Nasty Women Have Much Work to Do.”

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

swan_tower: (gaming)

Well, one corner of it, at least.

In addition to this week’s regularly scheduled post — “Game Hangover,” on the ways that playing in or running a game can leave you drained afterward — I also have a related post up on Tor.com. Though it isn’t explicitly labeled as a Dice Tales entry, “How Your Role-Playing Game Campaign Can Inspire Your Novel” is an outgrowth of that series; I got recruited to write this piece specifically because of Dice Tales. So if you’re interested, go take a look, and comment over there!

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

swan_tower: (Default)

In honor of the season, I’ve created two new limited-time galleries on my site: Autumn and Halloween.

Paired photos of a single autumn leaf and an angel on a cross

(There is a known glitch where sometimes the photos in a gallery will not display properly. If you see them stacked up on top of each other, reload and that should fix the problem.)

These galleries will only be available through the end of the month. If you would like to order a print of one or more of the photos, or to license them for commercial use, please contact me. I can make prints on paper, acrylic, metal, glass, canvas, or wood — pretty much any substance that doesn’t run away fast enough. 🙂 Sizes range from 4×6 up. For electronic use, I’m willing to do a small amount of image manipulation, e.g. cropping to a detail or darkening part of the shot so you can place text over it more readably.

A happy autumnal season to all! Except those of you in the southern hemisphere, to whom I wish a delightful spring.

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

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In the time since we’ve moved into our new house, I’ve seen a little black-and-white cat around a few times. Being a very cat-friendly person, of course I immediately set out to make friends with her — which wasn’t too hard; she’s skittish in the “can’t sit still” sense, but didn’t seem to be very afraid of people. According to her collar, her name is Tiana.

So yesterday evening I go into the backyard and see her at the far end. She makes an immediate beeline for me, which I take as a gratifying sign that Operation Befriend Tiana has been a rousing success. I pet her for a while, go fetch the thing I intended to fetch, pet her some more, and go inside. This last is a bit of an enterprise, because Tiana seems exceedingly curious about what’s in my house, and I have to time my escape so she won’t follow me in (my husband is allergic). But okay, that’s fine.

That was at 6 o’clock.

A little bit later, I notice she’s still hanging out at my back door, peering in through the blinds. This is a little odd, so I shut the blinds . . . which doesn’t shut out the sound of her meowing plaintively to be let in.

When I leave for the dojo at 7:15, she’s still out there.

I come home, have dinner, go downstairs — and at 10:30 she’s still out there, now up on the roof, behaving as if she’s not sure how to get down. My sister and I go out with a stepladder and try to lift her down, in case she’s stuck; she’s having none of it, roving back and forth with the same nonstop restlessness she’s been showing this whole time. We finally get her to jump down to the fence and then, with much encouragement, to the ground; her body language strongly implied she was nervous about making that last jump. But okay, cat off roof, mission accomplished. I go inside (she tries to follow me again), blinds shut, and do my best to ignore the cat yowling outside my door and literally scratching at it to be let in.

At 1:30 in the morning, SHE’S STILL THERE.

I read once that cats meow at the same frequency as a crying baby, which is probably an adaptation to make us want to take care of them. After three hours of Tiana outside my door, I believe it, because each tragic sound makes me feel like a terrible person. She’s got a collar and is well-fed and well-groomed enough that I don’t think she’s a stray, but this isn’t like her previous behavior, which makes me wonder if she’s gotten lost or been abandoned or something. So finally — after much debate with myself — I let her in, scoop her up and close her into the bathroom, with everything she might trash safely removed and food, water, a towel to sleep on, and some makeshift kitty litter.

Now, in the light of day it turned out that there were phone numbers on her collar, engraved so small that I when I looked the previous night I didn’t even realize they were numbers. So I called them and discovered she belongs to our neighbors a few doors down, and to make a long story short (too late), she isn’t lost or abandoned; she’s just Tiana, the Neurotic Stalker Cat. Her owner told me she was a feral adoptee, and has on one previous occasion decided that a person is her NEW BEST FRIEND and tried to move in — so her behavior, while odd, is not unprecedented. By bringing her inside, I’ve probably just encouraged her. But I couldn’t listen to that for hours on end, wondering if something was wrong, and not at least try to make her more comfortable. In the future . . . well, the last person she latched onto apparently resorted to squirting her with a water bottle to make her stop begging. It remains to be seen whether I’ll do the same. I love cats and am delighted to make friends with them, but having a crying-baby imitator outside my door gets really hard on the nerves.

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

swan_tower: (gaming)

This week’s Dice Tales post is Backseat GMing, aka the equivalent of trying to lead from the follow position in ballroom dance. Comment over there!

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

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I’ve added three more galleries to the photography section of my website: one collating my East Coast shots, one for Oregon, and one of flowers. If you wish to order prints of any of these, contact me!

(And hopefully one of these days I’ll finish editing my pics from France and Switzerland back in May . . . it’s slow going.)

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

swan_tower: (gaming)

There was no post last week, but this week you get “Open Doors and Brick Walls”, about those moments when the GM and the players see a challenge completely differently, and how to identify and resolve those mismatches when they happen.

Comment over there!

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

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A while back the artist Robin Scott, a friend of mine, released a project called The Urban Tarot.

Box cover for The Urban Tarot by Robin Scott

I want to talk about how awesome this deck is — and I especially want to address those of you for whom the “tarot” part isn’t much of an attraction, but the “urban” part might be. Let’s start by quoting from Robin’s introduction in the guidebook:

Too often we are told that magic and wisdom belong only to the forgotten forests, the places untouched by human hands, and to ages long lost to memory.

I reject this idea. I look around my world, and I see the beauty, the wonder, the magic in the metropolis, the power under the pavement.

“The metropolis” there isn’t generic. It’s New York City, where Robin lives — and that’s exactly what draws me to the Urban Tarot. I’ve been meaning to make a post about the way urban fantasy has the potential to inscribe the landscape around you with an additional layer of meaning: it’s something I tried to do in the Changeling game I ran, and it showed up in the Onyx Court books, too, which were inspired by that game. The urban fantasy novels I like often do this kind of thing, not just taking place in Generica City or the Hollywood version of San Francisco or wherever, but making use of place on a more detailed, meaningful level. It isn’t just an urban fantasy thing — it isn’t even a new thing; Keith Basso’s Wisdom Sits in Places talks about the link between Western Apache folklore and the landscape around their communities — but it works especially well there because the world the story describes is ours, or at least closely adjacent enough to ours that we can feel the resonance.

The Urban Tarot does this beautifully. It ties the cards in with the landscape and the people and events of New York City — the public library, Coney Island, the Brooklyn Bridge during Hurricane Sandy — and it pushes back against the idea that cities aren’t magic, that the kind of meaning we read into the world around us back when that world was rural can’t be retained in the modern day. It rethinks the old archetypes of the tarot into a context you and I can recognize: the Empress is feeding a baby in a high chair, the Eight of Wands shows a cyclist delivering a pizza, the Prince of Swords is a hacker. Even if you don’t have any interest in the tarot as such, you could do worse than to feed your urban fantasy brain with these cards and their associated writeups.

Card image of The Princess of Swords, by Robin Scott

And the artwork is, in my opinion, gorgeous. Each card is built out of a kind of textural collage, abstracting the image without losing its recognizable form. I have the Princess of Swords (aka The Activist) on my wall. I liked the art enough that when I backed the Kickstarter, I chose to go for the level where I could model for one of the cards — no, I’m not telling you which; you’ll have to find out for yourself. 😉 Robin and I struck a deal wherein I wrote a piece of flash fiction for the guidebook, riffing off a location in the city she wasn’t able to work into the deck; that’s how much I wanted to support this project.

You can buy the Urban Tarot itself, or prints of any of the cards. I strongly encourage you all to at least go take a look, and appreciate what Robin has put together.

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

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You know how there are those shows that are kind of structurally or ideologically broken, but you sort of don’t care because the banter is so good?

Supergirl is kind of the opposite of that. On a script level, it’s pretty mediocre; the dialogue often clunks and the characterization can be inconsistent and the plots rarely have clever solutions. But I find myself just not caring, because it’s doing so many other things to make me happy. It is the candy-colored cheerful superhero show that I wanted The Flash to be for me, without all the problems that made me bounce out of that one.

Case in point: the first season of The Flash basically had two female characters, Iris and Caitlin. Neither of them was particularly interesting; Caitlin’s plot revolved around her dead boyfriend and Iris was a pawn, lied to for no good reason by her best friend, infantilized by her father, rarely if ever given a chance to affect the story in a meaningful way. Supergirl, by contrast, is so stuffed with women they’re coming out at the seams. This is not one of those shows with a central female character and then a bunch of dudes. You have Alex Danvers, Supergirl’s adopted sister (and if you love rock-solid sister relationships, dear god this is the show for you); Cat Grant, her prickly and influential boss; Astra, her aunt and antagonist; Allura, her mother, appearing in both flashback and computer simulation; Lucy Lane, Lois’ younger sister and Jimmy Olson’s ex, who the show is smart enough to give a role to beyond “Jimmy Olson’s ex”; the villains Livewire and Indigo and Silver Banshee, who all play a role in more than one episode; Eliza, Alex’s mother and Kara’s foster-mother, a biologist who nerds out when she meets another alien; Miranda Crane, a senator with anti-alien views; they even have the (offstage) president be a woman (and if the show’s writers weren’t thinking about Hillary Clinton, I’ll eat my laptop). These women talk to each other. They talk to each other so much that they get to have nearly every kind of relationship; they’re family and friends and rivals and co-workers and mentors and allies and enemies. (Not lovers, though — I can’t recall any lesbian relationships, at least not in the first season.)

The show is overtly feminist, too. I wouldn’t call it a triumph of complexity in that regard — see above comments about the writing being not all that good — but from time to time it goes straight at the familiar issues, the way that women’s achievements get downplayed relative to men’s, the way that women are held to standards men don’t have to meet. Clark Kent is an offstage presence, only appearing briefly a couple of times (and then always in silhouette), or conversing with Kara in text messages. In this canon, Kara was supposed to be the protector for her younger cousin, but circumstances caused her to arrive on Earth years later and younger than him; the growth of Kara from feeling like she’ll never live up to Kal-El’s reputation and achievements to someone who wins his praise and respect is really satisfying.

AND LET’S TALK ABOUT THE ETHICS. As in, this show has some. You may recall that ethical failings are a big part of why I wound up noping out of The Flash; I just about punched the air when this show made a point of addressing those issues. You literally get one of the characters telling Kara that due process and human rights matter, and that running a “secret Guantanamo” (actual phrase from the dialogue) is 100% not okay. And Kara acknowledges this! And then they do something about it! I called Astra an antagonist; I chose that word instead of “villain” because her situation isn’t black-and-white, and the show is capable of acknowledging that she’s pursuing good ends via bad means. There’s another antagonist in a similar position, too. I love that kind of thing, and seeing it here makes me really happy.

It still has shortcomings on a higher-than-script level, mind you. The racial diversity is just barely better than token, and queer representation is basically absent. And while the show nods in the direction of the problems posed by having superpowered people around, it doesn’t really delve into them. But I can watch it and have fun without constantly being frustrated, which is exactly what I was hoping for. And every so often it rises above itself with some really good dialogue or a great plot development — which leaves me hopeful that season two will improve on the first.

Behind the cut there be spoilers!

Read the rest of this entry  )

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

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Last week I solicited title suggestions and promised to give away a signed copy of Cold-Forged Flame to one person.

In the usual way of my brain, it did not settle on any of the proposed titles — but receiving all those possibilities finally provoked it into getting off its posterior and coming up with something that it liked. (This really is how my brain works. When I was in junior high and got the Elfquest roleplaying game book, which I used to make up characters to tell stories with instead of for use in the game, the entire section on generating your character’s appearance never got used the intended way. I would roll the dice, decide I didn’t like the suggested result, roll again, reject the second result, rinse and repeat until I made up my mind what I wanted to pick off the list.)

But I promised a giveaway, and a giveaway you shall have! Our lucky winner is Joshua of The Rabbit Hole. Drop me a line and claim your prize!

. . . what’s that you ask? You want to know what the title I settled on is?

You’ll find out next spring, when I intend to release the collection in question. 🙂 Until then, you must live in suspense!

(But I’ll give you this hint. I wound up deciding that I liked it because of an unexpected echo of something in Diana Wynne Jones’ novel Fire and Hemlock, which is the book that made me a writer.)

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

swan_tower: (*writing)

I maaaaaaaaaaaaay have a title for the thing mentioned here.

(Par for my brain’s course: it isn’t anything anybody suggested to me. But getting suggestions kicked me out of the ruts I was stuck in.)

However! This does not mean you should stop sending me ideas. a) I haven’t formally committed to anything yet, so I can still change my mind, b) it’s fascinating to see what people suggest, and c) I’ll still be giving away a signed copy of Cold-Forged Flame to one person who’s contributed title possibilities. So keep ’em coming!

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

swan_tower: (natural history)

Le tropique des serpents!

Cover for the French translation of The Tropic of Serpents

That’s right, the second book of the Memoirs of Lady Trent is out now in French! Merci beaucoup to Sylvie Denis, my translator, for all her splendid work, and to my publisher L’Atalante.

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

swan_tower: (Default)

I’ve got all these copies of Cold-Forged Flame sitting around, and I’ve got a conundrum I’ve been stuck on for, uh, more than a year.

So, in the great tradition of the game Unexploded Cow, let’s use the one problem to solve the other!

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to suggest to me a title that would be suitable for a collection of my secondary-world fantasy short stories. I know I don’t want to call it “[Reasonably Well-Known Item from the Table of Contents] and Other Stories”; I know that every quotation I’ve unearthed and phrase I’ve come up with that implies secondary-world-ness sounds trite; I know that I’m perfectly willing to use a random evocative-sounding phrase, but I haven’t thought of one I like for this purpose. Therefore I put it to you, the Great Internets, to help me figure out what to call a collection that will probably be putting out in 2017.

You have one week: from now until this time next Tuesday (or Wednesday, if you’re on that side of the planet), suggest titles to me. You can suggest more than one. You can suggest them on any version of this post, on Twitter, or by email. I will take them all into account. If I choose your title, you get a signed copy of Cold-Forged Flame! If I don’t find a title that clicks, I will choose one recipient at random! If I choose a title from someone who already has a copy of Cold-Forged Flame, I’ll choose a recipient at random anyway!

Lay ’em on me! Because I am well and truly stuck. >_<

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

swan_tower: (gaming)

The two most recent Dice Tales posts are “Breathing Room,” on the necessity of downtime and “filler” in games, and “Best-Laid Plans,” on what you do when the story goes in a different direction than you expected.

Comment over there!

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

swan_tower: (*writing)

The other day at the dojo, our sensei had us punching bare-handed against bags (the flat pad type that another person holds onto). I wound up punching mine a few more times with a little more force than was strictly wise — because of course I did; I’m a writer and I was curious to see what it felt like, and I’m unlikely to go around getting into fist-fights just for research.

Since my hand is still complaining at me a little bit today, I figure I should share what I learned with others, so they don’t have to do the same thing. 🙂

The actual impact stung a fair bit, and increasingly so as time went on, of course. But I was good about keeping my wrist straight, so the impact went up my forearm in a direct line; you can really mess yourself up if your wrist isn’t straight, because then it will buckle under the impact and you’ll probably sprain something. (And I really do mean straight. Mostly straight = not good enough.) My knuckles turned visibly red, and I got a small mark in the webbing between my ring and pinky finger, like I’d chafed the skin or something. Fortunately I didn’t persist to the point of really doing myself a mischief, because near the end I subconsciously flinched from the sting of impact; my wrist buckled, but there wasn’t enough force in the punch for that to do any damage, and then after that everything I threw was complete crap. I imagine that adrenaline would have carried me much further in a real fight, but odds are good that it would also have made me more likely to use bad form and hurt myself that way.

My knuckles stayed faintly red for the rest of the night, but were back to normal the next day, and the mark faded about as quickly. The lingering effect is in the soft tissue between my metacarpals: I still feel an intermittent ache there, and if I use my left hand to shift those bones around, I can tell there’s tension and stiffness. So the moral of this story, I think, is that if you’re going to talk about punches leaving a mark on the one who threw them (and you should, unless your character is a hardened bare-handed brawler), the problem isn’t so much in the knuckles as in the hand itself. Or the wrist, if they threw a stupid punch and sprained something. Or, y’know, all over the place if they were really dumb and dislocated a finger or broke a bone. But the palm of the hand is going to take a beating even if nothing more severe happens elsewhere.

So now you know. And don’t have to pound your own hands to find out.

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

swan_tower: (Default)

I have reached new heights — or possibly depths — in asking for research recommendations.

Because I need stuff to read on the subject of torture.

(Consider that a trigger warning for the rest of this post, because yeah. It’s gonna be like that.)

For the purposes of the story I’m working on, what I need to look into are a) methods used and b) the short- and long-term effects of those methods. Discussions of the intel value or lack thereof are irrelevant for this project; the torture is being carried out for reasons other than the gathering of information. Ditto anything about the legality of such things, because this isn’t taking place in the real world. I’m focused on what the bad guys would be doing to the character (including considerations like “if they don’t want their victim to die from shock, how should they pace their actions”), how the character would plausibly respond to what’s happening (i.e. offering information they don’t care about, going catatonic, etc), and what kind of physical and emotional scars the victim would be left with afterward.

This is one of those cases where I almost certainly will not get graphic within the story itself about what’s being done, but I very much need to work out the graphic details so that I’ll know how to write everything around it. If you can recommend a book or web resource to me that will help me do this right, I’d be very grateful. My knowledge of the subject all derives from early modern witchcraft trials, which is long on ways of maiming people for life but short on the details of how it affected the victims during and after. I’m sure people have written about this in recent times; I just don’t know how to find what I need.

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

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Fans of Dice Tales may be interested to hear that I have a post up at Tor.com today on adapting game material into fiction. (With specific reference to Cold-Forged Flame, of course.)

I’ve also been interviewed at My Life, My Books, My Escape on the novella and the process of writing it.

And for those who are interested in these kinds of things, I’ve put up the soundtrack for the novella on my site. It’s shorter than a novel soundtrack, of course, because a novella is shorter than a novel, but there are still six pieces of music I associate with it — all of them, unsurprisingly, drawn from my old game soundtrack for Ree.

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

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I am very far from Iron Chef status. But I’m starting to feel like I might at least have graduated to some form of metal. 😛

Since moving into our new house, I have actually done the Cooking Thing a fair bit — way more than I ever have before, that’s for certain. A few recipes I already knew; a lot more I pulled out of a cookbook and said “this sounds like it might be tasty.” Some I’ve even modified, like the ramen stir-fry where the recipe wound up being more what you might call guidelines than actual rules. (It was from a cookbook published in 1996; I used whatever fresh vegetables sounded tasty in place of the broccoli-carrot-cauliflower frozen “stir-fry mix” they recommended, teriyaki sauce in place of “stir-fry sauce,” and let’s just say that when you’re shopping at a Japanese grocery store in 2016, “oriental flavor” ramen is not one of the options on the shelf.)

A number of things have contributed to my increased willingness to cook:

* Having enough counter space that step one of making dinner is not “clear crap out of the way so I have somewhere to work.” This makes a huge difference all on its own, believe you me.

* Having enough cabinet and drawer space that I can lay my hands on the item I need without first having to move twelve other things out of the way. Ditto previous comment.

* Having a grocery store within pleasant enough walking distance that obtaining what I need for dinner that night is a nice excuse to get out of the house and move around a bit, rather than a chore.

* Having three (or sometimes more) people to cook for instead of just two.

* Having my sister around to help. This is a double benefit, since first of all, she acts as my sous-chef: I find the preliminary “cut stuff up” stage of making dinner to be entirely tedious, while she’s much more willing to do that part than the actual cooking, which means our inclinations pair up well. Also, her presence means that I have company while I’m cooking, instead of being stuck off in the kitchen bored out of my skull and wishing I was doing something I cared about more.

So I’m still not a gung-ho chef by any means, interested in the cooking for its own sake.
I am still prone to going “meep” and deciding a recipe sounds too complicated for me, even though I know many of my friends could do it in their sleep. But we’ve made a variety of different meals and show all signs of going on to make more, instead of defaulting back to pre-prepared stuff as often as possible. And I’m even developing a few instincts, like “I’ve doubled this recipe, but I don’t think I need to double the liquid; yeah, a little more than usual looks like enough” or “I think the turkey cuts need to be thinner next time” or “this was fine, but would probably be better if I browned the sausage first.”

I’ve made a tag for cooking-related content, so those of you who do really enjoy cooking, expect the occasional post wherein I will ask for advice on modifying recipes or what have you.

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

swan_tower: (Default)


It’s out!

PLEASE NOTE: this is a novella. Which is shorter than a novel. I already anticipate there will be reviews to the effect of “I thought I was getting a whole book but I wasn’t” — novellas are making a comeback, but they’re not yet so widespread that the occasional reader won’t be blindsided by the shorter length.

But if you want a whole novel’s worth of stuff, I got you covered there, too!


That’s right — at long last, A Star Shall Fall is out in the UK! Unlike the previous two Onyx Court books, this one has never been published in that country before. Only one more to go, and you can collect a full matched set . . .

(And if you think this is a big day, wait until April 25th of next year, when you’ll get Within the Sanctuary of Wings [Memoirs of Lady Trent #5] and Lightning in the Blood [Varekai #2] on the same day!)

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

swan_tower: (Default)

For those who are interested, the annual Yuletide fanfiction exchange is starting up again! If you already know what it’s all about, the nominations post is here. If this is unfamiliar to you, the exchange rules are here, and the more detailed eligibility rules are here. Which may very well be confusing to a newbie, so feel free to ask me questions if there’s something you need clarification on.

Short form: Yuletide is very fun, covers a broad swath of things one would not normally term “fandoms” (ranging from historical periods to works of art to blog posts to commercials), and produces a number of really excellent stories every year. I’ve been doing it since 2010, and it’s sort of a busman’s holiday for me — a chance to tell stories and have it be pure play.

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


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