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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.

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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.

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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.

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cover for COLD-FORGED FLAME

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!

UK cover for A STAR SHALL FALL

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.

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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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Five days left!

COLD-FORGED FLAME author copies

In celebratory anticipation, I’m going to give away one signed copy to a commenter on this post (across all platforms). There will also be giveaways for Twitter respondents and newsletter subscribers, so if you want to maximize your chances to get your hands on one, keep an eye out there as well! I’m @swan_tower on Twitter, and you can sign up for my newsletter on my website.

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

swan_tower: (*writing)

I have survived our housewarming party, and with that in my tail-lights, let me catch up on a few things. And by a few, I mean a lot.

Like my newest Onyx Court story! “To Rise No More” is the tale of Ada Lovelace’s childhood friendship with faeries, and also her ambition to build herself a pair of wings to fly with. No seriously, I didn’t even make that part up. (The wings, not the faeries. But she did also refer to herself as “Babbage’s fairy helper,” so, y’know. Maybe not that part, either.) It went up at Beneath Ceaseless Skies on my birthday, which I found to be excellent timing.

Shifting gears to a different series, the Barnes and Noble blog has just revealed the cover to Lightning in the Blood, which is the upcoming sequel to the still-upcoming-but-will-be-out-next-Tuesday Cold-Forged Flame. As I said on Twitter, I didn’t know until I saw it that one of my life goals was to get a Giant Hunting Cat onto a book cover, but I can check that off my list now!

And while I’m at it, I’ve finally gotten an excerpt from Cold-Forged Flame posted to my site. One week — one week and it will finally be out . . . .

Also, I’ve been busy with the Roundtable Podcast, hosted by Dave Robison and Marie Bilodeau. And I do mean busy, as I’m in not one but two episodes. The first is part of their “Twenty Minutes With” series . . . which, with the introduction and everything else, wound up being more like Fifty Minutes With. But dear god, the introduction alone is worth it: Dave Robison has a habit of describing his guests in epic terms. I have never heard my own life sound so much like a superhero origin story.

So that’s the first episode; the second is part of their “Workshop” series, wherein a writer (or in this case, a writing pair) describe a project they’re working on and then get feedback from the assembled hosts. We dug into an urban fantasy premise for this one, a setting where a new drug is causing people to develop magical powers, and had lots of thinky thoughts on both the way the drug fits into the world and how to write the “psycho ex-girlfriend” trope in a sympathetic and complex manner.

And finally, I’ve got myself a brand-new setup on Imzy. Where by “brand-new,” I mean “there’s basically nothing there yet” — but I figured I should mention, for those who are busy exploring this new site. Then, having done that, I decided to spend my other community-creation slot on putting together one called Dice Tales, which is a spin-off of the blog posts I’ve been doing at Book View Cafe. Speaking of which: the most recent installments there are “Keeping Up with the Joneses,” on power escalation over the course of a campaign; “With Great Power,” on the GM’s ability to screw players over and responsibility to use that wisely; “GNS,” on Ron Edwards’ old Gamism-Narrativism-Simulationism framework; and then a two-parter that consists of “Game Planning I – Arcs, Acts, and Chapters” and “Game Planning II – Sessions and Scenes,” which are pretty much what it says on the tin. But the Imzy community is not just a place to reblog those posts; I’m hoping it will become a great discussion of storytelling in RPGs more broadly. So if you’re on Imzy and you find that kind of thing interesting, come on over!

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

swan_tower: (*writing)

Rambling thoughts, as I try to name a character.

Lots of fantasy and science fiction feature made-up names. Some of them look more made-up than others — but there are ways and ways of looking made-up, aren’t there? When The Tropic of Serpents came out, I recall reading a review where the person complained about having difficulty with the made-up fantasy names in that book . . . in a way that strongly suggested they had no trouble with Dagmira, Vystrana, Drustanev, or any of the other equally invented names from the first book. But of course those are all recognizably European in style, while names like Ankumata n Rumeme Gbori are meant to look African instead. I don’t recall anymore what Smithsonian article I was reading at the time, therefore can’t look up the place name I came across in it, but it was something from a Pacific Northwestern Native American language, and it looked like the kind of thing beginning fantasy writers get told to avoid at all costs: a mash of “unpronounceable” consonants and apostrophes. But it isn’t unpronounceable, of course; it only looks that way to your average Anglophone reader, who isn’t used to dealing with phonemes in that configuration. Result: a name of that sort often looks fake and made-up, even when it isn’t.

And then there’s the other direction — what I’ve mentally dubbed Babar names. CVCVC, consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant. There are a LOT of these in fantasy, because apparently when an Anglophone brain is fumbling for letters and trying to arrange them into a name, this is the pattern it’s most likely to default to? Or else strong influence from somebody in the genre, but I don’t know who; Tolkien was not very prone to Babar names at all. (Rohan, sure, but you can’t say it was a dominant pattern with him. He was too much of a linguist for that.) These can be perfectly real too, of course, in a variety of different languages. But they’ve started to look fake to me in fantasy novels simply because I’ve seen so many of them. There are so many other ways to put phonemes together! This character I’m trying to name, he was originally Khimos and now he’s Ilan and I’m not happy with either of those in part because they’re just one step away from a Babar name, CCVCVC and VCVC. There’s someone else in that story whose name comes from the same language and she’s Vranatzin Iskovri. That looks like a real name to me. It has internal logic, even if I’m the only one who knows what it is. And yeah, it’s more difficult to pronounce, but if I only stay within the zone of what’s familiar and easy to an Anglophone reader, I’m ignoring a whole swath of possibility. I just wrote a series where people have names like Iljish and Yeyuama and Heali’i and Nour and Thu Phim Lat. I intend to keep that kind of variety going.

I just need this guy to cooperate. You’re important to this story, dude; you need a name I’m going to be happy with, something that will look real to me. Aadet took forever and a day to accept a name, but even he had one by the time I got to him in the story. You? I’ve got a complete first draft and I still don’t like yours. C’mon. We can do better than this.

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

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It looks like I didn’t do a birthday egotism post last year.

For those of you new to this blog (and by new, I mean you’ve been here for less than two years), this is a sporadic tradition of mine for the last decade plus, wherein I step back and reflect on the awesome things I’ve done in the last year (or two or however many it’s been since I did the last post of this kind). It started one year when I was feeling down on my birthday; I decided to counteract that by making myself list my achievements, with no disclaimers, caveats, or modesty allowed. It turns out this is a useful thing to do every so often, and so I shall ask again the traditional question:

I’m thirty-six. What do I have to show for it?

Read the rest of this entry  )

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

swan_tower: (*writing)

So here’s the thing: I read very little (basically no) poetry. When I find a thing I like, I really like it . . . but the rest of it more or less bounces off my skull without leaving a mark. Result is that I don’t read much poetry, because the odds of me finding one of those things that will embed itself in my brain instead of poinging off my cranium are too low to make it worth the effort.

But! I have an internet at my disposal!

So those of you who are lovers of poetry: please recommend things to me that you think I would like. To assist in narrowing down that field, here are things I know I like in poetry:

* Narrative, because brain likey story.
* Aural devices, such as meter, rhyme, alliteration, and so forth. (With exceedingly rare exceptions, I bounce hardest of all off free verse.)
* Generally a darker mood; not sure why, but poems about how happy somebody is tend to draw less of my attention.
* Allusions to things I know about, be it mythology or pop culture or what have you.

I would also be interested in seeing the poetically-minded among you ramble on about why you like poetry: how you read it, what you think about when you consider a poem, etc. Theoretically we had a “poetry appreciation” segment in my high school English classes, but, well. High school.

I’ll put specific examples of what I like behind the cut, for space reasons.

Read the rest of this entry � )

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

swan_tower: (*writing)

After the brouhaha over WFC’s panels the other week, I took to Twitter to brainstorm ideas for panels that would make World Fantasy more up-to-date with the current genre. Wound up with quite a few I’d like to see at some con, a selection of which are below.

Additionally, I propose a guideline for all panel programming: if you’re discussing a topic or subgenre and your panel is not explicitly about either a historical period in the genre or its most recent works, then it may be good to have your panel description reference one foundational work, one classic, and one recent title. So, for example, if you were going to talk about vampires in fiction, you could name-drop Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. If you cannot think of an example from within the last twenty years, then get Twitter or Facebook to help you out. Otherwise you wind up calling Interview “recent” and looking pretty ignorant . . . .

Anyway, panel ideas! Feel free to suggest more in comments.

* Serialized Publication — Both self-publishing and projects like Serial Box have revived this approach to storytelling. How does it differ from its Victorian or pulp-era counterparts (and from modern serialization on TV), and what are the benefits it offers to the writer and the reader?

* Living Memory as History — Fantasy is stereotyped as being mired in a medieval past, but historical fantasy has started to mine the twentieth century for settings. What’s the appeal of setting a novel not in the present, but within living memory, and what perils does that hold?

* Works in Translation — English-language authors often derive a portion of their income stream from translations of their works into other languages, but the flow in the other direction is much smaller. Let’s highlight recent successes of translation into English, and discuss what the barriers are that keep the numbers from rising higher.

* DVD Extras — Author websites and social media provide many opportunities for writers to “add on” to their works, providing additional details or explanation or behind-the-scenes glimpses of how a book came to be. Do these add to the experience, or does knowing too much take away from the magic?

* Trigger Warnings — Fiction, by its nature, often includes content that might be distressing to a given reader. There’s a trend on the internet to note when a post might contain references to triggering content such as sexual assault or child harm, and fanfiction has a long-standing practice of tagging stories to give a preview of what’s inside. How might professional writers do the same — and what, if anything, is the aesthetic cost of doing so?

* Everybody Writes It, Nobody Reads It — Certain genres appear to be more popular with writers than with readers. Or is that just received wisdom? Agents and editors say nobody wants a portal fantasy, and yet many authors want to write them; the same might be true of pulp. Why the disjunct?

* Resurrecting Books — It used to be that your backlist, once out of print, might never be seen again. Self-publishing offers the chance to give these books new life — but what should an author do when these works aren’t up to their current standards of craft, content, or more? Is it better to revise them before republishing, or should they stand as the historical artifacts they are?

* Examining Empire — Good-bye, faceless minions of the Dark Lord; hello, realistic examinations of empire and colonialism. Recent works such as Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, and Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant have delved into the ways that empires acquire and maintain power. Let’s discuss the angles they take, and what this tells us about the world today.

* Alternatives to Violence — The default assumption in the genre is that the stakes are high only if a lot of lives are at risk, and the most exciting victory a character can achieve is to win a climactic fight. But there are books that present alternatives, either by solving problems through non-violent means, or by basing the conflict on some other axis entirely. How do writers create excitement and tension without resorting to violence?

* It’s Not About You — Popular authors may find a fandom springing up around their works. How do they strike a balance when it comes to interacting with those fans? Authors have been cautioned for years that it’s dangerous to acknowledge fanfiction and other fanworks, but is that really true? And what’s an author to do when the fans say they aren’t welcome in their own fandom?

* Grimdark Women — When we hear the word “grimdark,” most or all of the authors who come to mind are men, and the stories they tell are often criticized for sexism and misogyny. Who are the women writing in this corner of epic fantasy, and do they receive that label on their works? Are the female characters in their stories handled differently from those in the works of men?

* Poverty in Fantasy — Many fantasy protagonists grow up poor, but in most cases it seems to be cosmetic poverty: the rural farmboy and the girl from the streets never seem to be malnourished or wondering where they’ll sleep tonight. What books feature protagonists who are realistically poor? What are the difficulties in writing about someone who lacks the free time and disposable income to engage in the usual activities of a protagonist?

* Bring Your Own Dragon — Our modern world is mobile like never before, but a lot of urban fantasy still features protagonists who are ethnically and culturally homogenous with their homes. Who’s writing about immigrant protagonists? How can an author navigate the mesh of different folkloric traditions, the dynamics of multiple cosmologies being real?

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

swan_tower: (*writing)

Unless something changes in the next month or so, I will not be attending World Fantasy this year. Here’s some other people giving the background on why:

Sarah Pinsker on the issues with the program
Fox Meadows
Jim Hines
File 770 roundup

And then Darrell Schweitzer doubled down.

World Fantasy has had a number of issues over the years, but this turned out to be the straw that broke my back. As I said in my email to the concom, Schweitzer trumpets the fact that there are “smart and friendly people” at WFC; well, as a smart person, I decline to engage with a program that shows such profound ignorance of the last forty years, and as a friendly person, I decline to support the behavior of someone who doesn’t care how many people he’s alienating. He appears to believe that “PC ignorami” and “outrage junkies” are driving people away from the convention — so the only course of action I can in good conscience follow is to provide a data point in the other direction.

WFC is one of my favorite conventions, but that has more to do with the number of friends I can see there than with the convention itself. If they could update themselves to show any awareness of the genre’s development during my lifetime? That would be excellent. But so long as they’re presenting a program whose genre awareness ends at 1980, and so long as the man in charge of it thinks that women, PoCs, and anybody under the age of fifty is beneath his notice? I decline to join them.

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

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