Damsels and Dragons and Wizards, Oh My!

DRAGONS AND DAMSELS AND WIZARDS, OH MY!

Let’s imagine that this posted on Wednesday this week, shall we? Just to keep up the illusion that we’re doing something on a schedule.

Illusions, magic, swords, and quests, fantasy is a broad range of fiction, but I’m going to limit our discussion today to old-school sword and sorcery style fantasy. Urban fantasy is a different topic to be dealt with on a different day.

There’s been a resurgence in what we used to call sword & sorcery in my day. Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones, fantasy is back with a vengeance. It died for a little bit in the nineties, but it never went away. It mutated into vampire novels and urban settings with elves, and a bit of steampunk veneer for spice, but there were still stories about knights and wizards hiding in the corners.

I was lucky enough that my mother read to me for ages. We started with Lord of the Rings and The Black Cauldron series; then went on to hit the Spellsinger series and The Circle of Light. When we finished those we swam into the comedic fantasies of Myth, INC and A Malady of Magicks.

I have loved fantasy from when I was a kid, and even now I love nothing more than being able to lose myself in the depths of a good fantasy novel. Build me a world with consistent magical laws, throw in a dragon for good measure, and give me a party to follow and I am ready to follow.

However, I am also old school enough to tell you this: writing up your old D&D adventures? That’s not going to sell unless you happen to be the folks on Critical Role. I’m not saying that people should ignore simple quests. If they’re done right, a quest is a traditional tale told well. If they’re done wrong, it’s the Dungeons and Dragons movie with Jeremy Irons chewing on the set. (Bless him for that though. It made the rest of it less painful.)

If you want to stand out in the fantasy genre, tell me the story from a different angle. Heroes are a dime a dozen, give me a female priestess like in Martha Wells The Wheel of the Infinite. Or maybe you could build up a new society from a long-con like in Mistborn by Brian Sanderson. (Okay, so this post wants to digress into a “read these awesome stories” post, so deep breath and let’s press on.)

The elements a fantasy story needs: some form of magic, a McGuffin to pursue, compelling characters to root for, and some fighting and/or diplomacy in the way of the pursuit.

What it does not need: an all-white all-male formulaic cast, slavery, or to be set in a European forest.

Build the setting. Build the rules of the world. Give me characters that have actual motivation. Remember, fantasy is the setting, characters make the story.

And go read some awesome books:

The Wheel of the Infinite – Martha Wells

The Hawk & Fisher Series – Simon R. Green

Mistborn  – Brian Sanderson

And whatever people suggest in the comments below. 🙂

What the heck is the YA market?

When I was a kid — yes, I’m going there — there was nothing called YA. There were kids books and there were adult books.

Yes, books were sort of grouped in the kids section by age range, but there was no separate place for books aimed at what we now call young adults.

YA is now a market and so now we have to figure out how to define that market. From my perspective, YA contains books aimed at people aged 12 to 18. (Which does not in any way mean that you have to be that age to read them.)

The rule of thumb when I was a baby-author and getting the hang of this publishing thing was that a book for kids was grouped by the age of its protagonist. For example, books aimed at tweens would have a protagonist who was approximately fifteen/ in high school. Books aimed at high school students generally featured seniors in high school or kids just entering college.

That’s not exactly how it works anymore.

YA features protagonists who are the same age as the readers, or just above them. Right now, they’re chosen ones fighting in dystopias, or quietly desperate high school struggles, or soul-shattering stories written by John Green. Now, as a reader, you don’t have to decide if something is YA, it’s right there in the section of the bookstore labeled YA.

I don’t have that luxury. I’m over here on the publisher side. I have to decide if it belongs in that section of the bookstore.

How do I do that? I fall back on what I know. If the protagonist is between fifteen and twenty-five, check-box one is achieved. If the story is something that follows a general pattern of what’s in the market right now for YA, check-box two is achieved. If the writing is over-blown and annoyingly pedantic… erm… no.

I have nothing against poetry. I have nothing against using multi-syllabic words or facing difficult concepts in a story. Let’s face it, Harry Potter has racism, fascism, class warfare, prisoners of war, torture, and death. Hunger Games is children literally hunting each other. Difficult storylines, difficult words, none of that is a problem. Sex, violence, cursing, none of those things are deal-breakers anymore.

Talking down to the audience is. Pretending to be hip is. (What is it you whipersnappers say? “on fleek”?) Don’t do that, please.

Still, bottom line, when I’m looking for a YA book (and let’s face it, our line does need some), I’m looking for a book that hits the sweet spot in terms of age, reads quickly, and doesn’t make me question whether or not I’ll need to talk to the FBI about the author.

PS: GOLDEN FLEECE PRESS IS ACTIVELY LOOKING FOR YA BOOKS.

HERSTORY: Miss Cora M. Strayer’s Private Detective Agency

Okay, so, I’ve been really sucky at writing anything on a regular basis here.

But that’s because the world has been… insane.

Let’s focus on the past for a little while okay? This is from Paul Reda. And I just love the fact that not only is the ad awesome, the history is pretty cool too.

I am really into old ads and Chicago history, and the ad copy filled me with joy. I loved the idea of a female PI working the South Side of Chicago during the Progressive Era. My mind almost immediately started concocting stories and cases for her (historical fanfic? Is that a thing?). Cheating husbands, missing daughters, crooked alderman, maybe even a murder in the Stockyards. I was sure she had an affair with Upton Sinclair and her nemesis must have been H.H. Holmes.

I resolved to find out as much about her as I could. I never would have guessed that I would find so much and that she completely lived up to my expectations. So here is a timeline and documentation of everything I could find out about her (or at least as much as I could while spending no money and “researching” from the comfort of my couch). I HIGHLY recommend you click the links and read the articles. They’re amazing.

READ MORE

Make your own Golden Fleeced Sheep

So, we have a wonderful mascot named Nugget. He’s adorable. But obviously, he didn’t come glittery and golden as he should be for a golden fleeced sheep. We made him glitter.

nugget 6

After five attempts.

You can make your own. With the best method, not the first five, which involved varying types of fabric paint.

Materials:nugget 5

  • 1 Stuffed sheep

  • Spray adhesive

  • Fine gold glitter

  • Painter’s tape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 1: Acquire a stuffed sheep. Our Nugget was saved from a thrift shop in Delaware.

Step 2: Use painter’s tape to mask the parts you don’t want to glitter.

nugget 4

Step 3: Open the spray adhesive. Then, throw out the vintage spray adhesive that you’ve had since high school; run to the store and buy a new bottle of adhesive.

nugget 3

Step 4: Spray the sheep in sections and cover with glitter. Be aware that spray adhesive is what Spiderman uses to web criminals. Wear latex/nitrile gloves or be prepared to pick that stuff off your hands for the rest of the night. Oh, and glitter? Yeah, glitter is evil. It will get everywhere. Forever.

nugget

Step 5: Allow the glue to dry.

Step 6: Remove the tape.

nugget 6

Step 7: Enjoy the wonderful and glittery shine that makes your sheep pictures look like JJ Abrams filmed your sheep.

nugget 2

Sometimes You Have to Say “No”

“Creative people say ‘yes’ until they have enough work that they can say ‘no.’”

Austin Kleon (Austin has several wonderful/amusing form letters about saying ‘no’ on his tumblr.)

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this month, you have to say no to something. That might be not watching TV with the family after dinner. It might be bowing out of a night of drinking and debauchery. (Why not try a write in, instead? A lot more coffee, but random conversations that will make you wonder what’s *in* that coffee. And you get some writing done.)

But even if you aren’t, the holiday seasons are upon us. They’ve pounced with the ferocity of a reporter on a Donald Trump quote. This season, more than any other, is when you need to think about your own sanity. You will have a lot of people who believe you have unlimited time to devote to them. This might be family. This might be friends. This might be a boss who has fourteen new projects that need to be pushed out by the beginning of January.

You need to take care of you. So, you need to be able to say “no” to things. “No, I’m sorry, I can’t make sixteen dozen cupcakes for tomorrow.” Or “Sorry, I won’t be able to make your party on the 16th! Have a wonderful time and eat a slice of pie for me.”

And here’s the nasty little secret people always forget: You are not required to explain why you are saying “no” to an event. “I’m sorry. I won’t be able to make it. Thank you for inviting me.” Feel free to copy and paste that sucker whenever you want.

When it comes to projects? Remember that quality trumps quantity. Can you take on 3 freelance projects and get them done on time and make enough to live on/pay the bill you need to pay? Take on 3 projects. But remember to start truly evaluating when the next possible project comes down the road. Will taking on a 4th project result in all 4 of them going off the rails? Say “I’m afraid I won’t be able to take this project on until [Date]. Will that work for you?”

And right here and now is when I point out that I am a total hypocrite about this. I almost always take on enough to push me to the edge.

But I have learned my lesson. 50 pies I’ve never made before? Sure, I can do them. Just not tomorrow. I’m going to need some notice for that sort of thing.

A thin, thin, line

There is a line. A line we draw and say “thus far and no further.” That line is different for everyone.

Today, someone in my life drew that line and left an abusive relationship. I will not reveal more than that for their own safety.

So, for today’s post we are going to 1) signal boost where to get help. 2) discuss abusive behaviors. 3) rage, rage against abuse and give you ways to help.

Where to get help:

    For Women:

US: call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
UK: call Women’s Aid at 0808 2000 247.
Australia: call 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732.
Worldwide: visit International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies for a global list of helplines and crisis centers.

    For Men:

U.S. and Canada: The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men & Women
UK: ManKind Initiative
Australia: One in Three Campaign

Abusive Behaviors:

Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to violence. And while physical injury may be the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological consequences of domestic abuse are also severe. Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy your self-worth, lead to anxiety and depression, and make you feel helpless and alone. No one should have to endure this kind of pain—and your first step to breaking free is recognizing that your situation is abusive. Once you acknowledge the reality of the abusive situation, then you can get the help you need.

Help Guide.Org

A quick checklist from the National Domestic Violence Hotline:
Look over the following questions. Think about how you are being treated and
how you treat your partner. Remember, when one person scares, hurts or
continually puts down the other person, it’s abuse.
Does your partner…
…

  • Embarrass you with bad names and put-downs?

 

…

  • Look at you or act in ways that scare you?

 

…

  • Control what you do, who you see or talk to, or where you go?

 

…

  • Stop you from seeing or talking to friends or family?

 

…

  • Take your money or Social Security, make you ask for money or refuse to
    give you money?

 

…

  • Make all the decisions?

 

…

  • Tell you you’re a bad parent or threaten to take away or hurt your children?

 

…

  • Act like the abuse is no big deal, it’s your fault, or even deny doing it?

 

…

  • Destroy your property or threaten to kill your pets?

 

…

  • Intimidate you with guns, knives or other weapons?

 

…

  • Shove you, slap you or hit you?

 

…

  • Force you to drop charges?

 

…

  • Threaten to commit suicide?

 

…

  • Threaten to kill you?

 

If you checked even one of these, you may be in an abusive relationship. If you
need help, call the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance
Abuse Services’ “Safeline” at 1-800-522-7233 or the National Domestic
Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

How you can help RIGHT NOW:

  1. Signal boost. Share the information in this post. Link to it. Copy it. Post it on your own blog. Facebook it. Tweet about it.
  2. Donate to your local women’s shelter.
  3. Volunteer at your local shelter.
  4. Donate to one of the organizations in the first section
  5. Send this post to someone who needs the checklist.
  6. Look around your home and consider if you have the ability to shelter a friend or a friend of a friend who’s escaping a situation. Think about what you would do. Make sure there’s a plan and maybe lay in an extra toothbrush and sundries, just in case.

It is my sincerest hope that you will never need this information. But if you do? Here is it. And here’s a virtual hug from me to you. You are heard. You are believed.

Racism has physical effects

Racism is nasty, evil, and insidious. It’s something to watch for, not only in writing, but in life.

But as writers we need to go one step beyond and actually think about how racism affects our characters. Here’s a side-effect I’d never thought of before. It turns out that dealing with racism can increase risk-factors for illness.

Controlling for other factors that might cause stress, including socioeconomic status, health behaviors, and depression, researchers found that adults who had reported higher levels of discrimination when they were young had disrupted stress hormone levels 20 years later—and that African Americans experienced the effects at greater levels than their white counterparts.

“There’s sometimes a tendency to say, ‘Oh, they are just kids—they will get over it,'” says developmental psychologist and head researcher Emma Adam. “But it turns out there can be lasting impact.”

Using participants from the Maryland Adolescent Development Context Study—a large-scale, 20-year survey that included adolescents from a broad range of socioeconomic backgrounds—the researchers were able to compare levels of the stress hormone cortisol in adults to the responses they gave as 12-year-olds.

You can read the full Mother Jones article here.

What this generally means, is that the levels of stress hormones remain elevated in those who experience racism. High hormone levels can lead to heart disease, diabetes, chronic fatigue, and depression. So, let’s think about this in a regular fiction way and then in a science fiction way.

In regular fiction, you have a character who is from an historically minority background who has grown up with racism (overt or insidious). They are now an adult. This adult is now put into a stressful situation. His heart is weaker, having had high stress levels on a continual basis for most of his life. How does he react? More quickly? More slowly? Does he suddenly have a tingling in his hand and shortness of breath that he writes off as the normal background of his life, rather than the mild heart attack it is?

In a science fiction way, we have a minority character — an alien. How does this alien’s physiology react to long-grade stress? Does it change the color of the alien’s skin (<– playing with race to fit in with the dominant culture. Adaptive physiology?) Does it make the alien sick? Aggressive? Passive?

Or, if we put humans under the dominant alien culture. Humans have to work twice as hard to been seen as good as the dominant species. How does this affect the rates of exhaustion? Do they age more rapidly? Die more easily?

What are your thoughts/reactions?

 

 

Kickstarter Math

Okay, since we’re thinking of starting some crowd-funding projects in the future (box sets of Abby the Labby and Thomas the Watch-cat as well as our Fandom Universe series), I’ve been doing some research.

This article by Marian Call is excellent! She not only breaks down how to set a budget, but several tricky bits about how to manage stretch goals and public face. It’s a lot of good information and I think everyone should go read it, especially *backers*. This is information that anyone involved in crowd funding should think about. That way we don’t get nasty backlashes like the ones that hit Amanda Palmer.

This is just one section:

How much you can raise and how much you need to raise are totally unrelated numbers, sorry to say — you might need $100,000 but if you can only raise $5000, ask for $5000, and deliver what you’re promising to those backers. Or change what you plan to make.

Crowdfunding is not a magical wishing well, it’s a community. The “crowd” that you petition is a family you build over a very long time with very hard work. If you don’t have a crowd yet, fund your work some other way. You have to know who will be supporting you (their names and faces and kids) and you have to know what they want. You have to be able to estimate how much they will pay, individually and as a group.

I have done a lot of fundraising in the past, and I know my audience pretty well. But I still need to run a few different scenarios. I mean, think through all the things that can go wrong and right during your campaign:

  • What if my fans have crowdfunding exhaustion? They absolutely do.
  • What if a couple of reliable big donors don’t turn up like I expect? Do not assume they’re in; they don’t owe you, and they don’t always show up.
  • What if they’re not as interested in this project as they were in my last one? That is absolutely possible, there are newer shinier projects out there.
  • What if I somehow go viral and have thousands more backers than I expect — can I cope with the workload? Many Kickstarters tank even in spectacular success. A surprise $2,000,000 can bankrupt a project that would have been solvent at $2000.
  • What if the news is really awful when my campaign ends/when my record launches and I can’t promote? This happened to me during Hurricane Sandy; media outlets that promised coverage were literally underwater and of course did not run stories. Some factors are totally out of your control.

You never know exactly how much you will fundraise, even if you’ve done it before. So be prepared for every scenario.