NEW SHORT STORY FOR BETA READERS: Proof

Proof_wordle

Hey y’all! I just finished another short story. The description and info are below; I welcome any and everyone to read it!

When a friend turns up dead, Shandolin suspects her lover, an elvish assassin named Rivna, may be the reason why. Shandolin marshals all her skills to prove Rivna is the killer, while Rivna does all she can to convince Shandolin she’s innocent.

PROOF is a completed short story 5,650 words in length set in the world of Aerdh. PROOF is a glimpse into the chaotic political and personal lives of two strong-willed sharp-tongued young women that will leave you wanting more.

Interested? Let me know!

Writing Snippet: Shandolin

snippet_shandolin_4252013

This is from a brand new story I’m writing!

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here, but I set a goal for myself that I would finish one piece of fiction every month for the next year. I like finishing things! I am on track to reach that goal — I finished “Crossing the Bridge” in January, Assassins in February, and “Blue Flowers” in March. But I’ve spent all of April mired in the black hole that is rewriting The Long Road.

Now, that’s not a bad thing, but I needed a little variety. My fingers get itchy when they’re not writing narrative pieces after awhile. And I’ve had an idea bouncing around in my head: a set of detective stories featuring two elvish women in an on-again-off-again relationship. One is an assassin. And the other, Shandolin, is a political firebrand.

This story’s about two-thirds of the way through, so stay tuned because I’ll be needing beta readers for it by May 1st!

NEW SHORT STORY FOR BETA READERS!!: Blue Flowers

blueflowerswordleHey y’all! I just finished another short story. The description and info are below; I welcome any and everyone to read it!

Pahvo loved Anu before they ever met. Pahvo is a scryer; he sees the future, the past, lives both in a fractured present. When Pahvo first notices Anu across the street, he sees their entire lives together. Anu sees a stranger.

BLUE FLOWERS is a completed short story 4,950 words in length set in the world of Aerdh. BLUE FLOWERS explores the nature of irrevocable and inescapable love.

Interested? Let me know!

Scattered Thoughts On Engels as a Framework for Worldbuilding

Engels: a man with a compelling beard

Engels: a man with a compelling beard

One reason I am drawn to speculative fiction — both reading what others have written and creating it myself — is its potential for radical what ifs. By that, I mean that speculative fiction is uniquely positioned to wonder about and critique the current world in which we live. It offers an alternative to and an escape from existing paradigms. Really good worldbuilding requires a kind of mind that understands how societies are currently structured, how they may be structured elsewhere, and what those structures may evolve into.

I believe I’ve said before that I write fantasy in large part because I love worldbuilding. I like the sandbox quality of spec fic, and specifically fantasy; the possibility of creating a universe from scratch is very exciting to me. But nothing happens in a vacuum. Nothing can ever truly be objective. I see the world through a particular lens, my choices are informed by my experiences and ideas which resonate with me. We all have what I think of as foundational texts — those narratives that define elements of the world to us and can become a lens through which we makes sense of life around us.

I first read Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (click through for full text) when I was 18 years old. Prior to that, I had been reading tons of Marx, tons of Trotsky and Lenin. And I’d been perturbed that Marxist theory never seemed to dig quite deep enough. All oppression is connected — so how do material conditions get elaborated into class structures? And I found this book, devoured it, and it became a primary lens through which I make sense of the world around me.

Engels’ work explores how ecological conditions (scarcity, surplus, the availability of resources) define the social relationships of a group. If there’s not enough to go around, when there’s no surplus, there’s no private property. And when there’s no private property, there’s no inheritance. But when a surplus happens and an inheritance becomes a thing, people want to make sure what they have gets passed to their kids. Now for the one doing the birthing, it’s pretty easy to keep track of who is and is not your kid. For the other parent — the one who supplied sperm and is not directly involved in the whole birth thing — there appears to them to be a reason to control the womb-haver’s body and to make sure their sexuality is kept in check lest all those scraped together resources get passed to kids who are not, in fact, the sperm-haver’s.

The thing that draws me to this line of thought most is how Engels deconstructs biological essentialism. No, women are not just naturally nurturing so they should stay at home with babies. Maybe we say that, but that’s not what’s going on. Engels would say instead perhaps we’re sequestering them so there’s little opportunity for men to be cuckolded. Maybe that’s what’s going on.

When I’m embarking on building a new world, I work actively to a) avoid essentialism and b) build a culture (literally) from the ground up.

Avoiding Essentialism
Essentialism — or the belief that differences between groups of people are fixed and unchanging — is a way to reify the boundaries of one group against another. Gender differences are often explained through biological essentialism (men and women do different things in society because they are just built different). Given that essentialism is so incredibly pervasive in our cultural understanding of the world, it’s not at all shocking that I see a lot of essentialism leak into speculative fiction.

The thing about essentialism, both in terms of fiction and real world thought, is that it is lazy. The human mind and the human experience are incredibly multi-faceted. We are enormously complex beings who live in nearly unimaginable complexity with each other. Nothing about us just is because it is. In worldbuilding especially, essentialism is a mark of an uncommitted writer. It signals to me that an author just checked out of that part of their world. “It just is, ok? Don’t look too close” is what they seem to say.

In my own worldbuilding, I am very much drawn to the margins. I like to write about those on the outskirts of respectability, of society, those who don’t quite fit. But in order to do that well I have to make the story about that individual’s positionality against a larger cultural framework. It’s not that this person is just an inherently amazing person, it’s that this person is forced to navigate choppy cultural waters with a sometimes incompetent boat. The drama is in the tension between that person and the context (or their boat and the ever-changing ocean). And contexts are dynamic. They are anything but stable. Why do they change? How do they change? Who changes them, and do they change back? These are the kinds of questions that often have unsatisfying answers if you are relying on essentialism to explicate your characters’ thoughts and feelings.

From the Ground Up
The other major thing I pay attention to is the ecological material conditions in which a culture exists. Cultures are fascinating because they are, in essence, both a tool to shape the environment around you in a collective way and a collective reaction to the environment. Whenever I am building something out and I’m not sure why/how it came to be, I take it back down to the material context. What is the food like? Is it scarce? How dense is the population? What are the resources available — stone, wood, minerals? Sorting that stuff out often gives me an insight into why a population may have moved from one part of the world to another, or what kind of relationship they have with the natural world down the line.

In the case of one of my cultural groups, it has been useful to understand how their culture and their understanding of their culture has changed due to a vicious and devastating war. With a literal fraction of their people remaining, having been disenfranchised and quite technically blown back to the stone age, how do they deal with, say, abortion? Is it possible that it could have been not a big thing before and is a Huge Deal now? The conditions are different, and cultures either evolve or they die.

Engels and Magic
I would advocate this materially grounded approach to understanding cultural development to basically any writer. Want to write characters from a different positionality than your own? Engels might be able to help. Want to explore a cultural context you did not grow up in? Do a lot of research and think about what questions Engels might ask you to push you deeper.

But I think his approach is especially fruitful in spec fic. In Aerdh, I have essentially a secondary earth but one in a universe where there is an additional natural force of magic. The fabric of reality is, essentially, just a little bit more malleable in certain places, which can be capitalized on by those with certain capabilities. Plugging Engels into this idea forced me to think through things like following:

  • what would make one culture approve of magic and another disapprove? how much of that approval/disapproval is related to the movement or access to resources?
  • how can magic be commodified (or not) as a resource?
  • how does the expression of magical abilities interact with other biological processes to create vulnerabilities for a population? (for example, if magic increases longevity, there may be a concordant reduction in fertility rates to keep populations from exploding. and if that happens, the comparatively smaller number of magical beings might be at risk for colonization by mundane beings).

Do you draw on a particular discourse or framework when you are elbow-deep in crafting a world? What thinkers do you return to again and again for insight? I’d love to here from you in the comments!

ASSASSINS available for beta readers!

Some satyrs don’t build guitars or harps. Some satyrs build knives instead.

Arisyabet and Gahvrielo built knives. They live in the cloister and serve the satyr villages of the high mountain peaks as assassins, and they know that in order to keep living they must follow through on the death edicts the village elders hand down. The assassins themselves will be killed if they are no longer useful. For Arisyabet, the lines of her life are startlingly clear: do as asked and keep living. Protect the cloister to protect herself. But her best friend and lover, Gahvrielo, cannot bring himself to accept who and what he is.

An assassin’s life is not easy. Danger lurks around every corner, as much from within as from without. Arisyabet and Gahvrielo cling together, but their attempts to make sense of their lives drive them in opposite directions. Their story starts with an act of anguished brutality and unfolds layer by layer to explain how and why two people so devoted to one another wind up like they do.

ASSASSINS is a completed fantasy novella 27,000 words in length set in the richly imagined fantasy universe of Aerdh. ASSASSINS explore the idea of free will, of choice, and the moralities of what we do to survive.

 

Interested? Let me know!
Send me a message on my facebook page or fill out the form below!

ASSASSINS first draft is done!

I just finished a novella about satyrs assassins (the first chapter is up here)! It clocks in at 27,000 words and explores themes of essentialism and free will with a heavy dose of queerness in there because that just seems to happen in my writing. Looking for first readers, so let me know if you’re interested!

Queering Thanksgiving

Holidays have always been a sort of mystery to me. It’s hard to understand what the point of returning to your natal home is when you don’t get along with your family and you hate your hometown. It never made sense to me to spend the few days I had to myself, away from the day-to-day grind of school or work or what have you with people where there is more bad blood than good. A visit home is exhausting.

People from less than ideal families and queer people – and let’s be clear here that these two categories are anything but mutually exclusive – seek each other out. Sometimes this phenomenon is deliberate, and sometimes it isn’t, but in my experience it’s generally pretty useful. It can be hard to explain that dread when Christmas rolls around and you know you have to drag yourself back. It’s a simple comfort to have someone in the same boat read your expression and just get it.

What I’m saying is that when your natal family is not supportive, is not safe, that many of us build a family that provides us with these things from the ground up. I am lucky enough that for years I have been able to celebrate Thanksgiving with my created family. This year, I had my partners Jon and Hunter here with me, a dear friend Van, and the kiddo. These are people with whom I can be totally, unapologetically myself: genderqueer, sexually fluid, poly, brash, foul-mouthed, an enthusiastic eater. They call me B instead of my given name without having to be asked to do it. Reconnecting with them, soaking up the easiness of our relationships to each other, that is what I need from a holiday.

This is exactly the kind of holiday atmosphere I want my kid to have growing up. I want to model an expectation that you get to choose who you share your life with. I want her to know she’s not obligated to spend her days with me if it means she needs a week to prepare to see me and two weeks after to recover. I want her to know she’s not obligated to be with anyone she does not choose to be with, and that she’s allowed to set high expectations for those people.

NaBloPoMo: There Are Some Things I Just Won’t Write

Generally, I let the writing flow. I am, in basically every other aspect of my life, a planner. Very detail oriented. One of my partners (Partner H) called me an order muppet of the highest degree, and she is very much correct. I will have you know that this comes in extremely handy in my day job as a data analyst. It is also useful in managing family google calendars.

But writing is a release from that. It just…works. I try not to over think it. But I’m not writing in a vacuum, and it is me doing the writing, and that means I write within certain parameters. There are some things I just cannot write.

Ok, if you haven’t read Cloud Atlas and you’re planning to, skip the rest of this post as it will contain spoilers. CLOUD ATLAS SPOILERS, I SAY! 

Continue below the cut if you don’t mind being spoiled/have already read it.

Continue reading

NaBloPoMo: Writing and Identity

What a fortuitous time to start this blog! Might as well start it now and jump into this thing that will push me to post here consistently, yes? Yes.

This is a writing blog, certainly, but I know myself well enough to know that my attention wanders. This blog will likely play host to thoughts about politics, and education, and the mundanities of my life, and other stuff. That’s how blogs work. But still, some level of focus is good to strive for, and so I will make this inaugural post to do with my writing. So, without further ado:

There’s that old adage about how you should write what you know, which is really to say you should write who you are. I dismissed it for ages, thinking that the things I wrote actually had remarkably little to do with me. But they didn’t. It’s strange, but I have a tendency to work through myself with my writing.

Writing, for example, helped me really engage with and come to terms with my sexuality. I tend towards queer viewpoint characters, and for ages I downplayed or flat-out denied the role my own (unacknowledged) queerness played in this. Now that I am well and truly out, I am revisiting some of my older work. It’s amazing to me how much of my fiction has centered around sexuality, and queerness, and what these things mean to me before I was ever ready to have those conversations with myself.

I write fantasy, and I write it because I love love to world build. I like the flexibility of it and the way a carefully and fully realized fantasy world functions as a reflection of the world in which I live. It’s a way to play with what ifs: what would a society look like where homosexuality was the norm? What would a society look like where gender was constructed very differently than it is in our own? How would the characters live and grow in a world like that?

What I have understood only  recently is that the questions which have shaped the way I write are also questions which shape who I am. They are questions about myself as much as about the world around me. Over and over I’ve seen evidence in my writing of a shift in perspectives or identity before they bubble up to the surface. For me – and probably for most of us who write – the development of myself as a person and the development of my writing is an iterative process. One informs the other, and the then that cycles back around. For me, writing and identity has become quite a chicken-egg conundrum.