ARIAH Countdown: Thank you vodcast

Below is a transcript of the video, very lightly edited for clarity.

Hi everybody, uh, so Ariah gets released tomorrow, and I just wanted to take a moment and thank everybody who helped me get the book to this point. First, thank you to my partners Jon and Sam. This book couldn’t have made it, and it wouldn’t it exist, if I wasn’t with Jon. I wouldn’t be writing fiction if I wasn’t with Jon. [laughs] I didn’t start writing fiction except that Jon was writing fiction. So, Ariah wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for him. So, thank you to Jon. And thank you to Sam who was alway a stalwart supporter of me writing fiction and who always pushed me to make it–to express more marginalized voices and to call out oppression and social justice and make it queerer and better and stronger in my fiction. So, thank you to Sam.

I also want to say thank you to my ex-partner, Hunter, who was a huge force in getting me to put my fiction out there. Before I was with her I was mostly just letting my close friends and partners read my fiction. I wasn’t at a point yet where I was ready to put it out there for other people to read it. So she was a huge part of getting me to a point where I felt comfortable submitting my fiction for publication. So, thank you to Hunter.

I also want to say thank to my in-laws, Jon’s parents, Richard and Heather Seid, especially Heather Seid who has been a big avid reader since ever of my fiction.

I want to say thank you to all of my queer and trans* friends and all the queer and trans* people who have been out there living lives since well before I was out. Without you I wouldn’t be living my life and this book wouldn’t be written the way it would be. So thank you to all of you.

I want to say thank you to the writers who have inspired me–namely Ursula K. Le Guin is a big influence of mine, Nnedi Okorafor, Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood is another one, China Mieville because any writer was a reader first. That’s definitely true in my case. And I continue to be a big reader.

Thank you to the fine people at The Zharmae Publishing Press, specifically Love, Sex and Merlot, my imprint, at The Zharmae Prublishing Press. Thanks to Sara Bangs who took on my book and who is a fine editor who definitely made it stronger and who shepherded the book all the way through. And thanks to Travis Grundy who took a chance on my book.

Thanks to all of those people and many many more. without you this wouldn’t be possible.

ARIAH Countdown: Fez and Rabatha

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click through to pre-order!

Much of Ariah is set in the capital city of the Qin Empire, Rabatha. This is where Ariah receives his training with his mentor Dirva. This is where Ariah inevitably returns—twice—after living elsewhere. This is, for a long time, where Ariah calls home.

Rabatha is a bustling city, a place of great political clout, nestled in the heart of the desert Empire. It is an urbane city: universities, libraries, art galleries, exotic markets, the very first clockwork train station. It is the jewel of the Empire. And it also has ghettos.

Ariah, because the Qin have deemed his skills useful to a point, is able to catch glimpses of both sides of Rabatha. He lives in the Semadran districts, but he works in the Qin areas, so he sees this contrast between how his people are forced to live compared to the Qin.

Ariah’s experience of Rabatha is very loosely based on my own experience living, for a

Fez New City (click through for source)

Fez New City
(click through for source)

short time, in Fez, Morocco. I spent time there as a study abroad student in a program focused on cultural psychology; half the time in the program was spent there, and the other half of the time was spent in Tartu, Estonia. It was an immersion program—we learned what we could of the languages (I was terrible at that) and had homestay placements. We took history courses and modern culture courses. We were mostly white college students, and we were cultural tourists, and we bore our immense privilege on our sleeves most of the time. I am exceedingly grateful for the experience.

Fez Medina (click through for source)

Fez Medina
(click through for source)

Morocco stuck with me. It has a deep and fascinating history—every place does. But something about it really stuck with me. My homestay placement was with a family who lived in the new part of the city, the part of the city that had been built by the colonial French. They lived in a beautiful modern apartment—top floor, overlooking the entire city, with a beautiful view of the mosques with their reaching minarets. I remember the building had a doorman. I remember feeling some class shock at that growing up the way I did in the States. I spent most of my time in the medinas, the old city, with its winding narrow streets with walls so high it seemed always in perpetual twilight. The medina was the original Fez, but when the French took the city they forced the Moroccans to move there—all of them. It became a ghetto. It still is a ghetto; the people there are uniformly poorer than the family I stayed with. Poorer and more traditional—the women there wore hijabs; the women in the family I stayed with did not.

Fez Mellah (click through for source)

Fez Mellah
(click through for source)

But it gets more complicated than that. If you dig further into the medina, you find the mellah. There was a period when Jews lived in Morocco, and at that time, they were forced into ghettos of their own, these small pockets of blue-washed walls where they were separated from the rest of the population. They are haunting places.

I think about these evolving relationships—new city, old city; new city, medina, mellah—quite frequently still, ten years later. It was this complexity I wanted to capture in the fictional city of Rabatha.

ARIAH Countdown: Anatomy of a Cover

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Hi friends! Today I have for you a tour of the book’s cover. This Prezi calls out why certain elements were called out in the cover art and the relevance they have to the story. I want to thank C. Bedford once again for her incredible art!

ARIAH Countdown: Early Reviews!

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click through to pre-order!

We are a week out from Ariah’s release! Not that I’m counting the days or anything. Not that I have a series of posts labeled “Countdown” or anything.

We’re just a single week out from the release and I thought I’d try and get you as excited as I am about Ariah by sharing with you some early reviews:

Amanda Smith on Goodreads writes:
The action is driven by relationships, by love, and the ties that bind friends, lovers, and families together.

Ariah’s journey uses a carefully crafted fantasy world to explore the influence of deeply entrenched and often narrow social rules, expectations, and traditions and how those rules end up shaping our lives if we allow them to.

Hunter on Goodreads writes:
Sanders writes compelling personal struggles in a detailed, fantastic setting. The themes of queerness, family, and belonging will speak to a lot of people.

And last but not least, a Publisher’s Weekly review of the ABNA 2013 manuscript of Ariah said:
Set in a beautifully crafted fantasy world where races of elves uneasily coexist, and most are under the dominant hand of the brutal Qin, this poetic coming-of-age saga is focused on relationships and how “all of us exist in a web of other people, tethered to them and pulled by them this way and that.” The elf Ariah is apprenticed in a strange country to teach him control of his two magical gifts: perfect mimicry and the ability to read and shape the emotions of others. He trains with Dirva for several years and is groomed to be a linguist like his teacher.

But what could have been a mundane life of good-enough takes a turn toward the extraordinary when Dirva is called back to his home country and Ariah accompanies him. That’s when Ariah’s real journey begins, as his training ends abruptly and he develops the relationships that will become critically important in his life. Moving from obedient and docile to reckless, self-sabotaging and disastrously unformed, Ariah is a marvelous protagonist whose mixed blood sets him apart even in the elvish ghetto. There are bandits and pirates and elven queens and magic; treks across the desert, brutal slavery and racial discrimination. The author’s skill at blending classic elements makes the story fresh and exciting. Splendid prose and an absorbing story are built on realistically complicated, well-developed characters and relationships, and the explorations of pride, vanity, humility, love, philosophy, and sexuality make this vivid tale of Ariah’s journey towards maturity a must-read.

ARIAH Countdown: Building a Genderqueer Culture

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Being gay, lesbian or bisexual isn’t an issue. Homophobia is the issue. While it’s a significant problem in the real world, I think that leaving it behind in a fantasy world is a wonderful and empowering way to say that being gay really is OK.

The above quote was written by Malinda Lo in regard to her novels Ash and Huntress. She writes about how in creating the secondary fantasy worlds in which her queer characters live she as the writer was presented with a choice—are these worlds homophobic, or are they not? Will her characters experience stigma for their queerness, or will their queerness simply be another kind of love?

I read Lo’s article just this week, but it got me thinking about why and how I created one of the cultures within Ariah. Towards the end of the book, in desperate straits, Ariah is forced to wander the eastern grasslands where the nomadic Droma elves live. The Droma elves are a hunted people—taken as slaves by both the Qin Empire where Ariah himself hails from and by the pirate colonies to the south of the Empire. The fact that they are hunted makes them necessarily wary of outsiders. The fact that they trickle into the Empire as slaves means that Ariah, who has a great facility for languages, has already learned to speak Droma by listening to the slaves at market.

One thing about the Droma language that has fascinated Ariah long before he ever meets the Droma in the grasslands (he keeps his distance from the slaves) is that they do not define gender as he himself does (or as most people in the real western world do):

And there was the question of gender, too. At first, it seemed binaristic like most other languages, like Qin and Semadran. There were terms for male and female, differentiations I heard the slaves use for those not of their culture and for animals. But I never heard them use such distinctions towards themselves. It took me some time to parse it, but it became increasingly clear that the Droma did not understand themselves as men or women, but simply as people. The slaves in the city, likely as a means of survival, acknowledged that we divided ourselves as such, and they must have understood that we divided them that way, too, but in the conversations I overheard they only ever used variations on the word voe—the Droma word for “person”—to refer to other Droma and themselves. It fascinated me—how could something so fundamental and so obvious as gender go unseen among them? And what did it mean? How could I be myself without being a man? I wanted very much to understand it, but it was elusive and exotic and always just out of my reach. I couldn’t help but gender them while listening: that one is a male person who is speaking to a female person went my thoughts.

Once Ariah is out in the grasslands, his only hope of survival is to be adopted by a Droma clan. When, by a stroke of luck, he is adopted by a Droma clan, he is confronted with this question of gender (or, rather, the lack of it) again:

I remembered the strangeness of Droma gender. I tried very hard to ignore all the signs of biological sex, to see the child as a person, as voe. If I was to encroach on their lands and ask for their help in survival, I felt the least I could do was get this one basic thing right. But it was hard. It took a very long time before it was easy, or natural, and even then it was hard.

So, here’s the thing about the Droma: to many of you out there they may seem strange. To me, they don’t. I’m genderqueer. I would fit right in. I didn’t set out to build a culture around that, one where I would fit right in—and actually I probably would only fit in in terms of gender because I really hate moving and am otherwise unsuited to a nomadic lifestyle. But the Droma evolved into an agender/genderqueer culture in my worldbuilding quite naturally. When it came time to decide, explicitly, whether they had genders it was easy for me to decide that they didn’t, largely for the reasons that Lo cited above.

Being trans* and/or gender-variant isn’t an issue. Transphobia and unexamined binarism is the issue.

Now this is already a long post, I know, but if you want to know more about what I mean by that, feel free to keep reading. I take a very materialistic approach to worldbuilding, especially as it regards to gender roles within a given culture. And, historically, cultures marred by a lack of resources—cultures characterized by lack and want—develop into very rigid gendered structures. Protection of lineage, parentage, and all that.

But the opposite often proves true as well. If the population is small, and if resources are abundant, then there’s no pressing need to pay strict attention to gender—note that paying strict attention to gender is code for controlling women’s bodies. But it could also mean literally just noticing and codifying gender period.

So, for the Droma, for whom the grasslands provide plentiful resources, and for whom roles in the clan are divvied up based on age and skill, gender literally doesn’t come up. Food and other resources are shared. Childrearing is communal, so lineages are not tied to inheritance or wealth or even parentage the same way they are in, say, the Qin Empire. It is a culture in which gender does not make sense. Even though the Droma have the same biological plumbing as Ariah (as you and I do), it’s still a culture where gender as a social construct does not make sense.

One wonders what kind of culture shock this means for the Droma who get taken as slaves—this is not yet something I’ve explored in my writing. Something I do know is that it has created a kind of minor reverse culture shock in some of my beta readers. At least one of the quotes above was added in edits due to feedback received because a reader thought Ariah adjusted to the Droma’s concept of gender too quickly.

I’ve said before that I like speculative fiction’s ability to pose radical ‘what ifs’. I think this is one of those for me. What if such a culture existed? What would it be like? For me, those are powerful questions worth asking.

ARIAH Countdown: A Short History of ARIAH

Today’s post is essentially a post-mortem. This is a short history of how Ariah the book came to be written, and then how it came to be published. I am always interested in that kind of contextual backstory, so I thought maybe some of you out there might be interested in it, too. Remember, you can pre-order Ariah here!

ARIAH_ShortHistory

ARIAH Countdown: What you missed on Radio Z

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In case you missed it, I was invited to participate in The Written Word, Zharmae’s weekly radio show. The live show took place yesterday afternoon, and the focus was on food in fantasy book. Both Christy Jones, author of Trinka and the Thousand Talismans, and I discussed food in fantasy literature in depth–everything from GRR Martin’s love of bacon to the way food symbolizes trust in fairy tales. The episode is definitely worth a listen, and you can hear it for free here!

I wanted to make sure my faithful blog readers were not left out of the Radio Z fun, though. On the show I shared this excerpt from Ariah:

I wandered east, endlessly east. After three days of travel, just as my supplies began to run out, I found a river and followed it further east. I survived mostly on edible water grasses and fish. I felt guilty about the fish until I managed to snare and eat a rabbit. I wept when I killed it and skinned it, and wept again when I ate it. It was a struggle to keep the meat down; the wrongness of it was overwhelming. Still, I needed the protein badly. After that first rabbit, I became carnivorous and killed and ate whatever animals I could.

This scene takes place nearly three-quarters of the way through the book. Ariah has faced capture, and has just managed to escape. By this point in the book the reader knows that Ariah was raised in a vegetarian culture–we have seen him turn down meat dishes politely, thoughtlessly, out of habit more than once.

Semadran culture, in which Ariah was raised, lives under the thumb of the Qin. The level of structural oppression the Semadran elves like Ariah live with due to the Qin leaks into every part of their culture–right down to the food they eat. They live in poverty, so richer and more caloric foods (like meat) are much harder for Ariah’s community to come by. Ariah’s people live in restricted neighborhoods with enforced curfews, far from the fresh markets, so food that spoils quickly is not practical, either. A plant-based diet is more practical.

But on an ethical/spiritual/political level (these things are tied together in complex ways for Semadran elves), there is another level of meaning here. Semadran elves are decidedly nonviolent, and this extends to their diet. In a social position where they find themselves mercilessly beaten, imprisoned, executed often by the Qin, one form of resistance may be a refusal to eat another being.

All of this rushes to the surface in this scene where Ariah, forced by circumstance, first eats a fish and later eats a rabbit. He has to do it. He has to eat that rabbit to stay alive. He knows this, but in the doing, he confronts a lifetime of enculturation. And he comes undone.

He comes undone, but his body overrides his shame and guilt. He so badly needs the nutrients and the protein that his hesitance is quickly overcome. This becomes the new normal for him at a pace which disturbs him.

Blog Tour: Check out Ilmarinen by Marilla Mulwane!

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Altana Burrows has always been special.

She’s smart, talented, and quick to learn. She also has a secret, and whenever she tries to tell anyone about it—her friends, her family, the school psychiatrist—they accuse her of letting her imagination run away with her. They don’t believe her. They don’t understand.

They don’t know about Ilmarinen.

They don’t know about the prophecy, or the role Altana will play in it. But the people of Ilmarinen know, and they will help her: a young hunter with a dangerous secret; a talking horse who loves to play; a little girl with a big axe; a beautiful woman in a red dress. Eventually, they will all play a part in Altana’s story, and the fate of a world will rest in their hands.

That is, if they can figure out how to kill a god.

ILMARINEN is a newly released young adult fantasy novel from Illusio & Baqer, an imprint of The Zharmae Publishing Press by Marilla Mulwane. It’s available for purchase from amazon here!

ARIAH cover reveal!

ARIAHCoverI CANNOT TELL YOU ALL how much I love this cover!! The cover art was created by the enormously talented C. Bedford, and I am honored to have my book represented by her work. If you, too, are enamored of the magic she worked with ARIAH’s cover then I heartily recommend a stroll through C. Bedford’s deviant art page here.

One of the reasons* I signed with LSM/Zharmae was, honestly, the quality of their cover designs. Despite the old adage, everyone really does judge a book by its cover. Covers are important–they communicate the level of professionalism that has gone into the book. They communicate the artistry of the book, the genre, conventions adhered to or broken. They can describe or mislead you about the book’s protagonist. Getting a good cover for ARIAH was important to me.

One of the big decisions, when you write a book nowadays, is whether to go solo and self-publish or to sign with a house. The houses, be they big or small, generally cut the authors out of the cover design process. So if you’re a control freak (and most authors kind of are, especially about how their books are being portrayed) then this part is hard. Trust is involved. Trust is not always easy to have. This time the trust totally worked out.

Zharmae did a wonderful job finding and hiring on C. Bedford. C. Bedford did a wonderful job capturing my characters and my book. Thank you to all parties involved! you about the protagonist.