Thursday, May 31, 2018

Mean girl karma payback story

This morning on the wonderful KEXP, the equally wonderful John Richards was talking about the nasty effects of bullying and mean kids, and sharing stories listeners had sent in, which made me decide to write up this little anecdote. It’s not as dramatic or harrowing as many a mean-kid story, but it’s ultimately rather satisfying. And maybe it’ll make some other fellow nerd feel better.
So: in middle school, in the late 1980s, I was probably the shortest kid in my class, due to being also the youngest. (I had skipped first grade. I don’t recommend anyone do this to their kid, especially if the kid is already small and shy.) Nonetheless, I had a sweet friend—we’ll call her Sara—with whom I hung out at lunch break. As you know perfectly well, having someone with whom to hang out at lunch break is EVERYTHING. 
In seventh grade, this savvy popular girl, whom we’ll call Jen, befriended Sara, and with her flankers of popular friends, started hanging out with us at lunch too. Cool!
Or maybe not cool. Because one day during lunch break, Jen said to Sara, “We need to talk about…” and made a friendly wince, which somehow I knew was about me. Indeed, she then turned to me and said, all apologetic, that while we were still friends, “they” just didn’t want to hang out with me anymore. Sara, to her credit, was looking unhappy and mumbling, “I don’t want to do this.” 

But it happened anyway. I backed off—why hang out with people who don’t want you?—and Sara stayed with Jen, and I wandered around wondering what I was supposed to do at lunch break now.
Fortunately two other girls, at a popularity level more equal to my own (ha, I love you guys, you know what I mean, though) invited me to sit with them after a while, and we stuck together the rest of middle school. (We went to separate high schools, though, alas.) So I wasn’t friendless. But I wasn’t exactly undamaged, either.
I ran into Sara in the neighborhood some time later, incidentally. She apologized for what had happened, and said glumly that Jen did the same thing to her not long afterward. Nice. Poor Sara. Still, the rift had been made by then, and Sara and I never really hung out after that, even though as far as I knew she remained a truly nice person.
Jen and I went to different high schools and I didn’t see her for a long time. Then we both ended up at University of Oregon. I joined a sorority in the first “Rush” (recruitment period) of the year. So I was a member of a house already when Jen’s name showed up in the next Rush, in the spring: she had apparently decided to join the Greek system too. 
One day I happened to be in the dorm lunch line right in front of her. She put on this big smile and said, “You’re…(squinting, searching for the name) Molly, right? From Corvallis?” 
I smiled coolly and said, “Yes. We were at Highland View together.” Emphasis on the name of our middle school. Like, you do remember what you did to me there?
She said nothing about it if she did remember. “I thought you looked familiar! So you’re in a house now, right?”
I said yes, Tri-Delta. She said great, she was looking forward to Rush! I nodded, wished her luck, and moved ahead to get lunch.
I didn’t have to talk to her when she toured our house during Rush, as far as I recall, which was probably for the best. Maybe she had changed in all those years anyway, I thought. I shouldn’t hold middle school behavior over anyone’s head. So when the Rush day was over and the whole sorority gathered to collect notes on who everyone had met and what they thought and thus who we should invite back, I kept my mouth shut about her. The sorority sister in charge of recruitment said Jen’s name and looked up for comments, pencil at the ready.
I didn’t move or say a word. But other women’s hands shot up, those who had met her just today.
“I found her kind of negative and judgmental,” one said.
“When we were done,” said another, “I walked her to the door and she said ‘bye’ all cheerfully, then she marched over to her friend on the sidewalk, hit her hard on the arm, and said, ‘Where WERE you?’ She just does not seem like a very good friend.”
There were other similar comments. And I just sat there smiling calmly, saying nothing, feeling the flow of the sweet, sweet karma.
Needless to say, she did not join our house, and I never had to deal with her again.
Jen’s “crimes” were minor compared to those of many mean kids and bullies. Wasn’t I probably that mean to some other kid, at some time, if I search through my past? True, I don’t think I ever told anyone I didn’t want to hang out with them anymore, in front of their friends who I was stealing, but I know I was a jerk in some way to some people. And to those people I absolutely offer a heartfelt apology, if they’re out there reading this. So, Jen, if you ever apologize to me, I suppose I’ll forgive you. But I have the weirdest suspicion you wouldn’t even remember me.
How unfortunate for you that I’M A WRITER NOW AND CAN MANIPULATE OUR STORY IN WHICHEVER CONVINCING WAY I CHOOSE, muhahaha.
Moral of story: don’t be mean to anyone at all, because some of those people might grow up to be writers.  

Monday, April 09, 2018

Guest post: Aaron Schwabach on movies and TV getting the law right (or not)

Inspired by this episode of the Writing Excuses podcast, in which a legal expert discussed what writers get wrong about the law, I recently asked on my e-newsletter: "Those of you with legal know-how: what bugs you that fiction (books, TV, etc.) keeps getting wrong when it comes to law? Or do you let it all slide in the name of entertainment?"
My longtime online friend Aaron Schwabach, who is not only an exuberant fanboy of many of the same things I love, but also a law professor, gave such a wonderfully detailed and entertaining answer that I asked him if I could run it as a guest post. He agreed, so here it is, for the edification of all us writers, or just for anyone who's curious. Thank you, Aaron!
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Law in fiction: I tend to overlook most of it for the sake of storytelling, especially in a movie where time is limited.  The same is true for police work, medicine, espionage, or most other “exciting” professions.  Most cops never shoot anyone or get shot by anyone; doctors don’t discover cures for previously unknown diseases and halt epidemics within 48 hours; real life work at the CIA involves hours, days, and months of sitting in a cubicle looking at documents and photographs.  All of those make for a boring story, as would watching a real life lawyer practice law most of the time.  
One of the truest depictions in literature is the chapter of A Tale of Two Cities in which the two attorneys (Stryver and Sidney Carton) defending Charles Darnay pull an all-nighter, working on the case, bickering with each other, getting a bit too personal at times, and drinking way too much (sadly realistic for many attorneys) - as accurate today as in 1859.
In cinema, an oddly and unexpectedly accurate portrayal of the practice of law - one which gets almost everything right and for which the writers clearly did their homework - is My Cousin Vinny.  Everything - including arcana like the pro hac vice appearance and Vinny’s questioning of the guy in the neck brace - has been meticulously researched.
Some courtroom scenes are clearly played solely for laughs (as in Aladdin & The King of Thieves ["I object to a tertiary character having any lines in my big courtroom scene!”] or Liar, Liar! [“I hold myself in contempt”]) and it would be silly to worry about their accuracy.  (Throw in a police officer and you have the manic scene in which Woody Allen represents himself in court in Bananas.)
The worst I can think of offhand, in that it tries to take itself seriously, is Suspect, with Cher, Dennis Quaid, and Liam Neeson.  I tell the students in my Professional Responsibility class: “Watch this movie.  Study everything Cher's character does in the movie. And then don’t do it.  Ever.” The same applies to pretty much everything every other attorney in the movie does as well.
A curious case is Arrow.  The other superhero series with a lot of lawyering that comes to mind is Gotham, but that’s so comic-bookish that the inaccuracies aren’t distracting.  Through the first few episodes of Arrow every time Laurel Lance did some lawyering I’d be grumbling at the screen “that would trigger an investigation by the state bar.  She’d probably get fired and maybe disbarred.”  And then… the state bar investigates her.  And she gets fired.  And maybe disbarred.
Top triggers:
Lawyers cannot engage in ex parte (that is, one on one, without the other party’s lawyer present) communications with judges, jurors, or court officials.  Same goes for judges talking to one party’s lawyer.
Lawyers should not talk to jurors outside the courtroom at all. Ever.
Lawyers cannot talk directly to the opposing party if that party is represented by counsel.  All communication has to go through the other party’s lawyer.  (The parties can still talk to each other, though, and it usually goes badly.)
Real life cases take a lot longer… that’s just movie time, though.
Surprise witnesses are almost unheard of.  Each side has had months to examine the other side’s list of witnesses and depose the witnesses if they wish.
Similarly, evidence that changes everything almost never suddenly turns up at the last minute.
The lawyer is never called as a witness.  (Again, theoretically possible in extreme cases but vanishingly rare.)
Lawyers can’t reveal client confidences except in certain narrowly defined circumstances, and they’re never required to except in even more narrowly defined circumstances.
New, exonerating evidence does not automatically result in the wrongfully convicted defendant being set free.  This can take years, or may not happen at all.  (Another show that deals with this quite well is Limitless, tragically cancelled after just one season.)
Lawyers are admitted to practice in a single state and can not automatically practice in the courts of another state. (See My Cousin Vinny above for how to handle this correctly.  Also, they can practice in federal court.) And they definitely cannot practice in the courts of another country.  
Another example of getting things right: In the courtroom scene in Cheech & Chong’s stoner classic Up in Smoke, a mistrial is declared when it turns out the judge’s glass of water is actually vodka.  Stuff like that does happen and does result in mistrials.  (Google “penis pump judge” for an extreme example.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Delay on upcoming book

My upcoming book Dramatically Inclined will not be published this summer as I had originally planned. I have asked Riptide Publishing to return the rights to me, and today they have complied. They have been issuing rights reversions for many authors lately (at the authors' requests), after a lot of press has come out involving questionable behavior (sexual harassment, borderline racist comments, and more) on the part of some editors. It did not feel like a wise decision for me to stay with the press after this has all come to light, so I will be seeking publication elsewhere. This will unfortunately mean a delay in the release date, which I find frustrating and saddening, but I am relieved to have been able to make this choice before the book's release rather than after.
Once I know more about this novel's future, I will definitely update you. I hope to have a plan soon! Meanwhile, if you wish to help any of the many authors whose works have been affected by the problems at Riptide by supporting them elsewhere, here is a handy list of who they are and where to find them.
This doesn't affect any of my other existing books--which, I'm especially relieved today to say, are under other publishing houses.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Four-part character arc vs. three-act plot structure

I've always struggled with the three-act plot structure. Where to draw the lines between acts isn't always clear to me; the so-called turning points can too often seem too numerous and I'm not sure which one counts as "the important one." (It's a turning point for Frodo when he flees Bag End for Bree, but also when he volunteers in Rivendell to take the Ring to Mordor, but also when he leaves the Fellowship with Sam, but also...wait, is this Act Two yet?) SO, I was excited to read a different theory that puts the typical character arc into FOUR parts instead, which make far more sense to me:

1. Orphan (the character in the beginning, with their life lacking something)
2. Wanderer (the character after the initial shove into the main problem, figuring things out but still half likely to reject the whole quest)
3. Warrior (the character taking on the quest and finding new courage as well as dangers)
4. Martyr (the character being willing to put everything on the line to achieve the goal, though they don't actually have to die [but can if this is a tragedy])

This is based on Carol S. Pearson's The Hero Within, and has been adapted by lots of writers. This post claims that these four character stages can be overlaid onto the three-act plot structure thus:

In Act 1: ORPHAN...lost...needing a quest.
In Act 2A: WANDERER...chose the quest...but unsure how to achieve it.
(stick in here a MOMENT OF GRACE (MOG) where S/He discovers what the story is really about)
In Act 2B: WARRIOR...having discovered through the moral premise how to actually get what he needs.
In Act 3: MARTYR for what he and his village back home needs.

This lines up a lot better for me, for the stories I write. Whew!

As for Frodo...hmm, does he become a Warrior at "I will take the Ring to Mordor," or not until the breaking of the Fellowship? Still undecided for me, but maybe the latter. It's only then that he realizes (moment of grace) that he can't do this with the whole Fellowship along, but must do it anyway. Plus then the LOTR trilogy breaks more nicely into the three acts too. :)

Monday, January 01, 2018

Best of 2017

2017 was...difficult, I think most of us would agree. Not my favorite year ever, for sure. But in the interest of highlighting the positive, here are some of the good things for it in my own personal life!

It was the best of book releases, it was the worst of book releases. The Goblins of Bellwater was released this fall. Publishers Weekly and various librarians and booksellers liked it, which is awesome! Others hated it, largely book bloggers—though certainly not all book bloggers; several nice ones adored it. In any case, the ups and downs were cruel to take at first (well, the downs at least), until I decided that, by my own admission, this is one of my weirdest books, thus it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste. And the shiny silver lining is that despite the “meh” thrown at it, this book has already gotten more exposure and sales than my others, and some people who did like it have started reading my older titles. So now more people have heard of me…which is probably good for the career, at least?
Bonus shout-out to my extroverted younger sister Peggy and (also extroverted) editor Michelle for helping me hand out signed books at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Trade Show this October!


Guinea pigs: We adopted two guinea pigs! Blizzard and Cinnamon are brothers, have soft fur like cats, and are insanely fond of vegetables and will squeak their heads off if they hear you open the fridge. Satisfying and low-maintenance as pets go.



Monterey: Summer trip to Monterey with family was that rarest of things: a vacation where basically everything went well. Monterey and the surrounding California coast are astonishingly gorgeous, with a perfect climate: chilly and foggy in the morning, clear and in the 60s in the afternoon, pretty much year-round. There are sea otters playing in the surf at all times, and sometimes whales. We pedaled a family-size bike surrey to Lovers Point and lounged on a white-sand beach under cypress trees and watched teeny fish dart in the shallows. Want to go back and explore more!



Audiobooks: In a bit of serendipity, my publishers started signing up my titles with Audible this year, not long after my friend Melanie began narrating audiobooks at ACX (part of Audible). Thus, Melanie became my narrator for my first audiobook: she read aloud The Ghost Downstairs and did an awesome job of it! More audiobooks of my stories to come in 2018, if all goes according to plan.

Total eclipse of the sun: We went to Corvallis, Oregon (my hometown), to be in the totality zone for the August 21 eclipse, and it was so worth it. (Traffic getting there actually wasn’t that bad anyway.) I didn’t try to take photos on my phone of the two minutes of blazing corona in a deep blue sky; I just stood in the street with everyone else and gaped at it and staggered around going, “It’s so beautiful!” But it looked about like this (photo as credited from this person on Instagram). Next time there’s an eclipse, get to the totality zone if you can. I mean it.



High school reunion: On three separate and unrelated occasions, I saw three high school friends this summer who I hadn’t seen for years, and it was a delight in each case. Kevin the former altar boy and his daughter came to Seattle and dropped by to visit me; then in Portland at my sister’s party I got to see Tom who is also, in a hilarious coincidence, writing about goblins; then in Corvallis at eclipse time I hung out with Astrid, nowadays an illustrator and comic artist, and we talked about writing fantasy as well as awkward high school moments. You all turned out awesome! Which is no surprise to me whatsoever.

New book contract: Given how long I’ve worked on the guy/guy romance novel about Sinter Blackwell, off and on over the years, and how long this particular year I waited for feedback from beta readers and editors, and then how hard I worked on revising it, I am damn-near ecstatic to finally have this contract on my desk, and can’t wait to introduce you all to this book in 2018. I am betting it will have slightly better average reviews than The Goblins of Bellwater, but we’ll see…

And I haven't even listed all the many, many times I was soothed, inspired, or cheered by a book, film, TV show, piece of music, or other creativity. Art saves sanity and thus saves lives. Keep revering and loving and creating it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

New book to come!

If you've ever found yourself thinking, "Molly, these goblins and Greek gods are lovely and all, but you need to put them aside for a bit and write me a swoony contemporary coming-of-age male/male romance with a lot of new wave song references in it," then you are in luck! Because I have written one, and I've just signed with Riptide Publishing (who specializes in the whole rainbow of LGBTQ stories) to get it out next summer! It will probably be titled Dramatically Inclined, though its working title was Boy in Eyeliner, so both of those are possibilities, as are any last-minute ideas we may get.

I've loved my small press experiences so far--with Central Avenue Publishing and The Wild Rose Press--so I'm confident I'll have a similar happy experience with Riptide, another excellent small press. And I can't wait to have you all meet Sinter and Andy.

[A few of you will remember them from 32 and Raining, an earlier incarnation of this story, though it is much changed since then. It now has a more "rom-com" feel (romantic comedy) and includes a lot more text messages. You might also know Sinter from Relatively Honest, in which he was Daniel's dorm roommate with a theater major and a goth fashion code. So technically this could be counted as as a spinoff novel, but is also completely a stand-alone and requires no knowledge of Relatively Honest.]

More info to come, naturally! For now, happy holidays and thank you for listening to me through all my strange creative projects. :)

Monday, December 11, 2017

My publishing-industry gripes with Stranger Than Fiction, which I love anyway

I rewatched Stranger Than Fiction today, because of course that film is a delight for any fiction writer, and Emma is hilarious as the reclusive, pessimistic novelist. HOWEVER, here are my "oh come on" gripes (which don't include a character coming to life, because I'm apparently fine with that):
1) Publisher wants author to write something new so badly that they send a full-time all-expenses-paid editorial assistant to make sure she finishes her book? Has that ever, ever, ever happened? I mean, if that were how publishing worked, they would have assigned someone to G.R.R. Martin ages ago.
2) I don't get why Dustin Hoffman is so intrigued when he learns that the phrase "little did he know" cropped up in the narration, nor how he could teach an entire seminar on it. Sure, it signals third-person-omniscient, but so what? It's still a cliche of a phrase, and a rather melodramatic one at that.
3) Typewriters? Still? Hollywood, please. Novelists have come around to using computers, just like your screenwriters have. But yes, I admit it's much more cinematic to use a typewriter, as you get that nice clacking sound, and papers you can rip out and crinkle up and toss aside, and all that.
Anyway. Still. The concept is really fun, the performances are all excellent, I'm moved and entertained, the cookies look delicious, and "I'd Go the Whole Wide World" is a catchy song, so I like this film lots on the whole. I just needed to say the above.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Weak words to hunt down and destroy when editing fiction

(This is my personal list, reflecting my own bad writing habits. Use or add to as you like. Obviously you don’t have to delete every instance of the verb “be” or other similarly common and useful words, but in at least some cases you can replace them with more vivid phrasing. E.g., “It was raining” can become “Rain lashed against her face.”)

seem
could
that
this
just
look
glance
stare
know (knew)
hear
feel (felt)
reach
move
watch
was (were, is, be)
-ing
-ly (adverbs)
keep (kept)
have (had)
anyway
actually
paused/hesitated (have them do some action instead)
peek (for an inanimate object)
now
em-dashes –
spin/turn on one’s heel
thought to herself/himself
picked at invisible/imaginary speck of dust/thread/etc
quite
very
pretty (to mean “fairly” or “kind of”)

And let's not forget "let out a breath she didn't know she was holding."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Kids these days are not destroying English

Every time I see a thread of “don’t you hate it when people mispronounce/misspell/misuse word X,” I feel the need to weigh in with this, as That Person Who Majored in Linguistics:

“Kids these days” are not, in fact, destroying the English language, and in fact fears of kids these days destroying the language go back all the way to early written records in the ancient world. No language has ever fallen apart and gone extinct from being regularly used, I promise you. Quite the contrary; popular usage only makes a language stronger and more innovative.

Could most people stand to learn a little more about etymology, and read over their written documents more carefully before calling them done and sending them? Sure, absolutely. Again, however, this has always been the case. It’s just that in the past, lots more people couldn’t read or write AT ALL, so we have fewer records of the people who would’ve had “worse” language usage. And with the internet, we now have far, far more examples of language usage every day–every second–than we ever did before. The amateur writer, the professional, and the in between. This is, for linguistics, a WONDERFUL thing, because it’s far easier to track usage than ever before.

And though the grammar Nazis hate hearing it, common usage is what decides a word’s meaning. Not some sacred language council at a university, not the lexicographers who compose the dictionary’s editions, not The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Lexicographers track usage, and tally it up, and faithfully record it, AS IT’S USED, not as it “should” be used, and that is that.

Language is strong. Language changes. It always has. It’s fine. Don’t panic.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Don't punish me with fruit IDs

I just had a good misheard-lyric moment. In Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," I swore I heard "don't punish me with fruit IDs." (Looking it up, I find it's actually "don't punish me with brutality.") But you know, my misheard version is essentially what the "Goblin Market" poem does.
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries, 
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
There, don't you feel punished with fruit IDs?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Not my story to tell

Okay, insecurity crisis time.

I’ve seen people in the publishing industry (and just online in general) advise against writing, say, a novel about being black and experiencing racism if you’re a white author. Or writing about the experience of coming out as gay/bi/trans if you’re a straight author.

Now, for whatever reason, I do feel like the former case (racism) would be “not my story to tell,” and I don’t feel compelled to attempt it. I feel more comfortable leaving it to those who know it from the inside. But (again for whatever reason) I do want to write about gay/bi people in love with one another (as well as straight people in love with one another), and the scenario sometimes involves coming out and having angst about it. The trans experience—yes, that would be farther from my knowledge than I’d try right now, at least as a central plot, though I’m happy to have characters casually mention that they’re trans.

But should I honestly not publish a book about two men in love, one of whom is struggling to come out, because I’m neither a man nor gay/bi, and have thus never had to come out?

I see the point in that side. We SHOULD have more own-voices books; I want that as well. Still, trust me, I’m not hogging the market and getting rich on “someone else’s” stories—I’m a pretty small-time author at the moment who makes enough in royalties every three months to cover about two weeks’ worth of the household groceries, maybe.

But I write what I love to write, as we all should. One of the things I love to write is love stories, and sometimes they’re male/female, and sometimes they aren’t, because I like variety in my stories. I view it all as love. I want more people to view it that way. Wasn’t that the point? Getting people to see all such relationships as equal?

And, look, it isn’t about me. It’s about the story. When you read a book, the author is not there in the room with you. (Jeez, I hope not. That’d be creepy.) It’s about the story. You can dislike an author and love their stories, or vice-versa. If I’ve done my job right, you’re not going to be thinking of me at all when reading my novels. You’ll only be thinking of the characters.

And yes, I’m being as respectful as possible. I do research. I read, I listen, I learn. I have people among my beta-reader team who count themselves as “in the community,” and they’re giving me lots of feedback on what sounds realistic and what needs tweaking. They don’t seem to mind my writing this story, but then, maybe they’re just being nice.

So…should I not publish this novel about two young men and their coming-out fears, because I’m not one of the community? Would it make me a bad ally to publish such a thing? Or would it make me a bad ally not to? Because, see, my hope is that by publishing it, people will read it and gain a little sympathy, a little understanding, make the world a better place—which is really what I wish with all of my books, and what I think fiction gives the world in general. We look through others’ eyes. We consider a new point of view. We gain understanding of someone else’s struggle. We come away from it better ourselves.

So…am I doing the wrong thing to seek publication, if those are my motives?

Not a hypothetical question. I honestly want to know.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Guest post: Allan Batchelder on world-building

Allan Batchelder is the author of an awesome grimdark fantasy series, Immortal Treachery, and we've had such fun chatting at Seattle author events (as well as on Twitter) that we lately decided to exchange guest posts. Since world-building is often on my mind and he does such an excellent job of it, I asked him to chat about that. Here's Allan!
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Some writers may find the task of world-building daunting. But if you were lucky enough to grow up like Sherman Alexie, George R. R. Martin, even Stephen Colbert (or me), your deep and lengthy experience with Dungeons and Dragonsmakes the process feel like donning a favorite pair of old jeans. You are already aware, for instance, that magic must have a cost. You understand that occupied cities and territories have governments. You know that money makes the world go ‘round. In short, you’ve been dealing with the minutiae of world-building – other people’s and your own – for so long that’s it’s become almost second nature.

But what if you never played Dungeons and Dragons?

Well, that means you were one of those kids. You know, the ones with actual lives, with friends, with things to do! We D & D fans generally named our orcs and kobolds after you. But let’s suppose that now you’ve seen the light. You never played D & D, but you regret your shortsightedness and would now like advice on how to proceed with this world-building business.
Easy.
That’ll be 25 gold pieces.
I’m not kidding.
Okay, I am kidding, but it’ll cost you 250 experience points.
Fine; I’ll help you.

Consider the world you live in. It’s a poorly held secret the George R. R. Martin did so when creating his Song of Ice and Fire. The whole “Game of Thrones” universe is famously modelled upon the War of the Roses, between the Yorks/Starks and Lancasters/Lannisters.  This was his skeleton, his framework. From there, for example, Dorne is Spain. Meereen is Cleveland. Kidding. I think. But if, as I said, you do consider the world we live in, you’ll see a veritable checklist of questions to be answered. Questions like: Is there religion? If so, who or what is worshipped and what does this look like? Why does it happen and what, if anything, do the faithful receive in return? If there is religion, are there also non-believers? How are they viewed and/or treated? What does the calendar look like? How many seasons are there? If you have more than one moon, what are tides like? Are there nights of multiple full moons? What is the light quality like on those occasions? I mentioned money earlier. What passes for currency in your world?

Literally everything you encounter in our world can have its fantasy analog, you see? Here, do this exercise:

We have buses, they have…
We have McDonald’s, they have…
We have WWII, they have…
We have Exxon, they have…
We have crack, they have…
We have Cuervo Gold, they have…
We have coffee, they have…
We have Motel 6, they have…
We have football, they have…
We have Westboro Baptist Church, they have…
We have the Red Cross, they have…
We have ATMs, they have…
We have Disneyworld, they have…
We have tornado alley, they have…

Make a game out of it. Play it with your kids. Or your neighbor’s kids. Just don’t offer them candy. But do play it. Answer all the questions you can, and then let your mind loose in your new world. Have at it like a Weight Watcher in a Krispy Kreme!

You will love what you discover.

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Thank you, Allan! I am going to use that exercise for my next world-building project. Incidentally, my guest post for Allan is over here at his blog: he wanted me to write about why my tastes in fantasy often *aren't* grimdark/violent, so I did that--although I should add I do really like Allan's series! It's got humor and and a diverse range of characters, which saves it from being all dark all the time. Go check it out.

Friday, October 06, 2017

A-intoxicant? A-alcohol? A-drinking?

We need a word similar to “asexual” to mean “not interested in alcohol.” Every time I say “just water for me, thanks” while others are ordering alcoholic drinks, I feel the need to explain. I feel like people either think I’m avoiding alcohol because I have an addiction to or similar problem with it (I don’t), or because I’m morally opposed to it and am thus quietly judging them (I’m not). It’s just that alcohol does not do anything fun for me, the way it CLEARLY does for most people. All it does is make me tired, and a bit ill. Not any particular fun at all. So I’ll occasionally sip a drink just for the nice taste of it (assuming it’s the sort that actually tastes nice), but I don’t *drink* drink. Just not that into it.

So, yeah, it’d be nice to have a single word to describe that, so I could say, “I’m a-intoxicant” (or whatever) in explanation instead of having to give the entire above paragraph every time. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Summer depression report from Mordor - er, Seattle

While Texas drowns and another hurricane barrels toward the East Coast, wildfire smoke is filling Seattle’s sky, filtering the sun to a dim orange circle. We’ve had the driest summer on record, barely a drop of rain since mid-June. Heat and drought have rendered all the grass brown and the plants desiccated. Leaves are shriveling up and falling off trees. The “evergreen” Northwest looks not entirely unlike Mordor.

This is all wrong. By now we should have our first rains, cleaner air, a washing away of the summer dust. Instead we’re the Fire Nation and I hate it.

So, the time is ripe for a reposting, with a few edits, of something I wrote long ago on being one of those rare people who really, truly doesn’t like summer weather and really, truly does love rain, moss, ferns, clouds, and coolness. Here you go.

* * *

When I moved to the Sacramento area from my native Pacific Northwest in August of 2000 for a three-year grad school stint, the constant sunshine and 80-to-100-degree temperatures were at first a novelty. Then they began to make me bored. Then unhappy. Then borderline psychotic. I tried to believe it was the natural adjustment to an 800-mile move. I thought maybe I just needed something more productive to do with my days.

Then one day it rained--unexpectedly, and for that region totally unheard-of in August. All my tension relaxed. The air was clean, cool, and sweet. I could step outside, take a deep breath, and smile. Of course, it was August, so that only lasted a few days. The sun returned. The drought and 100-degree temperatures came back. Everything was yellow and brown and sky-blue for three months, like a photo of the African savannah, even into October. I plummeted into deeper unhappiness.

October is supposed to be the cool month, the month that is definitely no longer summer. In Seattle, October is when the battering rains howl in from the sea and knock trees down--if that hadn't already happened in September. In Cali, all remained warm and bright, the Beach Boys’ "endless summer." It was not so groovy after all. But the weather couldn't really account for my bad mood, could it?

Finally the rain returned in November, a true autumn rain this time: soaking, dripping, chilly, misty. The scent of wet leaves and chimney smoke rolled down the streets. Pollen and dust swirled away down the gutters. The wet pavement reflected lights at night. My mood soared.

I could no longer rule it a coincidence. After finishing grad school, I hightailed it back to Seattle as soon as possible.

Everyone's heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which renders its sufferers depressed in the winter months due to a deficiency of happy-making neurochemicals normally triggered by sunlight exposure. But when I suggest I might have Reverse SAD, I garner little sympathy or comprehension. Who could possibly hate summer and sunshine? What's wrong with me?

Some doctors do acknowledge "summer depression," a condition that can cause irritability, insomnia, anxiety, and decreased appetite, but researchers estimate it's only about a fifth as common as regular SAD or winter depression. What causes summer depression is less clear. Too much heat? Too much light?

Both, I propose; along with other factors. For example:

- Sun exposure can cause wrinkles and cancer. On hot, clear days I have to slather sunscreen upon myself, enduring its greasy feel; and slather it also upon my kids, who complain every time. Never heard of rain causing cancer, did you?

- Every summer day without rain, I have to take half an hour to water the garden, or live with beige-colored, dying plants for July and August. I much prefer the rest of the year, when the sky supplies the water cost- and effort-free on my part.

- We sleep less in the summer and feel the ill effects. Up here in the north, the sky starts getting light at four o'clock in the morning in June, causing birds to chirp and making it hard for humans to sleep in. It's also hard to get our kids to go to bed at eight-thirty p.m. when daylight still reigns. In dark, rainy weather our whole family regularly sleeps longer and deeper.

- Glaring sun in your eyes can cause car or bicycle accidents even when you're wearing sunglasses. Cloudy skies make our roads safer--aside from that one first rainy day in late summer, of course, when everyone temporarily forgets how to drive on wet pavement.

- For those of us with school-age kids, they are home all the time in summer, causing a “disrupted schedule” for us all, as this WebMD article on summer depression diplomatically puts it.

- I’m uncomfortable when I’m sweaty for hours at a time. Are there people who actually like being sweaty all day? Or at least don’t mind it? I assume there have to be, but HOW do they not mind it?

- Rainy seasons give me an excuse to stay inside and curl up with a book or a movie or a TV show. And if I do venture out to the park with my umbrella and waterproof boots, I'm likely to have the forest or beach to myself. In summer, I do want to go outside, but there are PEOPLE all over the place out there.

- Did I mention the West is ON FIRE?

The good news--besides the fact that autumn will eventually come--is that I'm not alone. When I asked around, family members and friends have come out of hiding to admit their preference for non-summer weather too. My rain-loving Oregonian mother suggests a few names for people like us:

SLUG: Sunshine Leaves Us Grumpy
SHINE: Sun's Heat Is Not Enabling
GRACE: Give Rain A Chance, Everybody
PUDDLE: Prefer Umbrella Drip-Drop-Like Environment
HAPPY: Have Always Preferred Puddly Yard


I’m ready to be HAPPY instead of summer-SAD, please. Hurry back soon, rainclouds.