Drawing a circle

During the event I went to at a local mosque a few months ago, one of the visiting religious leaders recited a poem that, upon googling, I find attributed to Edwin Markham:

He drew a circle to shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win
We made a circle that drew him in.

It’s a sentiment to keep in mind these days: solidarity, inclusiveness, answering condemnation with love.

This is our monthly tikkun olam post, a place to share your efforts to repair the world and take heart from the efforts of others. The usual principles apply: nothing is too small to share. Ongoing things are good, too; don’t feel like everything you say here has to be some new undertaking. If you’ve made donations of money or supplies, volunteered your time somewhere, helped out a neighbor, changed your life to be better for those around you, or otherwise done something to make the world a better place and counteract the forces pushing it in the other direction, share it here. It reminds you of the good you’ve done, gives you a chance to see the good of others, and may inspire you to new efforts you hadn’t thought of before.

Giving away one (or two!) ARCs of WITHIN THE SANCTUARY OF WINGS

Wanna know how Lady Trent’s story concludes — before the book hits the shelves?

This Wednesday, March 1st, I’ll be giving away an advance reader copy to one newsletter subscriber. If you’re already signed up, you’re set; if you aren’t, you can do that here.

And when I went on Twitter to post about the giveaway, I saw I’m quite close to having two thousand followers. When I hit the magical 2K, I’ll also pick one Twitter follower to receive an ARC. I’m @swan_tower over there, if you’re interested.

Elfquest Re-Read, The Forbidden Grove: Archaeology

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

When I was a sophomore in college, I wrote an archaeology paper on Elfquest.

No, really.

It was supposed to be a paper looking at the Wolfriders as hunter-gatherers and the Sun Folk as horticulturalists/early agriculturalists. Naturally, when I finally had a paper topic I enjoyed and could have run well past the guideline of 10-12 pages, I had a professor who said anything past twelve pages he would chuck in the trash, and then dock us points for not having a conclusion. The result is that the paper wound up only addressing the Wolfrider half of the equation, because I ran out of space for anything else.

I was going to rehash the paper as my third and final post for The Forbidden Grove, but in re-reading it, I discovered that it was a) longer than I recalled (I thought it was 5-7 pages) and b) way more technical. So rather than trying to recycle the whole thing in a quarter the words, I decided it would be better to just post the paper on my website (pdf link), for those of you who actually care to see the whole thing, bibliography and all, and then use this post to talk about the things that didn’t fit into the paper.


Books read, January 2017

I’ve fallen comprehensively off the wagon of recording what I read and posting about it, but I’d like to get back to that. So, without any attempt to catch up on the year or so that I missed, here’s the log from January.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Charlotte Gordon. The premise of this dual biography is that Wollstonecraft and Shelley influenced each other, even though Wollstonecraft died a few days after giving birth to Shelley. The mother-to-daughter influence is easy to see; the daughter-to-mother influence is much more heavily inferred, based on the idea that Wollstonecraft was concerned with the future and with the lives of women, ergo with the life her daughter would have. I’m not quite sure I buy that half of the premise as much as the introduction made me expect, but that in no way stops this from being an excellent book that vastly expanded my understanding of both women. I had no idea how many other books both of them had written, nor the degree of respect Wollstonecraft had during her lifetime. (A respect that vanished almost immediately after she died, thanks to her husband’s misguided attempt to “rehabilitate” her image to the way he wanted to see her. She went from “respected intellectual” to “whore;” her daughter, who likewise got revised by her daughter-in-law, went from “whore” to “respectable Victorian wife.”)

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee. [Disclosure: the author is a friend.] The opening battle scene was gruesome enough, thanks to the exotic technology used, that I wasn’t sure what I would think of the book overall. Once I got past that, though, I was thoroughly sucked in (and the rest of the book is much less gory). The genre is space opera, but because the functioning of exotics is based on the enforcement of a calendrical system and heretical deviations from that system can make the tech stop working, it reads to me like fantasy poured through a mathematical framework. The worldbuilding reminds me of Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, not in any of its specifics, but in the sheer wealth of detail, much of it the sort of thing I don’t usually encounter in science fiction. And despite the fact that I am thoroughly sick of the “asshole genius who makes everybody dance to his tune because he’s so damn brilliant” trope, Jedao was my favorite character in the whole novel. There are ways to make that trope work, and this is one of them.

Women in Practical Armor, ed. Ed Greenwood and Gabrielle Harbowy. Anthology I backed on Kickstarter, themed around female warriors. Most of what’s in here is very much classic D&D/sword-and-sorcery fantasy. My favorite story was probably the one that took the antho title most literally: “Pride and Joy” by Eric Landreneau, wherein the hazards of boob-plate armor get hammered home.

The Just City, Jo Walton. First of the Thessaly series. Athena gathers together people from throughout history to found the city described in Plato’s The Republic and see how it works out. By dint of its subject matter, I mentally classify this with utopian SF, but from the start it’s clear that while the Just City is an attempt to create a utopian society, it is deeply flawed in multiple ways. (As Apollo says at one point, what Plato knew about love and relationships would fit on a fingernail paring.) If, like me, you are the sort of person who bounces in glee at the prospect of seeing Athena and Socrates square off in a public debate, this is the book for you.

Elfquest: Fire and Flight, Wendy and Richard Pini. Re-read. I love this series so much. For more detail, see the re-read posts (but beware spoilers).

Everyday Things in Premodern Japan, Susan B. Hanley. “Premodern” here specifically means the Tokugawa period, with some attention to what came before and after for context. Hanley’s main thesis is that, contrary to how Victorian travelers portrayed things, the quality of life improved massively in the Tokugawa period, in large part due to technological advancements that came out of the Sengoku/Warring States period immediately prior. What I found the most interesting was the discussion of how many aspects of what we now think of as traditional Japanese culture were Tokugawa-era responses to limited resources: with the country closed to outside influences, they had to make do with what they had in their islands, and this influenced everything from food to architecture to clothing to sanitation. (When you don’t have enough arable land to waste much of it on livestock, you don’t have animal manure to use as fertilizer, so human waste becomes a valuable enough resource that you not only put in place systems for removing it to agricultural areas, you start having problems with people stealing it.)

The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, Samuel Noah Kramer. I must have bought this back in high school or early college, because the price sticker on it is from Half-Price Books, which I used to frequent in Dallas. The book itself is a mildly interesting read, but I would love to compare it against something more recent, because I imagine the state of Sumerology has come on a bit in the fifty years since this one was published. I welcome any recommendations from the commentariat.

Elfquest Re-Read, The Forbidden Grove: The Ensemble

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

I like Fire and Flight, but this volume is where the story really hits its stride. After our simple, linear introduction, where the plot is straightforward and only a small number of characters get much in the way of attention, the narrative opens up: two strands, with Cutter and Skywise searching for more elf tribes, while back in Sorrow’s End Suntop receives a warning that sends nearly the entire tribe on the road again in pursuit of that pair.


Making the words count

In the course of all the protesting and petitioning and calling my representatives and so forth, I remind myself that my normal activities can also be used to make a difference in the world.

The VeriCon Charity Auction is live right now, with proceeds going to benefit Cittadini del Mondo, which is working to help refugees. My own contribution there is a signed copy of Cold-Forged Flame, but there are many, many other items on offer, and the cause is a very good one.

I’m also involved with Children of a Different Sky, an anthology of stories about refugees, whose profits will be used to benefit same. My intent is to write a new Driftwood story for it: that whole setting is about the survivors of calamity carrying on in a new place, which makes it very fitting for this kind of project.

The last thing is a bit more indirect, but still important. I’m one of the judges for Fantastical Times, a writing contest for Tampa Bay-area high school students. I know the likelihood that anyone reading this post being eligible to enter is small, but I want to mention it anyway. Because right now I feel especially bad for our younger generation, the people looking ahead to the future, wondering what they’re going to inherit from us — and wondering if they can do anything about it. Their voices matter. They’re the ones who are going to have to deal with the mess we leave behind. If you know of a similar opportunity for kids in your area, promote it. We need their vision, and we need them to know we’re listening.

A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. 8 (ish)

Appropriately enough, after the chronological trainwreck that was the previous volume, I never actually numbered this notebook. Because it was the one I was in the middle of using when I took the time to number the previous ones? Because I started using it after that? Not because I gave up on trying to fit it into the chronology; this one is remarkably coherent. Judging by the stories I was working on and the class notes that appear sporadically, this starts around the summer after my junior year, continues through senior, and fetches up in early grad school, without any huge skips or bits of Doppelganger showing up at the end.

I don’t know why, but I went through another phase here of writing a lot more stuff longhand — which is nigh unheard-of for me. I did it in high school because I spent all day in class and had to look like I was paying attention, but in college and grad school? Class occupied much less of my time per day, and I was taking much more in the way of actual notes. Not sure why I went on a kick of it here, but I definitely did; I have an almost-complete draft of “Such as Dreams Are Made Of,” a good-sized chunk of “Beggar’s Blessing,” and the entirety of “A Thousand Souls” — the latter with its wordcount helpfully written in the margins, because apparently I wrote it somewhere I didn’t have access to my computer right away, and that was the only way to figure out how long it was. (760 words in the first draft; counting wasn’t a very onerous task.) I have lots of planning for the still-unwritten novel that goes by the acronym TIR, including the page where I stumbled through a lot of phonemes on my way to the main character’s name. I have snippets from another unwritten Nine Lands novel, because I had an idea for an interaction between three characters and wanted to make sure I didn’t forget it. I have other planning for Old Project C, because this apparently coincides with another spate of work on that.

But the most interesting things in here, from my perspective, are the bits related to two novels that did get written. The first, from the standpoint of what shows up in the notebook, is Sunlight and Storm, the trunked novel I mentioned before. On the very first page I wrote:

I feel like I have this inability to tell the difference between an honest need for a break and simple procrastination.

Am I stuck on Sunlight and Storm? I don’t think so. Could I be writing something more powerful if I stopped and took a break and made some deep meaningful connection? Maybe. Or is that just laziness talking, uncertainty, stupidity. Who knows?

I can’t swear that taking a break would have produced any great improvement in my situation, but with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that powering through (which is what I did) left me with a completely lifeless first draft. The story had no energy; it was preachy and colorless and not at all what I wanted. It remains the one novel draft I have never tried to revise. Instead of attempting to clean it up, I wrote out a scene-by-scene outline of the story in its first incarnation, scribbled a few pages that I think are the single time in my life I’ve ever explicitly written out the themes of my story, and then started a white-page rewrite. I’m not sure I even looked at the original draft again, after I wrote that outline — I’d have to compare the files to see whether I kept any original text. My recollection is that I didn’t, but that could be mental erasure talking; that’s how much I disliked my first attempt.

Nor is that the only novel outline in this notebook. The other one is similarly an accounting of a book I’d already completed; I’ve never been much of one for outlining stuff before I write it. In 2001 I went to WorldCon in Philadelphia, and found that an editor I’d been submitting to was on a panel, so I hatched a plan to try and talk to her afterward. She’d written me a personalized rejection letter for what eventually became Lies and Prophecy, so I figured that would be my hook: introduce myself, remind her about the book, thank her for that encouragement, and then get out before I took up too much of her time.

I got as far as my name.

She remembered me. She remembered the book, before I even said anything about it. She remembered that I had another novel (The Kestori Hawks) in her slush pile. And she asked whether I was doing anything else in the setting of Lies and Prophecy. When I stammered out something to the effect of how I was thinking about revising it, she asked me to send it to her once I did.

And I know all of this because I wrote it all down in the notebook I’d taken to the con. 😛 (Though the memory is pretty vivid, too.)

So after that I have an outline of Lies and Prophecy, wherein I made a lot of progress in tightening it up and eliminating the stuff that was more just about the characters hanging out at magic college than anything plot-related. (I’ve mentioned before that Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin was one of the inspirations for the story; the original draft was waaaaaaay more Tam Lin-y in that respect.) Which means this notebook very thoroughly documents the period where I learned to be a lot more aggressive about my revisions, not just polishing up the story but going in there and hacking stuff apart to put it back together again. It’s a key skill, and one I didn’t have in the early days.

There are other bits and pieces in here — me poking at a story based on one of the only dreams I’ve ever remembered, research notes for my paper on Minoan bull-leaping, a quasi-journal of my first trip to Ireland, notes from a class with Henry Glassie the Most Amazing Lecturer Ever, a brief stab at my second Latin grammar/Irish phonology mashup conlang (for Tir Diamh, one of the countries in the Nine Lands) — but those two things, the Sunlight and Storm and Lies and Prophecy revision notes, are probably the most significant things in here.

Well, that and the seedlet for a novel that may never get around to writing. It’s entirely possible I’m going to repurpose it for a short story I promised to write this spring.

Elfquest Re-Read, Fire and Flight: Recognition

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

I suspect I’ll wind up making several posts about Recognition during the course of this series, because it’s such an interesting and complex topic: a spontaneous soulbond, with bonus reproductive instinct. You can spin a bunch of different stories out of that, and the Pinis hit quite a few of them; in fact, I’m not sure there’s any point in what I consider the main canon (the first eight volumes, up through Kings of the Broken Wheel) where they play it completely straight. Cutter and Leetah come the closest — but before I get to that, let’s talk about Recognition itself.