Every day is Voter Registration Day

Yesterday evening, I thought, “oh, crap. I was going to make a post about National Voter Registration Day, but I missed it.”

And then I thought, “screw that.”

So yes: Tuesday the 24th was National Voter Registration Day. You know what else is a good day to register? Literally any day you like. Here, have a link — just click on that to get rolling.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The best response to the attempts to undermine our nation is to democracy so hard at those people they can’t pull their shit anymore. To vote in better officials at every level, from the presidency down to the local dogcatcher. All our protests, the letter-writing, the sit-ins — those are all responses to the things done by our elected representatives, demonstrations of support for their good actions or efforts to push them in the right direction. You know what makes that easier? Having people with actual human ethics sitting in those seats to begin with.

So register. And better still: ask the people around you if they’re registered. If they’re not, here’s the link again. Step One, register. Step Two, vote. Step Three, profit. No question marks in the chain there; we know exactly what to do. We just need to get out there and do it.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 6

Welcome to Plot Tetris!

I’ve talked before about how it isn’t enough for a scene to just do an interesting character thing, or a plot beat, or whatever. It has to do multiple things at once. In the case of this series, where we have so many interlacing layers of story, we’re constantly having to keep an eye on the pace at which those get measured out, and make sure nothing gets dropped for too long or given insufficient time to develop. (There’s a whiteboard. It’s color-coded. As is our outline spreadsheet.)

Which led to some serious “bang our heads against the wall” time with this chapter. We needed a scene from the viewpoint of a character who’s been neglected, because otherwise her corner of the story risks falling out of the novel entirely — okay. But what should that scene do? It needs to involve these other characters; fine. We could even figure out some character beats for it. But see above re: that’s not enough; we had to figure out a plot thing for it to be doing, too. And we went about nine rounds before we managed to settle on something that works, in terms of furthering something that needs to be furthered right now, while also fitting that specific group of people.

This whole part of the book is going to be like that. At this point we’ve got something approaching a nearly-complete outline for the next four chapters, but it involved a metric crap-ton of rearranging, pushing back stuff we expected to happen earlier, checking where we stood on pov scenes for various characters, and figuring out which beats we need to show vs. being able to mention them happening offstage. All of which is before we get into details like “giant end-of-part caper, how???” But those are chapters away, and we can worry about them when we get there.

Or, y’know, after. One of the scenes in this chapter needs rewriting, because we changed our minds about the metaphysical thing going on in it — for the better, I think, since it made my brain light up in a way the previous version hadn’t — and it’s not the only scene we’re going to backtrack to eventually. More or less inevitable, when you’re juggling this many balls; sometimes you don’t quite have a feel for what needs to happen until you’ve got more of what comes later pinned down. Or you just don’t know how much attention you can devote to it, wordcount-wise. As great as it is to nail a scene on the first try, that doesn’t always happen. But that’s what revision is for.

Word count: ~42,000
Authorial sadism: Ethnic Impostor Syndrome ahoy, and also seeing what it would have looked like had someone been there for you.
Authorial amusement: Wow, we entertained ourselves with food this chapter, both good and bad. Raw mussels, coffee, a coded reference to buffalo wings, and one of our characters is totally going to invent mac and cheese.
BLR quotient: Lots of rhetoric, which is part of why it’s such a snarl to sort through. But I’d be lying if I said the impending love in the final scene isn’t, like, half the reason we showed up for this book.

Back to Square Two

I mentioned before that I’m trying to get (some tiny fraction of) my embouchure back so I can play in the band’s 100th reunion next month. Unrelatedly — you would think — I also recently did bo kata for the first time in a couple of years, having stopped doing weapons for a time because of wrist problems.

In both of these cases I am profoundly out of practice — French horn obviously more so, just on a sheer time scale, but my bo skills are hella rusty, and were never all that great in the first place. But it’s interesting to see how I’m actually not all the way back to square one, not even on the thing I haven’t done in more than fifteen years.

Even when the muscles aren’t there, even when the movements are stiff and the endurance craps out in record time, something remains. Deep memory still has some recollection of the target I’m aiming for; getting to it may be easier said than done, but at least I know where I’m going. I’m not having to map out terra incognita as I go. Which means, I think, that even a small gain in strength or endurance is a bigger gain in overall skill than it was the first time around, because I partially remember what to do with it.

I find this really encouraging, not just in these specific contexts, but overall. You know how they say you never forget how to ride a bike? That can apply to lots of different things — and probably not just physical ones, either, though it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s some particular neuromuscular thing going on where movement is concerned. (So-called “muscle memory.”) Even when we feel reluctant to go back to an old activity because we’re so out of practice, we may very well not be rank beginners all over again. And there’s a real pleasure in having that moment of “oh, right” . . . even if three seconds later some part of you says “aaaaaaaaand now we’re done for the day.”

Stories!

As of yesterday, I have two new stories out: my anthropological novelette “La Molejera” (as in, it’s literally about an anthropologist) and my folkloric short story “This is How.”

I need to talk about that second one a bit, because it’s a huge milestone for me. You see, I sent my first story to Strange Horizons in <checks records> May of 2002. That isn’t a typo; I didn’t mean 2012. 2002. Seventeen years ago. In that time, I have sent them forty-five other stories — but the truth is that the overlap in the Venn diagram of “the kind of thing I write” and “the kind of thing SH publishes” is pretty narrow. I kept trying, because I really admire them and wanted to see my name listed among the people they’ve published, and a few of my submissions came close, but this one was a white whale for me. It was entirely possible that I would never actually crack it.

Until a couple of months ago, when we had half a dozen friends over for a movie marathon and I suddenly hit the pause button to say, in a voice entirely too calm for what was going on inside my head, “I just sold a story to Strange Horizons.”

It’s very brief — less than two thousand words. It’s much more elliptical and poetic than most of what I write, which I’m sure is part of why they bought it and not the previous forty-five attempts. It has metaphorical depth I didn’t notice until a couple of weeks ago. (It also has content warnings, which you should click on if you’re concerned.) And you can read it online for free, or listen to the audio version by Anaea Lay.

Also? It has art.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 5

With this, Part One is complete, and the plot has taken center stage at last!

I mean, it’s been present before this. But in a strand here, a strand there; this is the first time the reader gets a good look at the overall shape of it, and how those strands are all going to tangle together throughout this book. Complete with the entrance of a major new character, and some new metaphysical stuff, and you didn’t think we’d spend this book just playing around with our existing toys, did you?

Admittedly, we’re almost forty thousand words into the book. But this is the balancing act of writing intrigue: you can’t present the reader up-front with the problem and the people involved in it; you have to dole that out a few bites at a time. Hopefully in a way that makes the opening courses tasty in their own right, before the main dish arrives. Except that it turns out the opening courses were part of the main dish, so this metaphor doesn’t really work.

Anyway, now we move into Part Two, where both the intrigue and the ridiculous character things we’ve been looking forward to for ages really get rolling. 😀 There will, for the record, be five parts in total — so we’re about 20% done with the draft.

Word count: ~36,000
Authorial sadism: Welcome to your PTSD, R–!
Authorial amusement: “The [redacted] was innocent. Unlike its master.”
BLR quotient: Whole lotta rhetoric, of the sooper sekrit sort. But before that, some very nice love, of several different sorts.

Squishy metrics

Last year I set myself a goal of writing five non-L5R short stories — not counting the L5R ones because, those being work-for-hire, I can’t submit them to short story markets or collect them into ebooks or anything like that. For several years I’d been in a trough where I either wrote no short stories at all (2016) or none that weren’t solicited for anthologies (2017), so I was getting no fresh material into the pipeline, and I wanted to fix that.

Well, I didn’t quite make it last year; I only managed five. (Despite a heroic effort to finish one more on the flight home the day before New Year’s. It stalled out partway through, and still hasn’t come unstuck.) This year there was the temptation to try to make up for that, but I know that’s a foolish approach; I set my goal at six again.

But six is . . . a much fuzzier number than you might think.

In March I wrote a piece of flash fiction, my first in more than a decade. Does that count as one of the six? The honest answer to that is “if I don’t write more than five other things this year, yes, sort of; if I do, then no.” It absolutely counts as A Thing I Can Send Out, but it’s so brief — less than 500 words — that it’s hard to feel like I’ve accomplished much in writing it. Then in July I finished a novelette — which would definitely count, being longer than a short story, except that it’s part of a larger project and not something I’m going to be able to submit on its own to various markets. So while it’s A Thing I’ve Written, it doesn’t actually address the lack I was aiming for. And later that month I wrote another piece of flash fiction. Where did the count stand? And is any of this making up for last year’s shortfall?

The sensible answer is that last year is last year and the count for this year stands at whatever I’ve written, nature of the pieces included. Which as of completing another piece last night is five short stories, two flash stories, and the novelette. Does that hit the magic number of six? Yes and no. I don’t know. It’s complicated.

Really, though, that’s not the question. The question is, “can I write another short story before the end of the year?” And I think the answer to that is “yes.” I seem to have rediscovered the short fiction gear in my brain, after misplacing it for quite a while. I’ve got several ideas that might be about ready to go, and I have more than three months in which to prod one of them to the finish line.

And if I manage that well before the end of the year . . . then I might just write seven. Or eight. Who knows where the madness will end.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 4

Sarah Rees Brennan (no relation) once said on Twitter that “the second book of a trilogy is for kissing.” Taken in the broader sense of character relationships, not just romantic ones, I think this is very true.

See, the first book of a series has to do a lot of heavy lifting, in terms of setting up the material of the story. It has to introduce characters and setting and conflict, and while it builds relationships, too, there’s only so much room to play around with those. Whereas in the second book, you’ve got a lot of your foundation in place, and now you’re free to dance on it. You can take the existing relationships and complicate them, give them more depth, test them or turn them upside down and shake them to see what falls out.

As you may have guessed based on me bringing this up, that’s a fair bit of what Chapter Four is doing here. Our first scene takes an existing relationship and sticks it into a wildly different context, adding in another character to fuel some interesting interactions over there. Our second and third (which are linked) show you that from another angle, and weave a minor character back into story in ways that show they aren’t as minor as you may have thought. Our fourth takes two people who previously haven’t spoken and puts them together for the first time, with hilarious results. And our fifth goes back to another existing relationship and moves it closer to center stage.

Of course all of this is doing plot work, too. As much as we joke about the eight million fanfics one could write about these characters, ultimately we can’t just coast along writing relationship fluff; there have to be more layers. (If there weren’t, it would take approximately three times as many words to convey all the substance we want to pack into this book. And it ain’t a short book to begin with.) In fact, right now we’re dissatisfied with the last scene of the chapter, because it isn’t quite doing the plot work it needs to — it’s trying, but we never quite fell into the right rhythm. So we’ll fix it later; in the meanwhile, it’s full steam ahead on Chapter 5.

Which will also be the end of Part One. Yes, we have Fun Things planned. 😀

Word count: ~28,000
Authorial sadism: SHOE’S ON THE OTHER FOOT NOW, HOW D’YA LIKE THAT. Actually, multiple shoes on multiple other feet. This is a chapter full of people getting to find out what it’s like to be the other guy.
Authorial amusement: The first appearance of Y– on the scene. Also, someone missing their mark by two inches.
BLR quotient: Love takes the lead! At least in the sense that “love” = “relationships” in this particular system. But in some more conventional senses, too — eventually.

Spark of Life: Mike Reeves-McMillan on ILLUSTRATED GNOME NEWS

I’ve said before that I crave more fantasy novels incorporating that revolutionary-yet-simple technology known as the printing press. It turns out Mike Reeves-McMillan is on the same wavelength, because his lates Gryphon Clerks novel is all about newspapers and the power they have to change things. Not to mention little things like freedom and racial equality and social change — y’know, things that are maybe just a wee bit pertinent nowadays. But I’ll let him explain . . .

***

Mike says:

cover art for ILLUSTRATED GNOME NEWS by Mike Reeves-McMillan

Illustrated Gnome News came to life when one of the protagonists found some people who were worse off than she was, and decided she had to help them.

Let me back up for a minute. Illustrated Gnome News is the sixth novel in my Victorianesqe magepunk Gryphon Clerks series. Although it is a series, linked together by the setting and with overlapping characters and key events, each book stands alone as a complete story and contains all the backstory you need in order to orient you to what’s going on, so you can start anywhere you like.

The most important event driving the stories so far is Gnome Day. The gnomes have, for centuries, been effectively slaves of the dwarves, but because slavery is so very illegal in all human realms (the humans having been slaves of the now-vanished elves), there’s been a long-standing legal fiction that says that the dwarves don’t own the gnomes themselves; they only own their service.

A few years before the start of Illustrated Gnome News, the local human ruler, for her own well-considered reasons, declared that this was a distinction without a difference, and any gnomes outside the self-governing dwarfholds should consider themselves free (and, not coincidentally, available to work for the humans directly, cutting out the dwarven middlemen). The day of this proclamation became known as Gnome Day, and kicked off two wars; one of them — the Underground War with the dwarves, conducted mostly by means of economics — is still underway, and showing no signs of slowing down.

The rising generation of gnomes is now asking: So, we’re free to . . . do what, exactly? Are we, for example, free to work at whatever we like, even if it doesn’t match the rigidly gendered concept of work that’s been enforced by the dwarves for centuries? (Men work at “hard” crafts like engineering; women at “soft” crafts involving food and cloth.) Are we, perhaps, free to have non-traditional relationships? And if not, why not?

At the start of the book, though, Ladle, the overworked editor of the only gnomish newspaper, the Illustrated Gnome News, isn’t thinking about that. She’s focussed on day-to-day problems: the newspaper is losing money; the owner has foisted his annoying and frankly useless daughter on Ladle as advertising manager; and while she’d like to spend more time with the golden-voiced Cog, who runs the magepunk equivalent of a radio station in the next office, both of them are working far too hard to do anything about it. She’d love to do what the paper was founded to do — promote the true emancipation and prosperity of gnomes with hard-hitting investigative reporting — but instead she’s stuck writing about trivia, because it takes less energy and attracts more eyeballs.

The moment of inflection, for her and for the story, is when a young gnome writes to the paper to say: my friends and I are on the street because we want to live our lives in ways our parents can’t accept. But instead of following our dreams, we’re living in squalor and being exploited by gangs. Can your newspaper help us?

The answer to that question not only blows Ladle’s daily grind wide open and gives her something to fight for, it ends up being key to the uncovering of a plot to set gnome freedom back for years. Along the way, the protagonists find unexpected friendships, alliances, and loves, and dare to risk everything to strive after their authentic lives in the face of what’s expected of them.

***

From the cover copy:

They may be putting out a newspaper, but there are some things they don’t want becoming news.

The Illustrated Gnome News is the only newspaper serving the newly emancipated gnome community, but there are days when Ladle, the paper’s overworked editor, thinks that’s because nobody else is stupid enough to try to run one. She has to balance not scaring off all their advertisers with putting out a paper that stands for a better future for all gnomes. Including those gnomes who don’t match up to traditional ideas of what’s proper.

One of these is her friend Loom, the first gnome woman to qualify as an engineer. But Loom has a secret that would shock conventional gnomes even more than that, and must somehow find a way to pursue her own happiness amidst the wider struggle to turn gnome emancipation into true freedom.

Mike Reeves-McMillan lives in Auckland, New Zealand, the setting of his Auckland Allies urban fantasy series; and also in his head, where the weather is more reliable, and there are a lot more wizards. He writes a secondary-world steampunk/magepunk series, the Gryphon Clerks, and a Leverage-meets-Lankhmar sword-and-sorcery heist series, Hand of the Trickster, in addition to Auckland Allies. His short stories have appeared in venues including Daily Science Fiction, Futuristica, Compelling Science Fiction, and Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, and he blogs about writing and reading fiction at The Gryphon Clerks.