TODAY ONLY!

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I’m doing the Reader Giveaway Extravaganza.

There are gift cards to be won, as well as lots of other prizes for readers, so check it out here:

https://tinyurl.com/ybf5w7w9

And for a chance to win a “bundle” of both of my fantasy novels in eBook form, drop a word or gif or even just a happy face (or a sad one, I don’t mind) in the comments thingie at the bottom of this post.

comic con image

There will be some form of random draw process (usually, it’s a five-year-old choosing a name from a hat) (not the name OF a hat, that would defeat the purpose) to choose the winner, who I will then contact.

 

Enjoy yourselves, and (for the Canadians) Happy Thanksgiving!

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Them’s Fighting Words Around Here

valkyrie

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/09/dna-proves-fearsome-viking-warrior-was-woman

I’ve watched with fascination how this debate has evolved over the last few days.

It’s been instructive.

And depressing.

The argument goes like this:

“There are lots of reasons this cannot be the grave of a woman who actually was a warrior. But one of them is that we have found almost no graves that can be reliably proven as women who fought. Therefore, this one is not an actual woman warrior.”

Basically, the whole rationale here is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

If this grave can, by subjecting it to a level of testing and analysis that no male-with-weapons inhumation is ever subjected to, be consigned to the category of “unproven”, then the number of female warrior graves can remain statistically at zero or less, which therefore means that the next XX skeleton can also be dismissed, because we “still haven’t found any unequivocal evidence of women who were warriors”.

I say that until every single “male warrior” grave undergoes the level of critique that this recently re-interpreted burial has, not one single archaeologist (and certainly no one whose expertise remains at the level of “I read a bunch of stuff about it on the internet”) should be allowed to pontificate on this.

Because, frankly, there’s no way to compare the relevant findings until that happens.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/18/battle-prejudice-warrior-women-ancient-amazons

Labour Day Week-end is no time for seriousness

So instead, I’ll give you the Best Ever One-and-a-Half-Dish Supper.

food

In addition writing and reading and Archaeology, I like to cook. (And eat – boy, do I love to eat!)

It stems from my childhood and that incredible hippie-hospitality ethos that my parents were into, and I frequently go into the kitchen to recreate those memories through food. This one isn’t really so much of a remake of one of those classics, but it has that feel to it. You can satisfy 6-8 people with this – it’s very filling.

 

1 double recipe for Bisquik Rolled Biscuits (or double recipe of your own scratch biscuit dough)

1 lb ground beef

Half-cup or so of either a robust tomato sauce or barbecue sauce

Lots of grated cheese. 2-3 cups minimum, very likely more. Cheddar is good, mozzarella is important, Parmesan is advised as an addition, although optional if using barbecue sauce.

Make the biscuit recipe up and roll out till it’s big enough to fill one of those standard long-size oblong lasagna dishes – right up the sides. Grease the dish first, then line it with the dough.

Prebake for fifteen minutes at 350 degrees F or until slightly golden brown.

Meanwhile, cook the ground beef until there’s no more pink. Drain. Add whichever sauce you fancy (don’t put too much in…use some judgment. It needs to be moist, but not runny.) and cook two or three minutes longer.

Let both the crust and the filling cool a bit (or a lot, if you want, this is a good one for making a day ahead…), and, when about a half hour out from suppertime, preheat oven to 375 degrees F (okay, approximately, because ovens all have their own unique interpretation of temperature).

Put the filling into the crust in the lasagna pan, smooth it out, and top with all the cheese.

Put the thing into the oven and turn the temperature down to about 350 degrees F, bake until cheese is bubbly and browning and ooey-gooey delicious.

Serve with a green salad.

TRUST ME! It’s super-easy and totally yummy. Serves any reasonable number of normal eaters or four starving artists.

Maybe it’s you?

armoured-ape

Back in the early Neolithic, I went to art college.

Maybe you wanted to do that, too.

Maybe it was music, and you got told how few people ever scrape out even a poverty-level existence playing in local venues around Hoboken or wherever.

Maybe it was drama, or dance, or maybe you wanted to be a writer, and you figured an MFA in Creative Writing was the key.

Your parents probably crushed your dreams and told you to get an education that would give you something “to fall back on” and that “art” was definitely not it.

Maybe you listened, and went to law school, or whatever.

And maybe you think they were right, because now you can afford to retire early and follow your dream.

Let me tell you about what you missed, and what these kinds of experiences can really do for you – experiences you either have no access to, or  that you have decided you don’t “really” need.

 

It’s true that you can make art or write books without degrees. I won’t dispute that. More than a significant percentage of artists, musicians, or writers have been successful, or at least noted as having talent, without ever having set foot in the relevant, specialized institution of higher learning.

You can learn a lot about the technical part of any creative endeavor on your own (with the possible exception of classical ballet) and with a lot of hard work and some talent, you can get things done.

And those things will be worthwhile, and probably as good, in the purely technical sense, over time, as anything a graduate of a decent MFA program can do.

It might take a little or a lot longer, and you might waste a few years on things that aren’t really useful, but you can get there.

Lots of people do this. Lots of really awesome, talented, well-known people do this.

That’s not the issue.

 

What you miss out on is critique. And that’s crucial.

 

Let me tell you about art college.

Every week, in every studio-based class, we’d be given an assignment.

Every week, in every studio-based class, we’d put up our creations, based on last week’s assignment.

And then the instructor and every other student in that class took potshots at the work.

Crits. The word still makes me faintly queasy.

 

Every week, 8 months out of 12, for four long years, I poured my soul into whatever artistic medium I was given, on subjects/techniques I was handed, and then I put that essence of my being on display, and twenty or so people told me what was wrong with it.

What was wrong with me. With my vision, with my understanding of the world. With my inner soul. With my value as an artist, and as a human being.

Some of it was reasoned and true.

Some of it was spiteful, and cruel —- but still true.

You walked into the crit a normal person, with a normal heart, situated in the normal place in your body, and two hours later you emerged, crushed and crumpled, carrying your now-shredded, shrivelled ego in your hands.
OMG, you cry. How horrible!

People should give “constructive criticism”!

People should not destroy your ego or discourage you!

It’s wrong! Wrong, and evil!

 

Except, it is not.

It is the proving ground. It is the ultimate life lesson.

It is the only way artists of any kind can learn the one lesson they really, really need.

 

How to critique themselves.

 

Because once you leave that cocooned existence, surrounded by fellow makers making things, and caring about making things; once you are alone in that studio with nothing but your paint and canvas – once you have shut the door and tuned your guitar – once you’ve settled down in front of the computer and opened that WORD doc – the only way you can live up to the fullest of your potential and make the work you believe in, is to know how to see your output through other people’s eyes.

You have to see the worst in your work. You have to grow that creative carapace, so that you can take the outside critique, divorce it from you as a person, and understand where it is you need to go, so that when you are alone, you can do this for yourself.

 

And that’s why most self-taught writers hate their editors.

 

And why, maybe, you should have done that MFA.

 

Breaking the Chains

Cultural Approriation vs ???

chains

As a writer, I’m constantly aware that I write from a place of privilege.

I’m white. I’m cis-gendered. Healthwise, I’m in surprisingly good nick – and you don’t even need to add “for someone my age” because physically, I can stack up favourably to most people twenty, even thirty years younger than me – and I am not rich, but I am financially solvent enough that money is not a source of continual worry for me. I’m insanely well-educated, too, and despite the wrinkles and the middle-aged spread around my torso, I’m okay to look at.

It’s not surprising, then, that the books I write are not about being differently abled, or about neurodivergence, or about poverty, gender, or race.

They are – and I will not excuse this – based on northern European, homogenous societies and whatever I have written about sexuality within them is, for the most part, hetero-centric.

 

“Write what you know.” I do that. I have to. It may be fiction, and fantasy fiction at that, but it is rooted in the life and culture and reality that I have, personally, lived.

 

Because here’s the thing: if I were to write about how people with experiences alien and unfamiliar to my own (not “incidents”, but bred-in-the-bone, actual, lived experiences and emotions that transcend the boundaries of what I have, myself, a real understanding of) if I were to take those on, I am pretty sure I would get them wrong.

That would be far worse, in my not-humble opinion, than sticking to what I can speak to.

I have tried to branch out, a little. I do reference other sexualities – I don’t erase them. Dog knows, they weren’t absent in the cultures and eras I use as the basis of my work. I am considering the ways in which my characters can become more diverse, but it’s going to take me time and work, and I cannot be sure that I will get this right.

It’s important to get it right: it helps no one if I – a white woman in North America – produce a caricature of a black man anywhere. It is detrimental to the discussion for me to valorize or denigrate another person’s life experience by cannibalizing surface cultural markers for my own purposes.

 

But I cannot, in all conscience, attempt to speak for lives and understandings that are not my own.

 

And this is not a writer’s job, anyway.

 

No. Wait. Bear with me.

 

The writer writes out of their own experience.

Sure: they need to universalize it as much as they are able. Otherwise, there’s no point at all.

But it is not my role to create or illuminate experiences of lives I have not lived.

That’s your job, readers.

It is the reader’s job to open themselves up to the alternatives. The writer puts it all out there, and the reader has the responsibility to be open to it: to buy it and read it and to think about it.

Readers need to read wider, to be fearless in the face of diversity. They need to challenge themselves.

Writing is a conversation, not a monologue: the writer needs the reader. The speaker needs a listener.

It’s the chain that binds us together as a species, if you will.

 

It’s also the publisher’s job and that’s where the chain breaks down.

It’s the publisher’s responsibility to make the stuff available.

They have to. The writer can write, and the reader can read, but if you set yourself up as a “gatekeeper”, then you must/must/must accept that you have a global responsibility to open that gate to a far wider range than “what you did yesterday”.

 

Capitalism and profit be damned. The written word has no value if that’s all that you are in it for. The world is increasingly both smaller (because communication systems keep shrinking the distances) and larger (for the very same reason).

 

And I think, in the end, that unless the more mainstream and worldwide publishing concerns begin to do this on a far grander scale than they have, they will become increasingly irrelevant to the written word.

You need to give those writers their audience, and change the conversation.

Bad Boys

This link came across my feed:

http://societyofrock.com/in-1985-dee-snider-testified-in-front-of-congress-and-stunned-everyone-in-the-building/?a=de&var=dee+snider+pmrc-ILCR&utm_campaign=dee+snider+pmrc&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_term=repost-ilcr-de&utm_content=dee+snider

and like any good writer, my mind leapt across the obvious and into some other territory.

I said to myself:

This actually speaks to why women do sometimes fall for “bad boys”

Because – contrary to what all you self-styled “nice guys” think – they are frequently reeeally smart and articulate.

Ain’t nothin’ sexier than that.

 

That’s why romance novels sell.

That’s why “nice” doesn’t.

That’s why, even in fantasy novels, as in every genre, the “love interest” tends not to be Prince Charming – but the villain often is.

It’s often, especially these days, the sweetly overprotective and outwardly obsequious character who turns out to be the dark nemesis – the wolf in sheep’s clothing*, if you will – in fiction.

It’s that nice person, the one who listens, the one who claims to be “there” for the protagonist, who turns out to be the truly dangerous one.

And that is at least partially because women have started writing in absolute droves – and self-publishing has made it not merely possible, but inevitable, that their voices have been heard, and influenced the mainstream of narrative fiction.

This is their experience: that the duplitiousness of the self-styled “nice guy” has been their eventual backstabbing rumor-monger, their abuser, their rapist. Their killer.

And it is their experience, too, that the “bad boy” often has more sensitivity and awareness of them as unique individuals than the false friend who listens only as a way to achieve sex with someone that they do not actually know as one human to another.

This is the reality for many, many women.

And when writing, even/maybe more so, reality is everything.

 

 

  • Note: all “fairy tales” were once a way to teach life lessons. Make of that what you will.

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