I have lost the gift of tongues,
or perhaps I never knew how to speak at all.
In dreams, I have seen the tower crumbling
and felt my throat closed against my fellow humans,
my voice crumbling, too,
never to be heard again.
I have lost the gift of tongues,
or perhaps I never knew how to speak at all.
In dreams, I have seen the tower crumbling
and felt my throat closed against my fellow humans,
my voice crumbling, too,
never to be heard again.
I’m sure you’ve heard that before, reader, whether the statement is personally meaningful to you or not.
If it is, please take this as an expression of solidarity. If it is not, please take this as a window into someone else’s reality.
This is going to be the main theme in the guest blogs you’ll be seeing here over the coming weeks. Why? Because, I’ll say again, it is important.
Representation matters to me. As someone with a good amount of weirdness, it matters to me as something I wish I had been allowed better access to growing up. As an educator and an anthropologist, it matters to me as a way to foster tolerance and understanding, to help human beings develop their identities free from artificial pressure and shame.
I’m a white woman. Mayonnaise is just a little bit whiter than me. I’ve never been on the receiving end of racial prejudice. But I have stood in front of a classroom of Mexican and Mexican-American students and asked them to name a Hispanic person or character they had seen on TV, then listened to every last one of them fumble for a moment before coming up with George Lopez. Of course there are others. But not enough others that thirty seventh-graders could name them on short notice. This was in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where local populations range from 90-97% Hispanic. A few more minutes of conversation circled around local news anchors. Someone mentioned Danny Trejo. But the consensus was that, outside of the telenovelas, pickings were sparse. One girl dug a copy of The Hunger Games out of her backpack and told me, very loudly and a little bitterly, that she was surprised they didn’t cast a Hispanic actress as Katniss, who is described as having straight black hair and dark skin. She said she felt like Katniss, sometimes, even though her own family worked in fields and not in a coal mine. She said she didn’t like the movie very much.
The Rio Grande Valley was an eye-opening experience. An incredibly brilliant boy, probably better read than me and only thirteen years old, told me he had read plenty of books that had Mexican characters. Often they were complimentary portrayals. Hard-working Mexicans, tough Mexicans, determined Mexicans. He told me he had never read a book that had a smart Mexican in it.
And I sympathized. YA and middle-grade were both much smaller categories when I was growing up, but it was never hard to find white girls in the fiction. Smart girls were another story. There were tough girls and hard-working girls, girls who learned to fight and dressed as boys and saved things, but almost none of them were defined by intellect. I devoured Nancy Drew, and I hated that Hermione Granger’s intelligence was portrayed as obnoxious. I found the Mary Russell books in fifth grade, and I clung tight to her because she was, first and foremost, a scholar. It was the first time I had seen that part of myself clearly in a character.
The litscape is improving all the time, but there are parts of me that I still can’t see in characters, and I know that whatever pain that gives me is far worse for many, many others. There are so many communities ignored or viciously stereotyped. I want autistic characters who aren’t just plot devices or comic relief. I want characters with invisible disabilities who don’t learn to “put mind over matter”. I want an asexual character who isn’t heartless or mentally ill or homicidal. (I do happen to be writing one of these currently. Keep you posted!) I want mental illness that isn’t always automatically violent or somehow cured by a romantic relationship.
I write the stories I want to read. Many of my closest friends do the same. But there’s still nothing quite like finding that reflection of yourself in a book and knowing it came from another human being who understands you.
If even one person can read my books and see themselves, that’s a job well done.
The Siren takes place in San Antonio, which is a bit further north than the Rio Grande Valley but still more than half Hispanic, with the percentage increasing yearly. Sandie and Connie and Nacho were born several years before I met that girl who wished the Katniss on screen matched the Katniss in her head, but the day I had that talk with that class, I dedicated them to her and to every reader who is still searching.
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See Life, and all that for my last general update.
Well, it’s been some time. Again. And for much the same reasons I had already shared. Life crept up on me, and work crept up on me, and the future bludgeoned me with a frying pan while I was distracted by the other two.
Progress has been made, though. I know where I will be living, come fall, which is always reassuring. I will have a steadier income during the academic year than I had anticipated, so my savings have breathed a sigh of relief.
And I have begun the process of packing up all my worldly possessions to schlep across the Great State of Texas. (There really isn’t any word that encompasses the soul-crushing tedium of moving better than “schlep”.)
Now, please understand, I don’t actually own all that much in the way of furniture and such.
The bulk of it is books.
Books are heavy.
I had come to the conclusion late last year that the collective mass of my books was probably too great to be moved across Texas, and so I started sorting them then. The problem is that my stacks were labeled something like this:
TO KEEP — TO KEEP — TO KEEP — TO KEEP — TO KEEP — TO KEEP — TO KEEP — WHERE DID THIS COME FROM? BETTER KEEP IT.
I don’t have a problem. It’s not hoarding if it’s books. (I stand by this firmly, even though at last count, I had about 300 in my bedroom alone.)
But now I have to get to it in earnest. I can’t bring myself to throw away a book, so they’re all going to the shop at my local library, which adds some books to the library’s shelves and sells others incredibly cheap to give people a chance to grow libraries of their own. It’s a good system. I’m pleased to contribute to it. But it’s still painful to watch a box of my books disappear into their back room. It’s like saying goodbye to friends.
My old friends can make someone else happy, now. That’s my comfort as I part with them and hope I can whittle the collection down enough to fit into a single U-HAUL.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research, and I thought I’d share some of the interesting tidbits I’ve come across as I create The van Helsing Legacy (which you can read free HERE).
Whenever new vampire media comes out, it’s common to see strongly-worded objections in the comments section of all the reviews – something along the lines of “A REAL vampire doesn’t [insert thing here].”
Common complaints include sparkling, failing to burst into flames in the sun, not being a corpse, being capable of, ah, engaging in hanky-panky with humans, being able to consume the blood of animals, being too pretty, being too ugly… The list goes on and on.
The reality, though, is that our idea of what a real vampire looks like is extremely recent. Even when Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula,” ideas of vampirism were only just beginning to consolidate. The folk beliefs from which our current ideas have grown are… shall we say, “loose” at best.
For example, in many regional traditions, the distinctions between a vampire and a witch are casual or even nonexistent. A witch might become a vampire after death, but she also might prey on other people even while she’s alive, sometimes by changing her form into some predatory animal or by leaving her body as a spirit and attacking people as they sleep. Whether or not she is considered a vampire before she dies depends entirely on which old person is telling the story. And of course, while this predatory creature usually seems to do her predatory thing at night, she usually spends her days trying very hard not to be burned at the stake, hanged, or stoned to death for witchcraft, all of which tend to be more immediately dangerous than sunlight.
The dead kind of vampire catches fire in the sun, though, right? Actually, no. There is no folkloric support for sunlight destroying vampires. That bit of our modern myth comes from the 1922 film Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens, and even in the film, it’s not the sun itself that kills Count Orlok, but the noble sacrifice of a pure woman. In folklore, it’s true that vampires usually do their nasty work at night, but many also attack humans in their sleep, which has been known to include daytime naps as well. Others simply vanish when the sun comes up, with no mention of what would happen if they stuck around.
But they can only drink human blood. Sorry, this one is recent, too. Traditional vampires do an awful lot of harassing livestock, and often took the blame for plagues among cattle and sheep. On the other hand, the monsters of folklore never go after livestock because they have any moral compunction against going after humans, as contemporary vampires often do. In fact, a European peasant was likely to be just as devastated by attacks against his livelihood as by attacks against himself, so killing his cows was certainly not a decision of mercy.
They do drink blood, though. Weirdly enough, not always. The stories lumped together under the ‘vampire’ umbrella cover all kinds of depredation, and not all of it centers on the blood of humans or of animals. Eviscerated livestock was blamed on vampires. Failing crops, dying trees, noises on the roof or in the chimney, disappearing money, dry wells, bad dreams, good dreams that made people feel guilty, unexpected pregnancies in unmarried women… Heck, vampires even took the blame for eating their own bodies. Essentially, if there’s any kind of trouble in the neighbourhood, you might have a vampire problem.
So the next time someone gripes at you about contemporary media getting it wrong, you can head them off with a “Well, actually…” The only real constant in folklore is that it’s constantly changing. I, for one, am interested to see how it changes next!
For an interesting and informative read, check out “Vampires, Burial and Death” by Paul Barber.
It’s been a while, and I’m sorry about that, but I’ve been doing things! I really intended to post here more, it being winter break – I’m a university instructor – but break also seemed like a good time to cross a lot of things off my to-do list, so I did that, instead, and the blog fell by the wayside.
First of all, The Mage is out in both digital and paper forms. [Click!] Hurrah! It was delayed, but Amazon’s support teams were, well, supportive, and the technical difficulties have been surmounted.
Second, there’s a new project in the works, one unrelated to Lost Knowledge. I was teasing it all last year. The van Helsing Legacy: We Shall Not Sleep. There’ll be more information soon, and there are chapters beginning to go up for subscribers on Patreon.
Finally, this year is going to be a cyclone. We Shall Not Sleep will be coming out at some point in 2017, but I can’t yet venture a date. Instalments of No Cage for a Crow will also be releasing regularly. I intended to have Liminality #4, The Martyr out, too, but… I’ve been accepted to a PhD program. Elsewhere. This means that my year is going to be a sledgehammer-blow of seeking housing, seeking employment, moving, starting classes, starting a new day job, etc. I’m over the moon, of course, but I also have no illusions about the impact this will have on my time. It’s going to be greatly diminished, as will my disposable income, and publishing is both time-consuming and expensive.
The result is that everything, publication-wise, is up in the air. I will still be writing, though, and sharing that writing, so if you were thinking about contributing on Patreon, now would be a great time to sign up, to help me continue turning stories into books as my life changes course.
I’ll keep you updated as this journey continues. Wish me luck!
My sincerest apologies, readers, but it is 10:40 PM and I am experiencing technical difficulties, and I don’t have the time to sort them adequately. Believe me, I am working on it, but I have to contend with wait time between emails with tech support and with the general life issues (just general, don’t worry) that have sprung up abruptly these past few weeks.
As a result, The Mage is unlikely to release tomorrow, 30 November. I do NOT anticipate these difficulties lasting long at all, and will do my best to have your book to you within a week. It may even be out tomorrow, if the situation miraculously sorts itself, though I don’t think that will happen.
I’m very sorry about the delay – yet again. This seems to happen often with this series. It would be strangely appropriate to find out that it’s hexed.
I promise further updates soon. Please forgive me.
23. How willing are you to kill your characters if the plot so demands it? What’s the most interesting way you’ve killed someone?
Oh, perfectly willing. In fact, I’ve just… Ah, but no. Spoilers. Mwahahaha.
24. Do any of your characters have pets? Tell us about them.
Kim had an obese cat named Bud. He got old and died, because even wizard cats get old. If you’re following the Liminality Series, you’ll soon be introduced to Erin, who has a squad of buff men she calls her “entourage,” though they’re actually thralls, which is what you call it when a faerie keeps humans for pets.
There may be more miscellaneous pets in the future.
25. Let’s talk art! Do you draw your characters? Do others draw them? Pick one of your OCs and post your favourite picture of him!
Well… I do. Just very, very poorly. I used to keep a file of sketches of my characters, until I realized my descriptions were more useful than my doodles, most of which looked like unidentified marsupials.
I like it a lot better when other people draw them for me.
Here’s Lenny, as envisioned by my dear friend Jennifer.
26. Along similar lines, do appearances play a big role in your stories? Tell us about them, or if not, how you go about designing your characters.
As in, are they significant to the plot? Eh, some. Morrigan, for instance, is not a conventionally pretty girl. She looks startlingly like her brother Sherlock in a wig and will, in a much later book (not a major spoiler) be arrested for posing as female for the purpose of felonious solicitation. Hard to make the charge stick, of course, after an undignified strip reveals that she is a bit female.
Most others work off certain archetypes, or common-sense extensions of their personal habits, genetics, etc. Lenny is nonthreatening: small, untidy, blond, but with unusually bright blue eyes. Daniel is severe and has an ascetic, angular appearance to match. Kim spends an awful lot of time sitting and reading, so she has thick, soft hips and thighs. She has the black hair and warm, dark complexion that comes from her mostly Indian ancestry. Jadwiga has the brown hair and eyes that are prevalent in Poland. Her scars prevent her from re-entering a society that largely frowns on extensive body modification, even though it wasn’t voluntary.
27. Have you ever written a character with physical or mental disabilities? Describe them, and if there’s nothing major to speak of, tell us a few smaller ones.
A few. In the small stuff, Daniel has such poor eyesight as to be non-functional without glasses. He can perceive large, blurry shapes, but wouldn’t be able to identify an object on a table three feet away, unless it was producing a distinctive sound or smell. With glasses, though, he can see just as well in the dark as in daylight.
Lenny suffered a brain infection as an infant and was totally deaf until his teens, except to the voices of ghosts and other dead beings. When he was fourteen, he began to regain some hearing and could perceive loud noises as a buzz. Becoming a vampire restored it completely, but left sensitivity and the inner-ear damage that prevents him from balancing. Other vampires would still consider him disabled, since the lack of balance means he can’t move superhumanly fast without hurting himself. Also, though not in the category of disabilities, I write him as non-neurotypical and asexual. A few readers have asked me if he’s on the autism spectrum, and while not precisely correct, it’s a useful analogy. His brain is designed for effective interaction with the dead, and as a result, interacting with the living is often difficult for him; likewise, his body is designed to facilitate moving spirits out of the world, not into it, so no sex drive.
18. Favourite antagonist and why!
Signe, hands down. At least in Lost Knowledge, though I have a contender coming up in a future publication.
She’s not a primary antagonist, or anything. She’s not a bad guy, exactly, though she’s certainly awful. She just does a great job of poking at everybody’s insecurities, harassing them endlessly, and failing to put up with anybody’s rubbish.
19. Favourite minor that decided to shove himself into the spotlight and why!
It’s a duo: Lenny and Kim. Shadow of the Mountains was the first Lost Knowledge book I planned, and originally, it was supposed to be the only. Everything in Liminality was intended to be backstory, plotted but never written. But Kim and Lenny elbowed themselves into center stage, and I couldn’t say no when I realized that their story was really so much bigger than I had ever imagined.
20. What are your favourite character interactions to write?
I sort of already answered that without realizing that this was coming up, so I’ll go with a different answer.
Right now, I’m drafting The Van Helsing Legacy, and I am really digging the interactions between Meg and Chessie, the monster-hunting flatmates around whom the story revolves. Sort of without my consent, they acquired a bit of a buddy-cop vibe. You’ve got to admit that a bluestocking and a flapper chasing down vampires has a certain appeal.
21. Do any of your characters have children? How well do you write them?
Well… yes. Jeremiah’s got Cynthia, and Cynthia’s got Kim. Nobody’s got young children, though.
There’ll be more parent-child interaction in No Cage for a Crow, but it’s still mostly at a distance. Morrigan doesn’t get on well with her parents.
22. How long does it usually take you to complete an entire story—from planning to writing to posting (if you post your work)?
This is impossible. Everything I’m writing now has been percolating in the back of my head for ages. The Medium started brewing in 2005 or so, about the same time I began writing the atrocity that eventually became In the Shadow of the Mountains. The Morrigan Holmes series occurred to me when I was five. Yes, five. I’ve had The van Helsing Legacy rolling around in my head since the first time I saw a Hammer Dracula film, and I don’t even know when that was. I can’t possibly trace a story from inception to completion. The writing is variable. I was writing ItSotM for eight years before publication. The Medium brewed forever, but only took me a year to write, edit, and publish, probably precisely because so much thought had gone in beforehand. I drafted The Wailing in less than a month, but it’s short. There is no consistency in my time frames.
12. In what story did you feel you did the best job of world building?
Hm. No clue. I’d have to ask a reader. But, well, the Lost Knowledge world is growing with each story. The building won’t be complete until the last book comes out.
That said, the coolest piece of information I’ve dropped so far (in my opinion) comes in The Medium:
“Conscious access to memory is a unique trait of living things, but memory itself is not. It’s encoded in the minute vibrations between elementary particles. Our entire universe is built of information given shape. Part of that is its history. Its memory. Now watch.”
13. What’s your favourite culture to write, fictional or not?
Oh, golly, you can’t ask that of an anthropologist. Pick a favourite culture? Can’t be done. But, as mentioned previously, I’m always in love with whatever shiny new thing is currently going down, and right now, I’m researching Polish history for that nameless gothic thing. It seems that, whenever anybody decides to take over the world, they always start with Poland. In-depth research is a bit tricky for someone with only a high-novice understanding of Polish; there’s less literature in English than I would like. Ah, well. I found a volume of translated fairy tales, and that’s entertaining me, for the moment.
14. How do you map out locations, if needed? Do you have any to show us?
I do have a pile of fantasy maps somewhere, for a project that was shelved several years ago. Everything else takes place in our world, though, so I just print things out from the internet and scribble on them in Sharpie. I’m sure I can dig up some examples, but they’re likely in the very bottom of one of my file boxes and will take some time to locate.
15. Mid way question! Tell us about a writer you admire, whether professional or not!
I am (fondly) jealous of Jodi Lamm’s ridiculously fine ability to turn a phrase. I am so in love with her Titan Magic trilogy and look forward to the third book’s release. Gorgeous, subtle world-building, fascinatingly flawed characters, spine-tingling twists… Am I gushing? Go buy her books. She’s also loads of fun to talk to.
16. Do you write romantic relationships? How do you do with those, and how “far” are you willing to go in your writing?
Eh, a bit. Not much that’s yet been published. There will be a touch of romance in The Van Helsing Legacy and in that unnamed gothic piece. I don’t like the glorification of infatuation, though. Being in love is enjoyable in the moment, but has no lasting worth at all without a deliberate commitment. Otherwise, it’s just a fling, with all the depth that word implies. If it’s a fling, I write it as a fling. If it’s love, though, the decision is more important than the emotion.
Sex doesn’t interest me in the least. You won’t find anything beyond implication in my writing.
17. Favourite protagonist and why!
Oh, definitely Kim. She gets things done. She’s determined and efficient and has a sense of humour, and she isn’t impressed with Daniel’s whinging. I’ll be sorry to leave her behind when Liminality is done. But hey, that’s what Patreon is for, right? I’ve got loads of deleted scenes and backstory that’ll have to come out somewhere.