On Life Changes, Rejections, and TOR.com Articles

As usual, it’s been forever since I updated, but at least I have a good reason this time:

IMG_4152 Meet Baby S! (Yes, that is a Pink Floyd shirt he’s wearing, DON’T JUDGE ME.) He was born in late December, so my life’s quite understandably been a bit busy since then – not to mention the fact that I’ve also had convention planning to do, for the con I am staff for. Somehow I’ve also managed to squeeze in time to do another beta read for Sanderson (you guys are going to love Oathbringer. Seriously.), and before S was born, I collaborated with a bunch of the other beta readers to write a couple of articles for TOR.com, which was SUPER exciting. I’ve wanted to write for TOR for a long time, so this was a fabulous opportunity.

The first of the articles was a Dreamcast for The Way of Kings, which got a LOT of buzz because we decided to stick to a mostly Asian casting for it (which is textually correct but apparently NOT what people had in their head-canon for the characters). For the Mistborn Dreamcast, we stuck to a more traditional stable of actors and people seemed a lot more accepting of our decisions.

Writing these was an absolute blast, not only because I got to have some really fun debates with fellow Sanderson super-fans, but because I got to write something in a professional capacity for a publication I greatly admire.

Speaking of publications I admire… In January 2016, Gollancz (a UK Publisher if you weren’t aware) opened its doors to unsolicited, unagented submissions. I figured it was worth a shot and sent in the first three chapters of Greencloak. As the months went by and I received no word that the package had even been received, I figured that either it had been lost in the mail or rejected outright. But then yesterday I got this in the mail:

IMG_4154It says: “Dear Lyndsey, Thanks for sending us Greencloak. We’re sorry it took so long to respond. Your submission made it to the third round. One of our assistant editors really enjoyed it and singled it out. Unfortunately we thought it not quite for us as we have a number of similar titles and wouldn’t be able to find a space for it. Your writing and storytelling are great so please keep submitting and writing. Best of luck, Team Gollancz.”

So… that’s a thing. I’m encouraged by the fact that someone else really liked it – but depressed that it came in so close and fell short of the mark. At least it fell short because the publisher already had too many similar titles and not because of poor writing or anything. I’d really love to submit to TOR, but I’d rather wait until I can talk to one of the editors in person and see if they’d be interested in it. With Baby S with us now, I won’t be able to get to as many conventions as I used to (for the first couple years anyway), so submissions may need to take a back seat. In the meantime, I suppose I can bang my head up against the revisions for book 2 some more, and I’m also working on editing Forgotten Soldier as well as my 2016 NaNoWriMo novel.

The Sliding Scale of “SJW”

(I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long time, and have only now managed to gather my thoughts on it in a satisfactory manner. It’s been years – probably ten or so – since I wrote an “academic” article so please forgive any errors in attribution or non-MLA quotation. I’m afraid I have quite forgotten the rules!)

 

If you travel within certain social media circles, you’ve likely seen the pejorative term “SJW” (Social Justice Warrior) thrown into the conversation, whether said discussion involves the current election, fandoms, books, or even something as apparently innocuous as Halloween costumes.

If you haven’t ever seen this term bandied about, you may wonder what it means. Even those who have seen it or used it themselves may not be aware that different communities utilize the phrase differently. There appears to be a sliding scale of definition, starting with the purely derogatory. Urban Dictionary’s user-submitted definition is “A pejorative term for an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation [1].” This, I’d like to point out, is the least heated definition associated with the phrase on that particular website, and the one which most people on the internet seem to associate with the term. (For more examples, just do a google image search for SJW.)

On the other side of the scale are those who take the term for its original, literal meaning – an individual who works towards/fights for a goal of achieving social justice and equality, usually on behalf of minorities or as members of marginalized groups.

I find the use of it by people who don’t fully understand what other ideals they are associating themselves with to be very troubling.

The origin of the phrase goes back at least to 1991. “All of the examples I’ve seen until quite recently are lionizing the person,” Katherine Martin, the head of U.S. dictionaries at the Oxford University Press, is quoted as saying [2]. People holding ideals similar to those of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were hailed as Social Justice Warriors – those who fought bravely, often times against harsh opposition, in order to achieve equality for the downtrodden or oppressed.

There is some debate as to when the term first began to gain traction as pejorative. While the Internet culture historians of KnowYourMeme.com point to a blog entitled “SJWar” with entries dating back to 2009, the blog’s author, SF&F writer Will Shetterly, has indicated that the title is a more recent development. [2].  One fact that most can agree upon is that “SJW” began to gain prominence as an insult with the rise of Gamergate, a toxic internet controversy which began around 2011 and escalated to the point of threats of violence.

With this in mind, the phrase’s current problematic use becomes more apparent. A term which was once espoused as positive has been taken by a fringe group and turned into an insult. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the evolution of “SJW” closely mirrors that of “feminist,” another word fraught with political and social implications. However, there is far less of an outcry against the use of “SJW” as there is against “feminism” when used as pejorative labels, and I believe there are two main reasons why.

First of all, one must consider that SJW means different things to different communities. In the fantasy/scifi community where most of this began (take a look at the massive backlash against people of color, women and other minorities gaining representation at the Hugo awards), SJW is a polarizing term. There are people who decry the pejorative and use the term at its original meaning, and then there are those who use it to belittle (and sometimes outright harass) those working to attain or champion equal representation. One of the biggest proponents of the anti-SJW movement is the writer Vox Day, the online pseudonym of Theodore Beale. To quote him directly, “Because the SJW agenda of diversity, tolerance, inclusiveness, and equality flies in the face of both science and observable reality, SJWs relentlessly work to prevent normal people from thinking or speaking in any manner that will violate their ever-mutating Narrative” [3]. This man and his followers’ ideas of social “justice” are revoking a woman’s right to vote [4] and calling a woman of color “an educated, but ignorant half-savage” [5].

On the Tumblr/fandom/4chan side of things, SJW is most often used to describe people who take inclusion and representation too far or believe themselves entitled to preferential treatment (as opposed to equality) because of their differences. Often they are described as not actually doing anything to attempt to fight the issues they raise. A good example of this is people who champion things like cultural appropriation when it may not be warranted or even welcomed by the affected culture. Take, for instance, this article about Japan’s declining kimono industry and how cries of cultural appropriation have hurt the affected parties rather than helping them. (Please note that I do not believe that all cases of appropriation are overblown – particularly in which “members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group [6].)

The fact that people on the 4chan/fandom/Tumblr side of this are using this phrase to describe a different set of people than Vox Day’s is what upsets me. For Day and his ilk, an SJW is anyone who fights for social justice and reform, whereas the usually more progressive legions of fans on Tumblr and other social networking sites appear to be using it to refer only to those who take these issues to their extremes or rant about things without actually attempting to fix them, as in the above examples. (Who decides what is “extreme” is a huge question, big enough for a post all on its own.)

Straddling both sides of the issue as I am means that I see “SJW” tossed about to insult someone who is attempting reform or to draw attention to inequality (if perhaps too enthusiastically) just as often as I see people using it to describe themselves as true warriors for equality. In the former case, I cannot help but associate the accuser with the Vox Days of the world, who believe that social justice is the domain of the Straight White Man and no one else.

This is what I personally find disturbing – a fringe group who believe that social equality is not worth fighting for have won on this particular battlefront. They’ve laid claim to a term and corrupted its meaning (much like the Nazis did with the swastika), and many of the people who are using it seem to be blissfully unaware of this fact.

In light of all this, I believe that we are left with two questions.

  1. Is there another term we can use for those who take things too far or bring up issues without attempting to rectify them? In feminism, we often see people decried as “feminazis,” which – while also troubling – is at least a different term than feminist, describing a more militant and uncompromising view. Steven Barnes has suggested that the term “Social Justice Zealot” be used in cases such as this, and I wholly agree that this is a much more fitting term [7]. A warrior fights for that which they believe, whereas a zealot is a fanatic. This latter seems to fit far better than 4chan and Tumblr’s current usage of “SJW.”
  2. Should we allow this etymological perversion to continue to evolve the phrase away from its literal meaning, or should we as socially minded individuals take a stand and reclaim it as a positive title? Many in the fantasy/scifi community are doing the latter, wearing t-shirts or pins to conventions that claim “SJW and proud” or similar slogans. But has the fringe’s appropriation of the term gone too far for it to be saved?

The 4chan/Tumblr side almost universally holds to the definition stated in the beginning of this post. This group is both larger and, generally, younger than the other. Are we in the older generation clinging to a degrading definition and refusing to allow evolution of language to take its course? Perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider searching for a new term for proponents of social equality, one not tarnished by Vox Day and Gamergate.

In the meantime, it is important in our daily dealings with others (both online and in person) to carefully examine not only what we mean by certain words and phrases, but also what others mean by them and their historical precedents. An understanding of the different ways in which different communities utilize this polarizing phrase will hopefully help to bridge some gaps and foster understanding. It is also important that we examine our own place of privilege before taking a stand on such a delicate issue viewed so strongly by so many. A heterosexual, abled white man who identifies as male will have a different experience with social justice than would a transgender lesbian, a woman of color, or a man who is blind. It is my hope that before someone shouts “SJW,” they will take a moment to think about what the term has meant historically and means to others now.

Updated Cover Art for “One Last Moment of Silence”

I was never terribly happy with the cover art for “One Last Moment,” but I lacked the funds (or the contact information) for a good cover designer. Lately however, I contacted the lovely gentleman who did my cover for “Greencloak,” and he put together this absolutely stunning cover for the novelette for me!

I’m feeling much more confident about it now that it has a really nice cover, so I’ll probably be promoting it more often. Maybe I’ll even make up some flyers and hand them out at WorldCon, who knows.

One last Moment of Silence BLACK-sm

On the Greencloak front, I’m currently waiting on responses from one agent (let’s call them Agent M) and two publishers. I’ve had some nibbles from another agency (Agency J), but I’d like to wait and hear back from the people it is currently out to before I start making the big changes Agency J is asking for. This would be the second time they’ve requested I resubmit, which I view as a good sign. So… fingers crossed that I hear back from Agent M and the two publishers in the near future.

Unconscious Writing Influences

Or, “How I stopped worrying about appropriation and embraced the amalgamation of styles which is my own.”

Lately I’ve been reading all the “mainstream” fantasy novels I can find with LGBTQ protagonists, since Greencloak’s main characters are gay and bi and I need to know the market that I am attempting to break into. I started off with Kushiel’s Dart (slow, but very satisfying; great book) and then started in on Mercedes Lackey’s The Last Herald Mage Trilogy.

I’m really enjoying it, but the more I read, the more I realize just how much Lackey influenced my writing style. The Elvenbane (which was co-authored by Andre Norton) has been one of my favorite books for over fifteen years – I’ve read it so many times that the hardcover I pilfered from my dad way back in the late 90s is literally falling apart. (I remember bringing it up to Mercedes at a signing. She took it from me with a little knowing smile and said, “This book has been well loved,” which really touched me.)

Things that I am coming across that I have used – subconsciously – in my own writing are the use of the words Talent and Gift to denote magical ability and psychic ability, respectively (which is also something I remember Robin Hobb making use of in The Farseer Trilogy), the use of italics to denote mind-speech, and overall the character “tropes” she chooses to use. When I look at my own writing through this lens, I can definitely see the parallels.

This made me worry that I might have been unconsciously mimicking her. That my style was not my own. I did some real soul-searching on this – the very last thing I would ever want is to ape someone else’s work. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my own style is an amalgamation of that of all the writers I admire. I see Sanderson in my sparse prose and use of humor. I see Lackey in my characters and my magic system. I see Butcher and Whedon in my dialogue. I see Hobb and Weis & Hickman in my tragic, tortured character backstories. I see Jordan in my massive, epic plot lines.

And I realized that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Our personalities are reflections of our past experiences, and I don’t see why our writing styles should be any different. We naturally emulate that which we admire; we take pieces of what we love and make it our own. I’ve come to think of it like a quilt. I can see the individual pieces – each square of fabric beautiful in its own right – but the whole is something entirely unique and beautiful on its own. No author can say for certain that their writing style hasn’t been influenced by someone else’s writing, just as we as humans can’t say for certain that our past experiences haven’t changed our personalities and made us who we are today.

However! Each author I admire has one big thing which sets them apart from the others. This may not be true for everyone, but for me, I admire Sanderson for his magic systems. Rothfuss, Beagle, and Gaiman, their prose. Lackey, her characters. Butcher and Lynch, their humor and dialogue. They excel at these aspects, and no matter what other pieces of the patchwork they may borrow from other writers, these are their showpieces.

I think it’s important for us, as writers, to find that One Thing which sets us apart and focus on it. It’s important for us to be well-rounded, to understand all the parts of our craft, but we can’t be masters of everything. Every author has flaws. Every. One.

If I could offer advice to other aspiring authors, it is to find the piece of your writing you think is the best and hone it until it is as good as you can make it. This is what will evolve into your unique voice. Ignore the little voice in your head which wonders whether you’re copying all those other influences from your reading. They are the alloy in which you set the shining gem that will make you stand apart – the background which blurs into obscurity behind the object in focus.

Breaking past writer’s block & Writing Excuses

For a few weeks, I was pretty depressed. I was trying to work out the big kinks with the second draft of Crimson Intent, but I just couldn’t seem to make myself sit down and do it. I had a new outline detailing the changes I needed to make from the first draft… but these chapters just had me stymied. They didn’t feel right. And that made me feel like I had swallowed an anvil every time I even sat down to write.

But, thanks to writing group deadlines (we meet once a week and I was swiftly approaching the week where I would have to submit one of the “trouble” chapters), I finally sat down and forced it out. And it hurt. I knew that something wasn’t right, but I had to have something for group, so I submitted the chapter anyway.

And then, when I was doing something else entirely (as always seems to be the case), epiphany hit. Suddenly I just knew that that chapter I had submitted was in the wrong place. It needed to be two chapters later – and then everything made sense.

I can’t begin to tell you how big of a relief it was to realize this. I had to apologize to my group for making them read that chapter twice (as some pretty major revisions had to happen for it to work later in the story), but now it works. Thank goodness. Now I’m just hoping that the rest of the revisions to this go smooth as silk (HAHAHAHAHA -ahem-).

This “writer’s block is because there is a problem with the story” thing is something I’d heard ages ago on the Writing Excuses podcast, which leads me nicely into my next subject. Since I went two whole years without an update (feel free to play the Game of Thrones “SHAME” video clip for me next time you see me), I’ll be posting a little “retrospective” section in some of these posts to talk about some of the cool things I’ve done.

At WorldCon 2015 in Spokane, WA, I had so many amazing experiences. I got to go out to dinner with Brandon Sanderson, Peter Ahlstrom, and a bunch of other amazing people. I hugged a dalek. I gave Scott Lynch some whiskey. I caught up with my friend Ada Palmer and discussed Hugo voting with Courtney Schafer, who is absolutely a pleasure to talk to. I met some pretty amazing fellow Stormlight Archive cosplayers and met one of my writing group partners in real life for the first time (after working with him via Skype for almost five years). But the experience that tops them all for me was this one.

11889545_10153012322350811_5925570437396375017_nDoesn’t look like much, does it? But this is photographic proof of one of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life. This the Writing Excuses crew (Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Taylor) and one of their special guests. And me, sitting behind the sound-board. Running it.

“All right,” I can hear you thinking, “how the hell did you manage that?”

I’ve known Brandon for a few years now, first from the fact that I am a moderator for the Stormlight Archive subreddit. I was also his handler at a convention for a weekend, and I’ve been a beta reader for some of his works. So he knows me by name, and trusts me (well, enough to eat the cookies I make for him every time he visits New England, anyways). I was helping to carry the sound equipment in for the crew, because I like to help him out with things, and Howard or Dan (I forget which) asked if anyone had any experience running sound-boards. I did, having run sound for a few of my college theater’s productions. So I got a crash course in the sound-board from Howard, then got to sit there and monitor levels for four episodes.

“So where does it get nerve-wracking?” you’re probably thinking.

Listen up. This is an award winning podcast. Thousands of people listen to it. And they’d literally put the quality of the thing in my hands. If I screwed up and pushed the wrong button or something, I could possibly delete the recording, and then what would they do? They couldn’t very well re-record it, since they’d just spent an hour doing it before a live audience. I passed a few panicked notes to Howard over the course of the recording (“Is that red light supposed to be off” was actually more like “OH MY GOD THE RED LIGHT IS OFF, IT’S OFF, SHOULD IT BE OFF? IS IT ACTUALLY RECORDING?” in my head) and had one very bad moment at the end when we were packing up and I unplugged the power supply thinking that it was the headphone cord. All the color promptly drained from my face as I tugged urgently on Howard’s sleeve. I said something like “I unplugged it, oh god, did it save, please tell me it saved” and he assured me calmly that it was fine.

And so ended the most harrowing hour of my WorldCon. After that, asking Scott Lynch if he’d accept some whiskey as a gift was no big deal.

I’ll be attending WorldCon again this year, and hopefully this year I’ll have another cosplay. I’m going to give the Masquerade another shot (I wasn’t terribly impressed with the 2014 Masquerade in London), providing I can finish this RIDICULOUSLY OVER-AMBITIOUS PROJECT.

You know… that’s what I’ll call it, from now on. The ROAP. Stay tuned for updates on the ROAP, WorldCon, book editing, and maybe a few more retrospectives documenting the Great Supernatural Road Trip of 2015…

Cover for Greencloak

Every year for NaNoWriMo I commission a piece of art. I really like seeing artwork for my books and characters, it helps to motivate me and keep me on-track. This year I decided that since Greencloak is so well-polished, I’d commission a proper cover for it.

Behold… the beauty. Greencloak-smallThis piece was commissioned from J. Caleb Design, and I couldn’t be happier with it. Not only was he a pleasure to work with, he really got my vision for the cover and followed through splendidly. If I do wind up self-publishing this novel someday, this will be my cover for it, without a doubt.

Wow… it’s, um. Been a long time.

Right, let’s see. Quick catch-up on the past two years.

Got married. Bought a house. Still not published, but have had several agents nibble at my query letter for Greencloak (4 requests for partials, 1 request for a full).  Got a new puppy! (He is a rescue dog and the most adorable little bundle of energy in the world.) Traveled to Japan, London, and Scotland, and drove across the USA three times (once for work to CA and I flew back, once to CA with my best friend on a ghost-hunting road trip, and once back). Went to WorldCon 2014 and 2015. Beta’d and gamma’d a bunch of Sanderson’s books. Made a bunch of cosplays, wrote another book, and worked as a seasonal set construction worker for two years. Currently I am making fire performance props, which is just about the coolest job title ever (but really only means I sit at home and tie a lot of knots with kevlar rope).

I think that about sums it up. I’m trying to really make it a point to update this thing more than once a year. (And I promise I’m not updating now to procrastinate because I really should be working on my revisions on Crimson Intent, but I have no idea what to do with it at the moment. OK… maybe I am. Feel free to shame me.)

Currently Greencloak is out on submission to one agent (she requested a partial) and to Angry Robot and Gollancz for their open submissions. Crimson Intent is being shoved kicking and screaming through writing group, Forgotten Soldier is slooooowly being edited and sent to beta readers, and Working Title (I was calling it Words & Consequences for NaNoWriMo) is… a giant mess that I will assess at a later date.

This has been your semi-annual update. I promise I will update again soon. REALLY. I swear.

NaNoWriMo 2013

As usual, it’s been awhile since I posted, this time because I was a little busy getting married. 🙂 I was also lucky enough to be asked to beta read a book by another author, and that took a good deal of time. But now all of that is over and National Novel Writing Month is in full swing! Awwwww yeah. You can follow my progress here if you’re so inclined. Last year I finished Prayers to the Wind a week early at 68,000 words, so this year I set my own personal goal to 100,000 words in order to challenge myself. Also because I am apparently incapable of keeping a book under 90,000 words at the absolute least. It seems to be working out rather well so far, as Legend of the Wind (sequel to Prayers) is currently about 40% done according to my outline, and I am sitting pretty at 40k words on Day 11. Providing I don’t have any major setbacks, this book should be done by November 30th.

I love NaNoWriMo. I don’t really have any issues with word-count… once I sit down to write, the words flow very easily for me. But I do enjoy having friends who are writing at the same time to chat with and share snippets of story with. So if you happen to be following this blog and are participating in NaNo as well, feel free to friend me, I’d love to follow your progress and share your joys/sorrows as we embark on this journey together!

In closing, check out this hilarious Periodic Table of Storytelling if you’d like a few laughs.

On the joys of convention staffing…

So it’s been a long time since I updated. The reason for this is two-fold… Firstly, I am on staff for two large conventions in the New England area (Anime Boston and ConnectiCon), and this year they fell within two months of one another. This meant that I was working my tail off trying to ensure that my duties for both conventions were fulfilled while also working a 40-hour job. Fun! (But definitely worth it in the end.)

Secondly, I am getting married on September 21st, so I have a lot of wedding planning to do! We’re having a relatively small wedding (100 people), but even so, there’s a lot to plan.

Both of these things have sadly eaten into my writing time considerably. Which brings me to my next bit of news…

I did hear back from the agent who requested to read PRAYERS TO THE WIND. She enjoyed the book, but had a couple issues with it, which in retrospect I agree with. I am making some massive revisions in order to fix these problems (this entails adding in about 6-7 chapters and approximately 25k words worth of content). I am pretty certain that the reason for the biggest of these problems was that I was trying so hard to keep the book under 100k words. I skimped on many things that I normally would not have, and it made the book weaker overall. But after speaking with several people in the industry about it, I’m no longer afraid of having a book that is over 100k words. In the words of one agent, “It’s not the number of words on the page, it’s how good those words are.” So in this draft, I am ignoring word-count entirely and focusing on making the story as good as it can be. I think that this will remedy the issues the agent had, and then I will be resubmitting.

In the meantime, I have had another agent request to take a look at some sample chapters. I sent the first three (revised), and am waiting to hear what he thinks of them. More there as events progress.

In other news, some friends of mine are putting together a horror anthology (art and literature) and have invited me to submit. All proceeds will be going to charity. I am very excited to take a stab at writing some horror short stories (ha, stab… horror… get it?), especially since Stephen King has had such a huge influence on my reading and writing style over the years. Maybe I’ll post some short blurbs from works in progress as I write them.

Lastly… In the past month, I have sat in on a lecture by Stephen King, met Terry Brooks at a meet-and-greet luncheon, and spent a fair amount of time at ConnectiCon chatting about writing with Brandon Sanderson, Margaret Killjoy, Michael J. Sullivan and Bryce Moore. I have also joined a new writing group of 12 people. I am inspired and reinvigorated by all of these experiences, and happy to be back to work on the PRAYERS TO THE WIND revisions – two chapters done so far and going strong! I aim to have the sixth draft done by the wedding.

And I promise to start updating more often, too. 🙂

Prayers to the Wind Submitted; Short Story on Amazon

So two big bits of news today. The first is that I finished up the last (hopefully, though I doubt it) round of edits on Prayers to the Wind and sent it out to the agent who requested the entire book after having read the first three chapters. As soon as I hear anything back I’ll be sure to post an update. In the meantime I’ll continue obsessively checking my email every half an hour.

In other news, in light of the Writers of the Future semi-finalist thing (and because the damn story is too long to submit anywhere else), I’ve put “One Last Moment of Silence” up on Amazon. LINK. I wanted to make it free, but Amazon apparently has a 0.99$ limit, so a dollar it is. I am, however, ready and willing to email copies of the story completely free to anyone who might want it. In PDF, sadly, not eBook (I’m not quite certain how to format it for ePub). But that option’s there, if you want a super cool short story for free. Contact the author link’s on your left.

Last but not least, I’ll be doing a Q&A/self-promotional thing on the Fantasy subreddit this Wednesday. I put the prologue to The Dark Captain up there in the past and got a very positive reaction, so it’ll be interesting to see if that holds true when posting under my real name instead of Kaladin’s…

Oh, I lied. One more thing. I read “The Lies of Locke Lamora” and “Red Seas Under Red Skies” by Scott Lynch this past week. Well… more like devoured them, really. If you haven’t read them, do yourself a favor and do so. It’s “White Collar” meets “Assassin’s Creed.” With sharks. And swearing. And if that doesn’t sell you on it nothing will.