On Learning European Longsword

Time to take a break from talking about submissions to talk about something else that’s been going on in my life and that relates to writing: I’ve started taking lessons in European Longsword. Fellow aspiring fantasy authors, if you want some amazing source footage for how to write sword fights as they ACTUALLY would have been fought, look no further than this video.

I used to watch films to try to get an idea for how people fought with swords. Troy, Braveheart, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Hero were all favorites to revisit, depending on the style I was going for. But I’ve come to realize through the course of these lessons that films just… aren’t a great way to study this, not if you want any degree of realism. How MUCH realism depends on you, of course. Maybe you just want to write a really cool scene with lots of witty banter between blows and cinematic elements. That’s totally legit. It’s one approach to a problem that has a multitude of solutions. But for myself, I like to try to research as much as I can for my books to get things as accurate as I possibly can, and martial arts are no exception.

Watching and reading can only teach you so much, though. Nothing substitutes for actually learning something, for getting your hands dirty (or in this case calloused), for feeling how the sword moves. What it feels like to block an oncoming strike, even when that strike is pulled for the sake of safety, or how heavy a sword is when you’ve held it in a guard for an extended period of time. What is possible in terms of body movement, and what’s not. Footwork. Guards. Strikes, thrusts, and parries.

So about six weeks ago I started learning. The specific style I’m learning is German Longsword. You can read a bit more about it here, or here. I also took a couple of seminars in broadsword and long & short form quarterstaff/spear, but those were specifically for stage combat, so for historical and writing purposes I’m focusing on longsword.

I’ve always been fascinated by swords, since I was little, so this has been a bit of a dream come true for me. Not only am I enhancing my writing, I’m getting to realize a life-long dream, which is pretty badass. Once my introductory class is done I’ll post up a video of a choreographed routine between my instructor and I, but for now I’ll leave off by saying that if you’re looking to add a touch of realism to your fight scenes without taking lessons yourself, look up half-swording (maneuvering your sword with two hands, one on the hilt and one holding the blade). This is something I rarely see in fantasy novels, and has a lot of historical basis. You can see it a few times in the video I linked above.

Current Submission Status

Well, here goes. The Forgotten Soldier has been submitted. Hitting the “send” button on any submission is hard, but this one was harder than any I’ve done so far.

Fanart from this novel by a dear friend. Click to view on the artist’s deviantart page.

This book is my darling. My Dark Tower. My Stormlight Archive. It represents 14 years of rewrites and revisions, building this story up from what started out as a simple retelling of a D&D campaign. I’ve torn it all down and rebuilt from the ground up so many times now that only the barest bones of what I started with remain. The initial drafts were completely different books, save for some shared names and one big event that has never been cut.

I know this world better, in some ways, than the real one. I know about its trade agreements and economics. I learned some basic physics in the process of building the magic system and studied the psychology of PTSD and repressed memories. I know its history, its legends, its games and plays and the divinities working behind the scenes both worshipped and forgotten. I constructed languages and laws and drafted maps and created just about anything else you can imagine, but for me, the most important part will always be the characters.

I love these people as if they were real. I weep with them when they fail and cheer when they prevail. I know them inside and out, but they still manage to surprise me sometimes as little bits of their past or personalities swim up from some unconscious well of knowledge buried in my brain. I’ve spent more time with them than almost anyone I know in my life, including my husband. They’re a part of me, and they always will be. I want others to get to know them, to love them as I do. I want them to help others as they’ve helped me.

The book’s in the hands of an agent now, an agent I adore and whose opinion I trust. She made some of the best revision suggestions I’ve ever received on the last novel I submitted, and her enthusiasm was a boon to me when I first decided to take this seriously four years ago. I’ve come a long way since she last read my work, so I’m hoping that I’ve improved enough and that this project excites her enough to want to be involved. In a way, it’s like handing a newborn to a stranger and standing there wringing your hands, praying they know to support the neck and don’t drop it.

Wish me luck, guys. I am terrified and excited and nervous and everything in between.

In addition to this, Greencloak is still out on submission to TOR. I don’t expect to hear anything back on that for several months yet. I’m also anxiously awaiting word on the short story anthology I submitted to – they should be replying in the next ten days.

While I wait, I thought I’d share a few things I found in my last hectic revision pass of Forgotten Soldier that made me laugh. These are mostly notes from my writing group.

(For those not in the know, this character is very, very gay.) I wound up having to cut this section, but Meg’s comment was too funny not to save.

Some beta reader reactions:

And finally, one of my favorite comments, again from a beta reader. This one never ceases to make me laugh. There is no greater compliment than a comment like this about one of your characters.

On Cutting the Puppy in Half & Taking the Leap

In 2004, I wrote a book. It was a pretty long book, even then. Over 100k words, if memory serves. I thought, in my Junior-in-college naivete, that it was pretty good. Over the course of the next nine years, I kept returning to it. I revised. And revised. And revised. I started from the ground up at least three times, completely rewriting it. Changing the plot. Removing characters. Adding characters. You name it. And then… finally… I felt like I had something truly special. Five years ago, after nine years of (admittedly sporadic) work, of editing and polishing and worldbuilding and tweaking of characters, I decided that I was going to try to make my dream a reality and actually be an Author. I was going to write every day! I was going to go to conventions and listen to writing podcasts! BY GOD, I WAS GOING TO GET PUBLISHED. And I had this novel already finished! And it was good!

There was just one problem. It was 350k words.

To put that into context for you, if you’re not steeped in the writing field:

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: 198k words.
  • A Game of Thrones: 292k words.
  • The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy: 454k words.
  • Brandon Sanderson’s latest foray into Roshar, Oathbringer: 460k words.

“So?” you might be thinking. “Those other authors did it, so can you!”

Yeah. No. Here’s the thing. No one’s willing to risk taking on a project that large as a debut novel. Most of the time, when an author approaches a publisher with a book this long, they’re already established in the field. There’s a good writeup about word counts and what publishers are looking for here, if you’re interested in reading more about it. Basically, for fantasy sci-fi, they’re looking for 90k to 125k. I have literally been laughed at by people at conventions when I mention my wordcount.

“So cut it in half,” you say. “Seems simple enough.”

I once emailed Patrick Rothfuss about this, asking for his advice on the subject, as I’d heard that some overseas publishers had tried to cut his book into parts. “Cutting a book in half isn’t like cutting a pie,” he told me. “It’s more like cutting a puppy in half. You can never expect it to work the same way after.”

I took this to heart for a long time. The character arcs wouldn’t be complete if I split the novel in two. The plot would be incomplete. It wouldn’t be Right. I couldn’t cut my puppy in half! I loved it too much! So I decided that my best course of action would be to start another book, a spin-off in the same world that I hoped would be shorter and more marketable. “And,” I thought to myself, “if this trilogy does well, I’ll have a fan-base already built for the other novel! They’ll be excited to dive back into the same world, and surely that will make it more appealing to a publisher.”

So I started working on Greencloak, then titled “Prayers to the Wind.” My concept for it was a crime drama with elements of comedy and romance set in a high fantasy world; a buddy-cop comedy in which the protagonists slowly come to realize (in between the snarky banter) that they have feelings for one another. I’ve been submitting Greencloak to agents and the occasional editor for the last three years, with little glimmerings of hope which are always quickly extinguished. Some agents have requested the first three chapters, which I know is better than most people get. One requested the entire book once. I got a letter back from an editor at a major publishing house saying they enjoyed it but they had too many similar novels right now. Meanwhile, my beta readers were building me back up from each rejection, reminding me that the book was good. Very good. Better than some published stuff they’d read. Some of these beta readers were folks in the industry, so I felt buoyed, validated that this book actually WAS good, that I wasn’t just over-inflating my own ego, thinking too highly of myself. I kept submitting. And getting rejected.

The usual advice in a situation like this is to trunk the novel and move on to another. And I HAVE been working on other things (more on this later). But I know this book is good. And, more than that, I want this book to get into the readers’ hands because I’m doing something with it that I don’t see terribly often in mainstream fantasy novels regarding LGBTQIA representation, and I think that’s a damn shame. No one’s giving it a shot. I have one last hope before I go the self-publishing route – but that shot is a long one.

It’s TOR.

I never submitted to TOR, even though they’re my dream publisher and I’ve been writing non-fiction for them for a few months now. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been reading novels with that little mountain on the spine. My dad loved fantasy and sci-fi and almost all of the books in his office were TOR novels, back in the early 90s. I cut my teeth on this stuff, and to have a novel with them would be more than a dream come true. It would be THE dream, what I’ve always wanted, what I’ve been working towards since I started writing fantasy in middle school.

So I didn’t submit. Because I was terrified to. I was so scared that they’d reject me, and then the dream would be dead.

But lately, I’ve been thinking long and hard about my writing career. I’ve been writing seriously for about five years now. (By seriously I mean working on something every day, rather than tinkering with something for a couple months then leaving it by the wayside for a year.) And what do I have to show for it? One novella which was a semi-finalist in Writers of the Future and I went on to self-publish, and five unpublished novels (one of which is, as stated above, unpublishable due to length).

I need to get my ass moving on this, and take a chance. I need to submit to TOR, if only so I finally know one way or another and can move on. It’s my own personal Schrödinger’s cat, and by god I’m going to finally open this box.

So next week, I’m printing out the first three chapters and submitting it. Finally. If it doesn’t make it, I do have a plan to self-publish, because I truly believe that there IS a market for this novel and by god if the agents and editors can’t find it, I will. But maybe they’ll see the worth in this little novel of mine, and give it a shot. I can only hope for the best.

But I’m also working on something else, something that I should have put more thought into a long time ago. Something that I held back on out of fear, and that I now see that I need to just do. I’m cutting the puppy in half. My writing group just reached the end of what used to be Part Two of The Forgotten Soldier, what I am now considering the end of the book. They seem to think that it worked well as an ending – definitely an “Empire Strikes Back” sort of downer ending, but one which leaves the reader somewhat satisfied and on the hook for the next installment. And hey – if I CAN sell this, I’ll have the sequel already done, which has to be a huge boon in this age of long waits between installments in a series. Book One now ends up at 216k words. This still isn’t ideal for a debut, but it’s not completely out of the ballpark, either. Sanderson’s debut, Elantris, was 200k.

Once I run this draft by a group of beta readers, I’ll be querying it out to agents, starting with the lovely woman who read all of Greencloak way back when it was in its second draft and gave me such wonderful critique on it. She’d invited me to query her again if I had something different, and I fully plan to. So here’s hoping that the beta reader feedback is as good as that of my writing group!

Speaking of long word counts, this is coming in at over 1k now so I’ll stop rambling. I don’t post often, but when I do, I guess I make up for it with long posts.

The Oathbringer reread starts up tomorrow at 9am on TOR, so follow along on Alice and my adventures there if you’ve already read the book. Until then, happy reading, fellow travelers.

ReaderCon Retrospective and Doctor Who

This past weekend I had the opportunity to return to ReaderCon, a local convention which I very much enjoyed last year. A friend was running the Green Room and needed some volunteer assistance, so I arrived late on Friday and stayed through Sunday afternoon.

ReaderCon is a small convention, but what it lacks in size and programming it more than makes up for in community and quality. All of the panels I attended were excellent (though I was amused that most of the panelists on the “Grimlight” panel didn’t know what Grimdark was going in), and diversity of representation on most of the panels was much improved from last year. I met so many wonderful people and had glorious conversations about everything from costuming to worldbuilding to puppies, and I even got to pet a hedgehog!

On Saturday night I was invited out to dinner with an industry professional by a mutual friend and had a long conversation that I hope might eventually lead to a request for materials, but I’ve learned by now not to count any ducklings before they’ve hatched. In the moment, I’ll get excited and optimistic, but the more time passes the more I convince myself that this door will close in my face as well. Time will tell.

Which brings me to my next point. On Sunday, I was chatting with a couple of lovely ladies about women in superhero films when I got a FB message from my friend Sal. “They announced the new Doctor,” he said.

I immediately excused myself from the conversation and practically flew to google, then let out an audible shriek as the first photo came up. A couple at our table turned, a little annoyed, and said they were trying to have a conversation.

“You don’t understand,” I said, probably half coherent. “They announced the new Doctor!”

“Oh,” the person said, a little interested now. “Who is it?”

“It’s a woman,” I said, on the brink of tears. “The new Doctor is a woman.”

Cue bedlam in the Green Room. Every new person who came in for the next couple of hours was pounced upon with a “have you heard?” “Did you see the announcement teaser trailer yet?” That trailer must have played at least fifteen times that first hour, if not more. There were smiles all around. Some people teared up. Women (and men) who had been waiting for this for their entire lives sat in a moment of stunned shock before exclaiming in joy. Some people said that they would wait to see how the writing was before getting too excited, which is a completely understandable stance, but by and large the reaction was overwhelming.

I’m so thankful that it was at a fantasy/scifi convention that I learned this news, otherwise the outpouring of hate on comment boards might have dampened my joy. As it is, however, my first memories of that moment will always be smiles and tears.

Finally, the Doctor is like me. I wish that I could hop into a TARDIS and tell ten-year-old me that when I was in my thirties, most of my heroes would finally be women.

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.