Til we have faces

::dons surgical mask::

::grabs dust mop::

DIE DUST BUNNIES!!!!!

::a cloud of dust erupts as the killer mutant monster dust bunnies are swept out of the blog::

Phew. I’m ba-ack! 🙂

 

moriarty

 

In my defense, it was a hell of a summer and I never promised to update regularly. 😛

The title for this post is from C.S. Lewis’ novel of the same name and it is brilliant. Read it, if you haven’t. The title seemed appropriate for this post. I have literally spent weeks trying to figure out how to put this into words as all the thoughts kept being a whirlwind in my head, refusing to coalesce into coherency. I finally found the key in the words of one of my friends (you know who you are):

 

Don’t let your passion and creativity take backseat to your image.

 

Why is this so forefront in my mind right now? This semester I took a class on teaching and pedagogy. It was, I kid you not, the most valuable class I’ve taken in the course of this degree. It stretched my mind and gave me a vision for what I want my own teaching practice and classroom to look like, and gave me so much to think about.* But one of the major things it made me think about is who I am in the classroom. Not as a student, but as a teacher. And it’s not something I ever had to think about before because I just decided to be myself, and that seems to work. My first time teaching research methods I was new, nervous, though I thought the whole thing went reasonably well. The second time around, I decided to have fun with it. I geeked out my slides: every week was a different theme, ranging from Star Wars to Doctor Who to Lord of the Rings, which inevitably led to pre/post class discussions on why exactly the Witch King could NOT have broken Gandalf’s staff**, why Peter Capaldi is a bloody brilliant 12th Doctor***, why Thor: The Dark World was NOT the worst Marvel film ever****, etc.

And that one seemingly small change changed the entire atmosphere of the classroom. I was still the instructor, but I was human. Everything was more relaxed. We got the work done, but we had some laughs along the way as well. I loved that semester.

So bringing myself into the classroom with the things that make me me is not something I ever thought about. I learned to do it.

And then we started talking about image in the classroom and the problems in academia in that respect. Do a Google search for “university professor”. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

You see the problem? The image search results overwhelmingly favour older white men*****. While the situation is changing within academia, it’s far from changed over. One of the women panelists who came to class, a young woman in her thirties, gave a talk on how she felt she had to keep the “dancing” part of herself out of the classroom in order to be taken seriously.

STOP. RIGHT. THERE.

I am a dancer.******

I am a writer.

I need both these things like breathing. I was made to dance like I was made to write. They are part of what makes me a whole person, and when I bring the whole person into the classroom as opposed to the person I think I should be it gives me so much more confidence. And I’m a better teacher for it.

 

Point.

 

 

*Trust me, that’s another blog post. I’ll get to it. Eventually. Patience is a virtue, people.

**I have no other complaints about the films. They are gorgeous. Stunning. But I will nitpick on that one detail. Fight me.

***BLOODY. BRILLIANT. I LOVE HIM.

****I WILL FIGHT YOU ON THIS. DANCE OFF. NOW.

*****I’d have provided a screenshot but my computer is being stupid and won’t let me. Grr.

******And lemme just say, I spent the entire summer dealing with an injury it only served to make me go HELL YES I AM A DANCER AND I WILL DANCE.

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Forged in fire (aka, what doesn’t kill you…)

…makes you stronger.

And, ok. Fine. So the title is perhaps a tad melodramatic (you should be used to this by now. I regret nothing. 😉 )

Basically, this blog post was born out of minor over-use knee injury (note: I said minor) which, nonetheless, caused a bit of a freak-out on my part as a) I’ve never experienced anything like this in my knees (neck and back pain, yes. Knees, no.) and b) I’m a ballroom dancer. My knees are important. So are my feet.

So I find myself in the process of strength-training, since I don’t have the kind of strength in my knees that I need. And let me tell ya: the morning after the gym is pretty uncomfortable. As is the day after that. And I’m not used to it. I’m not used to using those muscles in that way. It will come, once my body’s used to it, but in the interim it’s hard. And I might be a bit of a wuss.

But there’s a larger picture here. Let me put it this way:

I AM A DANCER.

It’s a relatively recent discovery (though apparently my subconscious has been screaming this for years…) and it fits like a glove. I can talk all day about how much I love it, but in the end the only way to express it is to get on the dance floor and show you.

 

 

And to dance the way I want to dance – with strength, precision, ease and grace – will take time and effort and training. But because I love it, I’m going to do it. I mean, there really isn’t another option here. My instructor’s stuck with me, heh. This is too much fun, too much joy, too much wonderful.

So in the immortal words of…somebody-who-isn’t-me:

Suck it up, princess.

 

::Exits stage left, dancing a samba::  

The Sunshine Thingy (aka, silly questions)

Righty then. I was tagged by S. Hunter Nisbet to do the Sunshine Thingy. Also known as answering silly questions and providing some of my own. It’s a blog meme. So I’ll be tagging some suckers lucky lovelies to carry on the meme lest we all lose our way in the mists of the interwebs and what-else-have-you.

Let the games begin!

 

  1. Dost thou speaketh any other languages? If so, what is thine go-to phrase when people say “Ooh, say something in that language!”

I speaketh 3.5. Or, 2 + .5 +.5. Ish. I’m bilingual in English & French, speak a very rusty Spanish (I can get by) and a teensy bit of Russian. I know the Russian is still there, but it’s veeeeeeeeeeeeery rusty. Favourite phrase with which to impress people in Russian? “я немного говорю по русски” “Ya nyemnoga govoryou po-russki” “I don’t speak much Russian”. This is usually followed by “Вы говорите по-английски?” “Vi govoritye po-angliskii?” “Do you speak English?” 😀

Useful. Dat’s me. 😉

 

  1. Hast thine car ever run out of gas? What did you do?

Nyet. I ride a magic carpet. What do you take me for? Next!

 

  1. Didst thou go to university, and what was thy major or focus?

Went to uni. Did a BA in English Lit with a minor in Russian (aha! you say), then did a Masters of Library and Information Studies. I was going to be a librarian. It didn’t work out. Now I’m back in school doing an MLit because I want to teach English Lit. And I focus on the medieval stuff, though I am forced out of sheer necessity (i.e. I need the credits) to take a summer course about a bloody pretentious git of a modern playwright. After this course is over, he and I are never, ever, EVER getting back together.

 

  1. What is thine starter Pokemon?

I don’t speak Pokemon. I speak Myst and Carmen Sandiego. Still putting the “miss” in “misdemeanor” as I go. 😉

 

  1. Black thumb, or digit of greenest emerald?

Black. Only give me your plants if you want to murder them.  >:)

 

  1. In a world where thy eyebrows were, in fact, long enough to reach the brim of thine hat, dost thou trim them or let them be ala Gandalf?

Hmmmm….trim them. They’d just get in my tea.

 

  1. What was the first chapter book thou ever read, and why?

What. You want to think that far back? I has no clue. None. So to weasel my way around, the first chapter book I remember reading is The Secret of the Old Clock. NANCY DREW FTW.

 

  1. How many poems can thou recite at will?

1.5. By which I mean, I can recite parts of a poem. Macavity the Mystery Cat by T.S. Eliot (screw The Wasteland, and yes I just said that and no, I don’t regret it) is sheer joy. As the threatening rhyme in the opening chapters of The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson. That one must be recited with a thick Scottish accent. I do my best. *cough*

 

  1. If I say we must do something for the good of the many, not the few, thy answer will be:

Nyarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh

 

  1. What is knee high by the fourth of July?

Apparently the answer is corn. And yes, I googled that. No, I have no shame.

 

…and how would you answer? Comment if you feel so inclined!

As for the lucky ducks chosen to carry on the flame…I challenge Elaine Witt Nicole Wilson  Maggie Maxwell and Outtamylaine

I salute you all and ply you with cookies and tea. Your questions are below. You know the rest.

::cracks knuckles::

 

  1. You are stranded on a desert island. You are allowed one book, one CD, and one movie. What do you take?
  2. Favourite season? Why?
  3. Coffee fanatic or tea fiend? With milk/cream and sugar or without?
  4. What one place would you visit with that magical plane ticket? Why?
  5. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or Harry Potter? ::evil laugh::
  6. Black Widow or Catwoman? Explain.
  7. Milk chocolate or sinfully dark?
  8. Smaug: justified in defending his hoard against thieving dwarves or homicidal maniac?
  9. Dragons or krakens?
  10. You find a gold ring buried in your backyard. What do you do?

If music be the food of love, play on

On the list of things I’m supposed to be doing…blogging is probably not one of them.

Pfft.

Oh captain, my captain!
Oh captain, my captain!

 

*cough*

 

As I’m getting ready to revise and submit IN SECRET KEPT I’m revisiting some of the musical inspiration for the novel. Because I write with a soundtrack. Sometimes it might be only a few songs that I have on continuous loop*. Sometimes it might be a playlist hours long. For SECRET I wanted lots of piano music since the piano is key to both main characters. I also looked for Celtic-style music since the world is very Saxon/Celtic/Norse inspired**. And the funny thing I learned in the early revisions is that music is literally embedded in the bones of this world, from its inception to its eventual end.

Stories have a way of surprising me that way.

So to that end, I’m sharing two tracks that are…central.

If I had to sum up IN SECRET KEPT in one piece of music, it would be this:

 

 

 

The other piece is this one (esp. the 2:16 mark):

 

This one was a late-comer to the party, but when it arrived it was one of those moments I just knew. And I wrote the scene in one go and it’s one of my favourite scenes in the book. (Some of you know may what I’m talking about…)

 

Aaaaaand….because why not? The following is the main theme for RHEDA, set several hundred years previously in the same world as SECRET.

 

And on that note***…

 

Waes hal!

 

 

*Don’t give me that look. Pbbt. 😛

**OLD NORSE FTW. *coughresearchbiascough*

***Pun maybe intended?

Taking the Lead: Foreground Characters

So…the other week I posted about background characters, inspired by a post by RR Willica and S. Hunter Nisbet. This is part two. I’ve included the links to the initial posts at the end so you can send some love their way and check out their most excellent blogs!

 

When we speak of background characters vs. foreground, how do you divide them?

This is something that normally comes out when I’m outlining (and I’m just going to state, for the record, that in my case and outline is really more like guidelines. It evolves. IN SECRET KEPT and MIDNIGHT HOUR are both a case in point). I know who the story is about, who it revolves around. Background characters may have varying strengths of voice, and sometimes that will surprise me. In MIDNIGHT HOUR, which has a much larger cast than SECRET, I can still point to it and say “Raoul is the MC”, though he’s not the only POV.

 

At the start of a new story do you have your characters decided or do you just take off running?

Um…I mostly have them figured out. Mostly. But they get clearer in the writing and that’s when I realize some of things I thought they were don’t work. In terms of who’s protagonist or antagonist, though, that doesn’t change. I have that nailed down to begin with or I can’t write.

The thing with MIDNIGHT HOUR that surprised me, though, was the strength of the voice of some more minor characters. Though I wouldn’t call them mains, they’re getting POV chapters because they literally won’t shut up. And I realized that their voices are integral to the story. Given that I’m writing about a band of misfits, you need to understand how they all work together. Since the story is centered on those relationships and how they play out in the face of the evil they’re about to face, knowing who they are as individuals and collectively is crucial.

 

Do you find it’s easier to write multiple POVs vs one character?

Ha. Hahahahahaha. I’ve been writing mostly single POV for a long time. SECRET is mostly told from Alodia’s POV, though I’ll flip to Rinan because the story is about the both of them and it’s necessary to see both sides. MH is…so different. It’s a larger cast with about 5 POVs (that includes my villain). And it’s much more of a challenge because while SECRET was very linear, MH is not. The first 3 chapters are the same night from 3 different POVs. The challenge here is keeping all the threads from getting tangled, and making sure they all converge at the appropriate time so as to resonate emotionally and plot-wise. It’s something I’ve never done before and it terrifies me – which is, as a friend of mine pointed out, a sign that it’s the story I’m supposed to tell.

In terms of choosing who gets a POV…the characters chose it themselves. Obviously Raoul would get one and so does Esmera. But then Amadi and Min proved to be very significant voices as well, so there we go. Other, smaller, POVs may pop up as needed but it’s not something I’ll know right away. It’s something I’ll learn in the telling when I sense there’s a hole.

 

Do you write with a large time-scale?

Somebody get me a TARDIS, stat.

3486167-tardisfastflight

Time scale is my weakness. I always have a loose idea—actually, scratch that. “Loose idea” is being way to generous. I have a wibbly wobbly timey wimey spacey wacey idea of how long things will take. It’s something I continue to struggle with and usually have to go back and fix things in revision. I am RUBBISH with time-scale.

 

What genre would you classify your novel?

SECRET is high fantasy, definitely (and there are many more stories in that world to come, and I can’t wait to tell them).

MIDNIGHT HOUR is dreadpunk/steampunk/fantasy. If you are unfamiliar with dreadpunk, it is homage to the Victorian horror novel (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.). And the thing about Victorian horror is it was never (or not always) just about the horror – it was the Victorian’s way of dealing with the taboo. And that makes it so much fun to play with. A great tv example of dreadpunk is PENNY DREADFUL (still haven’t seen it, but I need to…Timothy Dalton and Eva Green? Hello.).

Most of my novels/stories are either a fantasy variant or science fiction. This is my happy place.

 

Do you specifically cast your foreground characters’ gender and appearance or do they create themselves?

I touched on this in my previous post about background characters, so you can read it there. But this also brings to mind the question of language because I’m a language nut and I speak four (and have a tendency to shout at idiot drivers in Russian, ahem). SECRET and MIDNIGHT HOUR both contain non-English languages. To give real-world equivalents for MH: Raoul is French, Esmera is Arab, Amadi is Nigerian, Min is Chinese. So sometimes they will say a word or short phrase in their own language, which, apart from the French, requires research. SECRET (well, actually RHEDA) was my first foray into writing with this dynamic and in getting into the issue of why we don’t italicize non-English languages. Daniel Jose Older has a fantastic video which you can watch HERE.

When it comes down to it, italicizing a language other than English is a way of marking it as other in the way that only mentioning the skin tone of a black person or Native American assumes that the default is white – and the world isn’t white any more than it’s English.

And it makes sense to me. I’m a native English-speaker from Québec, which is officially French. And in Québec we have major tension over language that really dates back to the time the French ceded the colony to British after they lost the war. So now we have this thing called the “Office québécois de la langue francaise”, also known as the language police. I kid you not.  It is entirely possible they will fine your business if, God help you, the English text on your signs is not half the size of the French. Government employees are not required to speak English and I have been discriminated against when it comes to jobs, simply because I’m not Francophone. Fluently bilingual and just as qualified, but as an Anglo — not good enough. So when I’m made to feel that my own language is “other” or “not good enough” then I’m not going to “other-fy” another language by italicizing it.

I would hasten to add that the reason for the existence of the OQLF is because somewhere down the line, they felt the same way. Also, not all Francophones discriminate nor are all Anglos open-minded. This works both ways. But the point remains.

And I mean…give the reader some credit. They don’t need you to point out a non-English word. They’ll get it.

Ok, so that was a rabbit trail. But it’s something else I’ve been thinking about.

Questions or thoughts? Leave me a comment!

 

Also, check out Part One of this series on S. Hunter Nisbet’s Blog

and

Part Two on RR Willica’s blog!

 

Send some love their way 🙂

Pushing to the Forefront: Background Characters

So, this was my response to a blog post by S. Hunter Nisbet & R.R. Willica (links at the bottom) and I’m reposting it because it’s a really interesting topic and particularly relevant to me now as I’m drafting MIDNIGHT HOUR (I promise I’ll get a summary on the Writing page soon! Promise!). Three questions were asked:

Do you consciously choose the race, gender, ethnicity, etc. of your background characters?

Do you have a character with a backstory you choose not to share?

Have you ever had a background character try to push to the forefront?

 

Question the 1st: Do you consciously choose the race, gender, ethnicity, etc. of your background characters?

Not consciously, no. Much of it depends on the environment of the story and how well I know it. For example, IN SECRET KEPT is set in a very Anglo-Saxon/Norse inspired world so it’s pretty white. Regional distinctions are mostly based on life-span, hair, and eye colour. That being said, I have a broader sense of geography outside this particular part of the world and in the novella RHEDA (set a few hundred years before SECRET) the MC is (to put in real-world terms) half Saxon and half Arab. Ok, fine. That’s not a background characters. But. In MIDNIGHT HOUR, the entire setting is flipped and it’s a diverse steampunk city so background characters and main characters alike are all kinds of people. The thing with characters is that most of them just pop into my head with their faces already there and I don’t have to think too hard about what they look like. The challenge is in learning to write PoC well (seeing as I’m a white chick), but it’s a challenge I accept. The world isn’t white, nor was I taught to think that it was. Nor is it only male — and since my academic research is focused on women in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse lit and I grew up on things like Tolkien and Nancy Drew…well, let’s just say my ladies and my men share the limelight equally. And I’m a sucker for women with swords. EOWYN AND BRYNHILDR FTW. Ahem.

 

Question the 2nd: Do you have a character with a backstory you choose not to share?

I don’t think so, no. All of my characters have a backstory and I need to know that in order to know who these people are. While the reader might not get the entire backstory as mapped out in my head, I try to weave in enough so that what is happening in the present makes sense and resonates emotionally. MIDNIGHT HOUR is especially challenging in that respect because all of these rogues (because they are all screwed-up sons-of-you-know-what to varying degrees) have connections with each other and backstory that is important to the present narrative (again, to varying degrees). Figuring out when and where to place a flashback scene or a comment in dialogue is tricky and sometimes I write a scene that I love and realize it’s actually not necessary and — more to the point — not doing what I wanted it to do. The thing about MIDNIGHT HOUR, though, is that I realized early on there’s too much story for one book so the sequel (HEART’S BLOOD) will touch on a fairly major backstory point that I can’t deal with in MH. It has me ridiculously excited.😀

 

Question the 3rd: Have you ever had a background character try to push to the forefront?

Oh, HELL YES. SECRET has one of those — actually, two. But they’ll be getting their own novella once I figure out what their story is. And actually, I wrote a short story called A ONCE & FUTURE KNIGHT and while it’s told from Gawain’s pov, the moment Jael walks onto the page I’ve been told she nearly upstages him. But that’s fine. Because that’s the kind of lady she is. In fact, the two of them are too big for a short so I’m going to rework it into a novel at some point. >:)

No, I can't say that I did...
                 No, I can’t say that I did…

 

So those are my answers. What are yours? Leave me a comment or check out:

S. Hunter Nisbet’s Post and Excellent Blog

And sure to check out Part Two (coming this week!) on:

R.R. Willica’s Likewise Excellent Blog

 

Ciao!

 

That’s the thing about grace… (an Easter post)

So, it’s Easter. Which means I’ve been thinking about grace a lot more than usual.

What do I mean by grace? The simplest explanation I can give for it is this:

God’s grace looks at what we deserve, and offers us what we don’t.

Grace isn’t pretty.

It isn’t neat.

It costs.

Grace is uncomfortable. Grace isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. It reaches down into the muck, gets all the dirt under its fingernails, and hauls you up again. Grace is God saying, “The world wants nothing to do with you. But I do.”

King David in the Old Testament: had his captain Uriah murdered so he could marry Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. He repented and God redeemed him.

The Apostle Paul: ordered Christians tortured and executed. Redeemed and became one of the greatest apostles.

And the list goes on. Seriously, the Bible is full of really sketchy characters. Sketchy characters and broken people who were granted grace and went on to flip their lives right around.

This is the grace I believe in. The grace I have seen. This is the grace I write about.

BC_Easter

Happy Easter.