A season of endings has begun. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, from which enough ash spews to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.
It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
And it ends with you. You are the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where orogenes wield the power of the earth as a weapon and are feared far more than the long cold night. And you will have no mercy.
This? Go buy it. I know the author, yes, and she’s good. I’m not saying that because she’s my friend, but because she’s good. I remain jealous of her short story-writing ability. Her metaphors leave me breathless. I read this novel’s early draft back when I was in the BRAWLers writing group, and it kicked ass. I’m sure it kicks harder in its final form. So gird your buttocks, intrepid reader, and go forth to Amazon or a bookstore near you, and buy it.
That’s one small step for peer pressure, one (hopefully) giant leap for a really good new author!
I am utterly in love with this video by Janelle Monae, which has been blowing up my friends’ lists all over the blogosphere:
I bought the album, which you should do too if you like this song. The whole thing kicks ass. The cyberpunkish theme continues throughout the album, with nods to Philip K. Dick, Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, anime, and more. I also love the way she weaves in the old stuff — James Brown and Little Richard most obviously, but Parliament Funkadelic, The Brother From Another Planet, and Sun-Ra too. Also, that “doo doo doo” thing she does? Does the tune sound familiar? It’s from this, which was done by the Pointer Sisters back when I was growing up, and which gives me a total nostalgia buzz.
It’s always so thrilling to see another black geek. Sometimes I feel a little alone out here, ya’ll — but truth is, I’m not. The older I get, the more signs I see that there are actually quite a few of us out there, soldiering on in various fields and being true to ourselves in ways that society often resists. For example, there are only two other black female fantasy writers, to my knowledge — Nnedi Okorafor in children’s/YA fiction, and Carole McDonnell in small* press. I can’t think of a single black male in fantasy. What’s up with that? Yet I’m seeing more and more of us emerging in hip hop. To me, that suggests a bigger support network for artists there.
Speaking of support networks, the folks in my current and former writing groups, and some friends, have now read the first draft of Book 2 and graciously given me feedback on it. (The bruises are purpling nicely, thanks.) So for the next 9 days, I’m going to be doing virtually nothing but revising. Guess I’ll be listening to a lot of Janelle Monae. Wish me luck!
Am also — shhh! — beginning work on Book 3. Writing some test chapters to get a feel for it. The “shhh” is because the ideas are very fragile in my head right now, and messing with them too much may make them bolt or mutate. (The latter is not necessarily a bad thing… but the former is equally likely, so…) So be vewwwy vewwwy quiet and don’t ask me about it until I get the outline down!
Also, I’m in the “New Member Focus” of the latest (December/January) SFWA Bulletin! I’m not sure this bulletin is available to anyone who’s not a SFWA member, or I’d urge people to run out and buy it. If you’re really interested in getting the Bulletin, maybe contact SFWA and ask. They did a nice little interview with me, which I’ll ask them about reprinting here.
And that’s the news in Noraland.
* I’m not sure Juno/Prime counts as small press, because I’m not sure how such things are measured. I’m calling them small only because they’re new, and thus far not owned by a multinational corporate entity (that I know of). They put out great stuff, is all I know.
Workshops! Passing along word of two fantastic ones for budding fantasists. The first notice is a forward from Ellen Gunn, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Clarion West:
Applications are open for the 2009 session of the Clarion West writers workshop, an intensive six-week, live-in workshop for writers preparing for professional careers in speculative fiction.
Gifted writers are found in all races, but because speculative fiction reflects the prejudices of the culture around it, proportionately fewer writers of color are successful. Clarion West is dedicated to improving those proportions. Co-founded in 1984 by J.T. Stewart, a woman of color, and Marilyn J. Holt, Clarion West has produced some of the most exciting and creative new writers in the field, including Kathleen Alcalá, Andrea Hairston, and Nisi Shawl.
Our 2009 instructors are John Kessel, Karen Joy Fowler, Elizabeth Bear, Nalo Hopkinson, David Hartwell, and Rudy Rucker. Hopkinson, winner of the World Fantasy and Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, has edited four anthologies focused on representing people of color in narratives of the fantastic.
A number of scholarships to the workshop are available, including the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship, awarded annually to a writer of color.
I never went to Clarion, but I always wished I could go. Yeah, I’m doin’ okay without it, but there’s still something about the intellectual thrill of being among one’s fellow writers for six weeks, challenging oneself to produce and critique and think like a pro, and so on, that appeals to the romantic in me.
I did get a taste of that, though, by going to Viable Paradise in 2002. VP is amazing. Though it’s only 1/6th of a Clarion in length, they manage to fit an astonishing amount of breadth and depth into that single week. I can honestly say it was a transformative, incredibly motivating, deeply spiritual experience for me. My favorite moment of it was one day, after a morning of critiquing and a midday spent with Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, my eyes growing bigger and bigger as I listened to them tell me that yes, I was a good writer and yes, I could make it (because I didn’t believe that, not really, before then)… I rented a bike and pedaled down this long strand to an isolated section of beach. There I sat for a couple of hours. I’d brought my laptop, but I didn’t open it. The work I needed to do was all internal. I sat there and gazed at the waves and decided, in that moment, that I was going to be a writer. That it wasn’t just a hobby; it was a calling. And I’d ignored that calling for far too long.
The folks at Orbit asked me to do an interview that will hopefully be published in the back of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. After doing it, I realized I forgot to mention something in answer to the “what are your influences” question: video games.
I say this while sitting down to play Persona 4, which I bought before Christmas but wouldn’t let myself play until I finished Book 2. It’s exactly the kind of game I like: deeply immersive, long enough to feel worth the monetary investment (P3 took me about 200 hours), visually pleasing, with really engaging characters, and challenging. But it’s something else, I realize: dark and surreal. The story focuses on a group of high school students in Japan, trying to solve a weird mystery involving people getting sucked into a magical television world and murdered. Stylistically and in every other way this game is lighthearted fun, but I’ve played enough Atlus games to know by now: bad stuff is coming.
Which made me take a look at the rest of my videogame shelf:
Shadow of the Colossus: sequel to the brilliant, beautiful Ico, this game starts off with human sacrifice and a hero deliberately cursing himself to a terrible fate. Then there’s giant stone things stomping on you. Hmm. Yeah. Dark and surreal.
Silent Hill and sequels: Oooh, yeah. Monsters, nightmare worlds, a freaky cult, and worst of all, it may all be in your head. Dark and surreal, and scary as all get out.
Resident Evil and sequels: Zombies! Evil corporations! Definitely dark. Not so much surreal as B-movie-esque, but gets close sometimes.
Drakengard and Drakengard 2: Seems like a stock hack-things-with-swords medieval European fantasy game… until giant carnivorous babies start falling from the sky. Also, the hero of the first game is a mass-murdering sociopath. Hmm. Definitely surreal, and pretty dark too. The sequel isn’t as dark or weird, so I didn’t like it as much despite better gameplay.
Final Fantasy (several up to 10): Well, the world does tend to end in these, but usually that doesn’t stop anything. They’re pretty upbeat. Dunno about surreal, either.
Galerians & Galerians Ash: Like Scanners, but with emo teenagers. Scary!! Definitely dark and surreal.
Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne: Starts with the apocalypse, after which you get turned into a demon and are courted by Lucifer (though this has almost nothing to do with Judeo-Christian ideology otherwise). Yeah, pretty darn dark, and surreal as all get out.
Devil May Cry and sequels: Welllll… these are kind of dark, but I really just play them because I think the protagonist is hilarious. Because he’s a half demon who runs around pseudogothic castles killing monsters. Um. Well, it’s funny sometimes… Not very surreal, though occasionally baroque.
Disney’s Kingdom Hearts: Surprisingly, very dark and surreal, especially when it veers away from established Disney trademark territory. Not so surprising, really; Squaresoft, the company that did the Final Fantasy series, was involved. It may be the only Disney property I own.
These aren’t the only games I’ve enjoyed, of course; back in the day my favorite game was Parappa the Rapper, and lately I’ve loved the Katamari Damacy games (which aren’t remotely dark, but are most definitely surreal). I play some American-made games too, but not many, since for reasons I don’t understand, American games tend to have shallow characterization and not enough plot to keep me engaged. They’re great for “blowing up stuff”, which is certainly valuable in its own way, but those are the kinds of games I play for a little while and then forget. I rent those, I don’t buy them.
I don’t know why I like such dark games. Some of it’s that I have a perverse hatred for anything too obvious or predictable; the standard “upright good guys strive against awful bad guys to achieve a happy ending” scenario does nothing for me. If nothing else, these kinds of games successfully subvert my expectations. I think on some level it’s also cathartic; when I’m having a bad day, it’s hard to feel sorry for myself if I’m playing a game about the end of civilization as we know it.
Fictionistically speaking, I think what I take from these games is the idea that anything goes. Killing the protagonist is OK, provided you’ve developed your other characters enough to carry the story. Failing to save the world from Certain Doom is OK too; showing how the characters recover from this makes for an interesting and more original story. Making the villain your hero (or making your hero villainous) is a great way to invert, and thus freshen, tired tropes. A story can take place in a gloomy setting, with a protagonist of questionable sanity and morality, and have a relentlessly “down” plot arc, yet all this will make the bright spots — an optimistic character, a budding romance — that much more enjoyable by contrast.
Also, dropping giant carnivorous babies out of the sky is a great way to liven up a dull story!
(OK, I don’t plan to ever do that. I have to admit, though, it was certainly effective.)
Now that the bliss of completing Book 2 has worn off, I’m suffering serious existential angst. Part of me wants to immediately start Book 3; part of me wants to immediately revise Book 2; and part of me wants a vacation. For the moment I’m listening to the lattermost part of me, since that’s the part that’s making the most sense — after cranking out 100+ thousand words, anyone would need a vacation. It cleanses the mental palate, so to speak.
However, since I’m planning to attend a number of conventions this year, I don’t feel quite justified in gallivanting off to Morocco or wherever, price-wise. So I’ve decided to do some staycations around New York instead. Today was the Cloisters, a medieval art museum set in a gorgeous monastery-like structure and series of gardens (actually comprised of several medieval cloisters that were pretty much airlifted from Europe to here; there’s a reason people were in awe of the Rockefellers) on the north end of Manhattan. The Cloisters are themselves located in a fascinating place: Fort Tryon park, one of several large patches of greenspace in upper Manhattan. Today was the perfect day for it, too — gray and a little flurried, quiet and amazingly still. I enjoyed the park as much as I enjoyed the museum. Y’know, I think winter is becoming my favorite season.
Though I have to admit, the museum wasn’t what I was expecting. I’d been hoping to get more Cloister, less museum, so to speak. I couldn’t really immerse myself in the feeling of being in medieval castle the way I was hoping to, because there were all these display lights and explanatory plaques everywhere, jarring the illusion. I’m not all that fond of medieval art — it’s beautiful, but nobody ever seems happy in it, though I suppose that’s why they called ’em the Dark Ages. But I love medieval architecture, and there wasn’t as much of it as I’d hoped to see. And my camera, an old Fuji Finepix, failed me utterly; some of the best photos I took came out blurred because my shutter button has gotten crotchety and I have to really shove on it to make a photo. Which of course jars the camera and ruins the picture. ::sigh:: If I had a million dollars, I’d buy a digital SLR camera and some software to make High Dynamic Range images (like these, if you don’t know what I’m talking about). But I don’t, so I guess I’ll look into an updated Fuji. And hope that Book 1 sells really well.
Because of the camera issues, one of my favorite shots was spoiled, as you can see by the slight blurring around the colonnade details:
All that said, though, had a good time. Highly recommended, particularly for people who actually like medieval art. =)
Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and a belated Happy Hannukah, Joyous Noel/Yule, etc., to those who celebrate otherwise. Hope you’re all enjoying yourselves with friends and family, like I am. =)
Addendum: Just realized I have been meme-tagged by Mary Robinette Kowal! For the next 8 days I have to list things that make me happy, then tag 8 other people. OK, then I will list 1 thing and tag 1 person per day. Things that make me happy today: being up in Canada, having a white Christmas and hanging out with longtime BFF K, who I haven’t seen in years. I would tag her, but she prefers more privacy than I do. So instead I’ll tag fellow writer Vylar Kaftan, who seems a cheery soul. =)
In the home stretch in Noraville lately — I’m determined to finish Book 2 before Christmas. That’s looking pretty likely at this point given that I’m at 88,000 words thus far, and have been averaging 2K words per day. But all work and no play makes Nora a dull girl, so here’s some of what else I’ve been doing in my spare time:
-Advance warning for anyone reading who doesn’t already know: I’m very liberal, politically speaking. But it isn’t solely due to ideology that I find the shoe incident and this followup hysterically funny. I do plan to send my funkiest, oldest pair of shoes, by the way. (Gacked from Making Light.)
-I’m reading Alaya Dawn Johnson’s“Shard of Glass” for Podcastle! I’ve never done any sort of voice acting before, so this is both intimidating and a lot of fun. Had to learn to silence my inner Virgo, though, because I kept erasing and restarting the takes, hoping to get them perfect, which meant I made very little progress at first. Must remember — that’s what editing is for.
-Because most of my friends and family live far from New York, much of my holiday shopping has been done online. I prefer online shopping anyway to the horrors of Black Friday — no hassle, no crowds, and someone else does the wrapping and shipping for you. I always tend to like sending region-specific gifts to people who aren’t from that area. When I lived in New Orleans, my favorite gifts to give were Loretta’s Pralines and Gambino’s exquisite Doberge Cakes, both of which are to die for. In Boston, it was Legal Seafood’s lobsters — surprisingly affordable, if your loved ones don’t mind receiving a live animal on their doorstep, and boiling it for dinner. So since I moved to New York last year, I’ve been looking for something quintessentially New York to send. And what’s more New York than cheesecake? Unfortunately I hate cheesecake myself — but I have it on good authority from cheesecake lovers that Junior’s Cheesecake is pretty darn good. I’d dearly love to send a Cake Man cake too, since I have tried those and determined them to be, ahem, the shiznit. But since the Cake Man’s cakes are all handmade, they don’t do mail order. Alas. Anyway, bringing a NY cheesecake with me next week when I go up to Canada to visit one of my BFFs for the hols. (Beware New Yorkers bearing gifts! They’re sure to be fattening.)
-And last but not least, the deal I mentioned a couple of posts ago is done; German rights to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and its sequels have sold to publisher Blanvalet, a subsidiary of Random House/Bertelsmann. This calls for beer and bratwurst! Except I don’t like beer. Hmm, maybe I’d like a German one, if I tried it. (Any recs, beer connoisseurs?)