Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Writing Update

 Here are a few quick notes about my current writing projects:

I'm still waiting to hear back from my cover artist regarding the cover for my cozy mystery Restaurants and Revenge, the sequel to Murder at Magic Lake. It's been about six weeks, so it might be time to follow up with them. I've got about 30,000 words written for Book Three in the series, which will be titled Bubble Tea and a Body. However, I haven't had much time to work on that lately, since I've returned to my Season Avatars world and started a couple of unrelated short stories to boot. 

Although I finished the main story in the Season Avatars series regarding Chaos Season, a magical weather storm that mixes up the seasons, I still love my heroines and want to spend more time with them. I also want to explore the implications of the series ending and let the world modernize somewhat. So I want to write a spin-off series called World Avatars, which will allow me to introduce new characters and revisit old ones. I have a sense of the main events, but I have to decide how many books they will need and how to plot each book as a stand-alone story and part of the overall series. Although I don't have much time to write on my lunch break, I use the time to jot down notes for the series.The first book will be titled Avatars Abroad and will feature a quartet of mostly new characters exploring the country next door. Before I publish that, I'll need to publish another short story collection, The Season Between, set between the two main series. Ideally, I'd like to publish Restaurants and Revenge first before working on the collection.

As for the short stories, they're "for the love" projects, so I only work on them after I've written at least 500 words on Avatars Abroad. Hopefully when they're done, I can return to Bubble Tea and a Body. Two is probably the maximum number of projects I can write at once, especially when I'm juggling so many other things (work, parenting, daily chores, etc.). I definitely keep busy!

What projects are you working on? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Yellowface and the Writing Life

Every month, I like to do a diversity read, a book by someone from a different background than me. I consider it a way to support diversity and grow as a human being by experiencing other existences vicariously. Ironically, R. F. Kuang, the author of Yellowface, doesn't want people reading her work just because it was written by an Asian author. Her book, which is about a white woman author who steals a manuscript from her dead friend, Athena (a superstar Asian author), is also a send-up of the publishing industry. It shows how the system of elevating a few carefully chosen authors as tokens of diversity hurts writers of all backgrounds. However, for me, the book also illustrates the perils of being too much of a "career author."

June Hayward, the narrator of Yellowface and the author who steals her friend's first draft, is one of the most self-centered characters I've ever read. She has no responsibilities, no genuine relationships, and no interests other than chasing writing success. She's addicted to reading about herself on social media, whether it's good or bad. Even some of the ways in which she tries to give back, like establishing a scholarship in her friend's name and mentoring other young writers, are done to enhance her image. June not only fails to grow as a person during the events of the book but becomes even more racist and self-obsessed, able to write about nothing but herself yet expecting the whole world to be waiting for her words.

As I said before, this book is a satire, and June is meant to be an extreme. However, she does show the importance of maintaining a healthy balance in one's writing life and in life in general. Given that her interactions with the real world are minimal, it's not surprising that she suffers writer's block partway through the book. Even Athena mines other people's experiences and uses them nearly unchanged in her own work. It's important to have experiences of your own to inspire you and real-life knowledge of things and interests you can combine to create a unique story. It's also not healthy to seek out all of your self-validation online or base it on winning other people's attention. While I do find useful things and even a community on Facebook, I'd rather spend more time reading and less time doom-scrolling. After all, there's more to life than being an author.

Despite my comments on Yellowface, I'm still interested in reading one of Kuang's other books, Babel: An Arcane History. Part of that is yes, I still want to read diverse authors, but also because I'm interested in the premise and have heard good things about it. Hopefully the characters in that book will be more well-rounded.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Off-Earth: Ethical Questions and Quandaries for Living in Outer Space

Traveling and living in space will pose a variety of technical challenges, but there are plenty of other social challenges that space will pose. Who owns space? How will workers get paid? How will we handle reproduction in an environment with limited resources? To start considering these questions and their answers, I recommend reading Off-Earth: Ethical Questions and Quandaries for Living in Outer Space, by Erika Nesvold.

Nesvold starts the book by acknowledging that some people may wonder why we should go to space when we still have so many problems to fix on Earth. There are a couple of reasons why we should start planning for space anyway. The first is that developing the technology needed for space travel may help us improve the situation on our planet. The other is that there are people and companies determined to get into space, so we need to plan accordingly. Attempts to regulate space internationally have had limited success, so we need to learn how to do so quickly.

Each chapter of Off-Earth raises a different question. (Some of the examples are listed in the first paragraph.) At the beginning of each chapter, Nesvold describes three scenarios, some based on history, others set in the future, about the topic. There are plenty of historical examples where exploration and exploitation of resources and people led to tragedy. If we don't learn from these examples and set up regulations/customs/laws before we establish lunar settlements or asteroid mines, we'll only repeat our mistakes.

At the end of the book, Nestvold discusses how we as a species can start discussing these questions. One thing we should do is to look to non-Western societies for possible solutions. For example, people living in the Arctic have experience with extreme environments like the ones in space. We could learn from them, but we shouldn't just appropriate their knowledge but make sure they're included in space exploration. One group Nestvold fails to acknowledge are science fiction writers. We have experience creating thought experiments about alternate societies in space. If authors consider ethical questions in their works, we can influence the development of real space societies, hopefully in ways that will be sustainable and beneficial for all.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Ineffable Husbands and Reincarnating Wives

I liked reading the book Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman when it first came out, and I enjoyed watching the adaptation of the book (Season One of Good Omens) on Amazon Prime. However, I didn't expect to be so enthralled by Season Two, which was released at the end of July. Then again, who can resist the perfect marriage of demonic love and angelic cruelty in that final episode? I haven't fallen for a fandom like this since the Beatles Anthology aired in November 1995 and I had "Free as a Bird" stuck in my head constantly. I binged Season Two of Good Omens in three days (which is quite fast for me, but it helps that I can now stream shows on my tablet while I'm cooking or washing dishes) and just finished watching Season One before starting Season Two again. I can't get Aziraphale and Crowley, the Ineffable Husbands, out of my head. I think part of that has to do with how much they remind me of two of my own characters, Lady Gwendolyn lo Havil and Jenna Dorshay, the Spring and Summer Avatars in my fantasy Season Avatars series. (Of course, my writing ability is only a fraction of what Pratchett and Gaiman brought to the table! Credit also belongs to Michael Sheen and David Tennant for portraying these characters and their relationship so brilliantly.)

Like the angel and demon, Gwen and Jenna are opposites who get on each other's nerves but know they can rely on each other. Gwen is a cool intellectual noblewoman, and Jenna is a passionate farmer's daughter. Both of them have magic granted to them by the deities they serve: Gwen gets healing magic from the Goddess of Spring, and Jenna is blessed with plant magic by the God of Summer. Like Aziraphale, Gwen is driven by duty, while Jenna shares Crowley's enjoyment of pleasure. Gwen and Jenna aren't immortal, but they are reincarnated over and over with their magic and memories intact. In previous lives, they were male and female (switching gender between them) and married to each other. However, after Jenna was responsible for a tragedy in their previous life (see Chaos Season), they both came back as women. Although their culture has Victorian-era technology, their country has a more liberal attitude towards homosexuality. Women can have relationships with each other, but those who do so serve the Goddess of Fall, not Spring or Summer. It would be scandalous for Gwen and Jenna to act like Fallswomen when they serve Spring and Summer. I don't want to say too much about the current state of their relationship, but it's obvious by the end of Summon the Seasons, the final book in the Season Avatars series, that they're not getting back together in the near future.

Something that is different between the two couples is that Gwen and Jenna are embedded in other relationships that affect their own. Unlike with Aziraphale and Crowley, Gwen and Jenna work with other Season Avatars who understand their situation. In fact, Ysabel and Kay, the other half of their quartet, often moderate when Gwen and Jenna fight with each other. Gwen and Jenna also have responsibilities toward others that keep them from acting on their relationship. Gwen is an only child, so she has a duty to create and raise heirs to manage the family estate. Jenna was married, widowed, and left with a young child before she even met Gwen in Scattered Seasons. The pair have several things they need to resolve before they can get back together as a couple. I do know where I want them to end up, but I haven't charted out the path of how they get there. Part of the fun of writing for me is discovering that path.

As for Aziraphale and Crowley, I have some ideas about what might happen to them in Season 3, but it'll take a 100-Lazarii miracle to give them a happy ending. I hope Neil Gaiman can give it to them!

Have you ever encountered a very popular character or characters who reminded you of one of your own characters? Did you change anything about your character as a result? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. 

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

IWSG: Second-Guessing Your Work

 Summer seems to leave as quickly as it comes. Here we are at August already, which means the school year will be starting soon for many children. Of course, we must mark the new month with another post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. If you're not already familiar with them (though I assume most of you reading this post are here because of the IWSG), you can learn more about them on their website or Facebook page.

Our hosts this month are Kate Larkindale, Diane Burton, Janet Alcorn, and Shannon Lawrence.

Here's our question for August: Have you ever written something that afterwards you felt conflicted about? If so, did you let it stay how it was, take it out, or rewrite it?

I think it's quite common for writers to feel conflicted about their work, particularly if they're writing about something political or controversial. One example from my writing career comes from Twinned Universes. In an early draft, the quartet of main and secondary teenage characters experience an episode of casual racism. (Two of them are obviously biracial and one is less obviously multiracial. While they're shopping for clothes, the store owner assumes they're planning to steal from her.) My white editor thought this kind of thing didn't happen, and I rewrote the scene to remove the incident. Several years later, it finally occurred to me that due to white privilege, she wouldn't have personal experience with this kind of racism. I debated restoring that incident but decided it didn't work as well anymore in the revised scene. However, the heroine of my Abigail Ritter Cozy Mystery series is half Filipina, and I do include in this series incidents where she wishes she was blonde or where other people don't believe that she was really born in a small Wisconsin town. 

Have you changed your work due to someone else's suggestion and then wished you hadn't? Feel free to talk about it in the comments.




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