Archive for the 'In Real Life' Category


Outer Alliance Pride Day

And on an unrelated note: it’s Outer Alliance Pride Day! I am a proud member of the Outer Alliance. Anybody who’s read my fiction knows I often include characters who are queer in various ways. Why? Because it reflects the world I live in, and because I’m tired of fiction that doesn’t seem to acknowledge the existence of many of the kinds of people I know and love. So: yay for the Outer Alliance!

The group’s mission statement: As a member of the Outer Alliance, I advocate for queer speculative fiction and those who create, publish and support it, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity. I make sure this is reflected in my actions and my work.


It Never Gets Old

As I mentioned here earlier, I went to Worldcon in Montreal a couple of weeks ago. I met lots of folks and had some great conversations, including one with a more-established pro author I couldn’t help fangirling at because I loved her work. Thinking that she was probably sick of people gushing at her, though, I stopped after the initial babble of praise and related my own recent experience with being fangirled, which had happened in the Dealers’ Room a few hours before. Totally floored me; someone gushed at me about one of my short stories. (It ended up happening twice more before Worldcon ended; whee!) I was still a bit dazed in the aftermath. “But you must have gotten used to that,” I said to the more-established pro.

“No,” she said. “You never get used to it. It’s always a surprise, and it always feels strange, and you never really stop loving that reaction. It never gets old. If it does, something’s wrong.” (Paraphrase, but I think I’ve captured it for the most part)

Have been contemplating this for the last 24 hours, as the first couple of reviews of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms have come online in the wake of my ARC giveaway at Worldcon. These aren’t professional reviews, published in big-name markets and full of big words like “deconstruction” and Derrida — so I find them especially heartening, in a way. After all, professional reviewers have reputations to maintain, political considerations, and so on. Not that they can’t be impartial — most can be, and are — but there are still some things they can’t say without in essence damaging themselves. They can’t gush, for example. They can be effusive in their praise, but not giddy. They can trash, but even then they can’t really resort to the kind of language that readers tend to use. (Incoherent rage-frothing probably wouldn’t make it into, say, Publishers’ Weekly.) So, rightly or wrongly, I tend to regard reader/fan reviews as… hmm. I was going to say “purer” expressions of feelings about my work, but that’s not correct. Readers are just as likely to be swayed by peer pressure and other external motivations as pro reviewers. But their expression of those opinions/motivations does tend to be unfiltered, or less so. Yes, I think that word fits better.

Both of these reviews are nicely positive, so naturally my head is in the clouds today. But that does make me wonder about the lattermost part of that pro author’s statement: if it gets old, something’s wrong. Could there ever come a time when this kind of review elicits a “ho-hum” reaction from me? I can’t imagine it. I might not publicly respond to all reviews (in fact, I probably won’t; it’s usually not a good idea for authors to publicly respond to reviews, IMO), but in private? I’m going to giggle and squee and PM my friends to say “Look look look look!” If I ever get to the point where I don’t respond that way, what will it mean? What kind of author will I be when I no longer care how my readers react to my work?

I hope I never find out.

In the meantime, back to squeeage. And hopefully there will be more positive reviews over the next few weeks and months, and I’ll get lots more opportunities to feel delighted and strange.


No post today

…because I’m off to Anticipation, the 67th World Science Fiction con, up in fair Montreal. If any Magic District readers will be there, I’m doing a reading and a signing — yeah, even though I have no book — and running an ARC giveaway. Details at my site. See you (hopefully) there!


Describing Characters of Color, pt. 2

This is something I was going to do on my own blog, as a followup to an earlier post on ways to describe characters of color in fiction. But since a) I was coming up short on something to write about for this week’s Magic District post, and b) this is International Blog Against Racism Week* (IBARW), I figured I could kill two birds with one stone.

I’m a Harry Potter fan, if you haven’t guessed it by now from my repeated references. I’m such a fan that initially I only wanted the British versions of the books, so the first one I read was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I did this because I found it suspect that the publisher had changed the name for the US release to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, completely ignoring the alchemical history that the original title evoked. If they were going to change something like that, I reasoned, who knew what else they would change?

So when I later got the US version and compared the two, I wasn’t surprised to see that a number of words and lines had been changed. Most of these changes were minor, for example clarifying Britishisms that USians might not have picked up on, like using the word “sweater” in place of “jumper”, since in the US a jumper is a kind of girl’s dress. But in several places I noticed a more curious difference. For example, at one point the character Dean Thomas is explicitly stated to be black in the US version — a line which doesn’t even exist in the UK version.

Now, note: Dean is described in the UK version in ways that strongly suggest his race, but it’s subtly done. His dredlocks are mentioned repeatedly, as is his love of a particular soccer (sorry, football) team which is known in the UK for having a lot of black players and fans. There are other clues. But somewhere along the way, some US editor for Rowling’s book decided that US kids just wouldn’t pick up on the clues, and decided to add that line to make it clear. Continue reading ‘Describing Characters of Color, pt. 2’


Confessions of a social media failure

One of the coolest, and most unexpected, side benefits of getting an agent and a book deal has been the opportunities to meet other authors.  Amazing things happen, like getting invited to join in a group blog (HAI GUYS), or writing fan mail and having it actually be answered, personally! And then getting invited to hang out with said writer at conventions!


But one of the number one things I hear from all the amazing new authors I meet is “Oh! Are you on Twitter?” or “Oh! Let’s follow each other on facebook!” and then I have to sort of hem and haw around the fact that I am not, in fact, twitterpatted, and while I do have a facebook, I only got it for work, and I never use it. It’s not because I’m old fashioned or some kind of social media luddite, far from it, it’s just that I don’t really like social media.

Part of it is that I’m really just not that interesting. Honestly! I get up, I go to work, I write, I play videogames, I have a stable relationship with my husband, not exactly high drama. I have to work myself into a froth to be interesting once a week for you guys, the idea of doing it daily makes me green around the gills, especially the thought of doing it on Twitter.

Now I love the idea of Twitter. It’s like the ultimate short form, except for the part where I’m really bad at short form anything.  I tried to write a tweet once, on a dare from a coworker, and I failed. Oh how I failed. I seem to be incapable of being clever in anything less than a paragraph (though whether I can be clever within a paragraph is yet to be discovered.)

So, Twitter is out more through my personal failing than any real objections, but facebook? You don’t have to be clever on facebook, right? So why do I take enormous pains to avoid even visiting the site, let alone logging in?

I think part of it is my upbringing. I come from a very old, southern family where talking too much about yourself was the height of rudeness. So when I see all the facebook apps and profiles full of personal information, I don’t see them as items of interest for my friends, I see them as a vaguely embarrassing overabundance of personal information. For example, in my day job, my company makes social networking sites on occasion (hence why I have a facebook for work), and while we were putting together the user photos section I noticed there was a tab for “photos of me,” even in your friend’s albums. When I saw this, I became offended cat. “What?” I screeched. “There’s a whole section just for pictures of me? That’s so narcissistic!”

My boss’s answer? “Facebook does it.”

The whole focus on the user as the center of their social universe, while the point of a social networking site, offends me deeply and, frankly, kind of stupidly. To steal a phrase of my mother’s, “they didn’t make it to offend you.” Social media may be narcissistic, but it’s also not going anywhere. Lots people love it, including people I love, and I just need to (to steal yet another phrase of my mother’s) get over myself and get on. After all, when my book comes out I would be an idiot not to take advantage of the ready made social platforms to try and shore up any slips into obscurity. In the end, not using my resources because I don’t like them is just another form of narcissism. A dangerous one that could do real harm to my carreer if I persist in my social media failure.

At the end of the day, I want to be a successful author more than I want to stay away from social media. What’s the point of working so hard on these books if no one buys them? I can’t guarantee that having a facebook/Twitter presence will sell my books, but it certainly can’t hurt. And with so many entertainment options out there jostling my poor little paperback, I’ll take everything I can get.



I’ve just gotten back from Launch Pad, a week-long astronomy workshop sponsored by NASA. The idea is that, since the American public seems to pay little attention to actual scientists (resulting in many, many misconceptions and outright falsehoods gaining traction), they’ll work through people who might have more of an impact — i.e., people who use science to entertain, like science fiction writers, prominent science bloggers, science comedians, and the like. The workshop helps those people get the basics right.

“But wait!” I hear you saying. (C’mon, play along.) “Aren’t you a fantasy writer? You don’t use science!”

Au contraire, mon strange doubtful random person. (I’m practicing my French for Anticipation.) First off, I’m not purely a fantasy writer. Like most writers, I do a little bit of everything. I’ve had science fiction stories published in a number of places, and I’ve even gotten an Honorable Mention in the latest Year’s Best Science Fiction. My first few novels, including The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, are fantasy — but the next project on my slate is a YA cyberpunk novel. I’m a writer who likes fantasy, not just a fantasy writer; the difference is mostly academic, but important.

But beyond that, who the heck says fantasy writers don’t use science? Some of my favorite authors — C. S. Friedman, in her Coldfire Trilogy; Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern; Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels — set their fantasy tales on planets settled by colonists from Earth. And while the distinction between magic and psi-power is a matter of considerable debate, there’s no doubt that these books are equally loved by readers of both genres. Frankly, looking at these writers’ careers, it seems clear that science fiction/fantasy blends can be very successful if handled correctly. So why wouldn’t I try? McCaffrey’s work accurately (for the time) explored genetic engineering and the sociological impact of planetary colonization in a time of crisis. I think that made her readers more willing to accept the frankly non-scientific dragons who couldn’t possibly fly in anything resembling Earth gravity. Friedman tackled evolution, introducing a unique ecosystem that adapts itself to intrusions (read: colonists from Earth) in non-Darwinian ways (read: magic). Understanding Darwinian evolution is crucial for the reader because in Friedman’s world, the most powerful magic users are those who manage to impose Earth rules on this fundamentally alien system.

All of these very fantastic novels are rooted in real, hard science, without which I believe they simply wouldn’t work as well. Nobody wants to read fantasy these days — if they ever did — in which Wizard X simply waves his hands around and causes Magical Effect Y. Readers want structure, plausible chains of cause and effect, conservation of energy and mass, consequences. Mercedes Lackey and other authors have been paraphrased as saying that any sufficiently complex magic/knowledge is indistinguishable from technology, and this goes for science too. One of the most effective recent fantasy novels I’ve read is Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, in which the magic system is modeled on the principles of metallurgy and metals’ atomic structure. You don’t have to know inorganic chemistry to follow the book, but it makes for a more interesting experience if you do.

So I’m looking forward to incorporating astronomy into my fantasy in the future. I’ve dabbled in it a little already; one of the characters in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms can turn himself into a black hole at will. I had to research one scene, in which he transforms in order to destroy an oncoming army, by figuring out exactly what would happen if a 3-solar-mass black hole hit a planet. Unfortunately I didn’t discover this guy until after the book was done, so I think I got a few details wrong. Oh, well.

Next time, though, I’m totally going to get it right. Because nothing says fantasy like spaghettified unicorns!



I’d heard from established authors that this happened, but didn’t quite believe it. Dunno why. I know people can be schmucks. Yet in the past few weeks, I’ve been shocked, shocked I tell you, to encounter people who hear about my book and then ask me, point blank, if I’ll write a book for them. Or if I’ll read their partially-written magnum opus. I thought I would get this from friends of the family, or relatives — people who at least know me a little and feel they can presume on the relationship. But no! I’ve been getting it from total strangers.

The conversation generally goes like this:

Nora: Do dee do dee do…

Random Stranger: Hi!

Nora: Hello. Nice to meet you.

RS: Likewise! I hear you’re a writer.

Nora: (Looks around, wondering WTF, is it written on her forehead?) Yes…

RS: That’s amazing. Y’know, I’ve always wanted to be a writer too. I’ve got a great idea, you know — Tell me what you think of this: (launches into spiel)

Nora: (Looks around again, for rescue, in between polite nods and “uh-huh”s.)

RS: So what do you think?

Nora: (Makes some comment to show she was listening.)

RS: That’s great! Y’know, I’d be willing to share that idea with you, if you want to write it. Just be sure to credit me on the cover!

Nora: Well, I’m pretty busy at the moment… and it’s not really my style…

RS: No problem, no problem, just keep it in mind! And if you get some free time, let’s talk more!

Occasionally I try to point out to these Random Strangers that there’s a name for what they’re proposing: ghost writing. And when done by established authors with preexisting contracts, it’s actually a pretty nice deal; the ghost writer gets paid a substantial portion of the advance (or so I’ve heard), the established author gets a book, and everybody’s happy. When done by an unknown author with no contract, and no money, it’s a waste of my time.

They always look surprised when I say this.

A variation on it is that the Random Stranger will have written the first chapter or so of a book, and wants me to read it. At this point I’m more helpful, because a person who’s actually trying to write (as opposed to just trying to find a ghost writer) gets lots more respect from me. I won’t read the chapter — only friends get that from me — but I will attempt to steer that writer toward critiquing resources, like Critters or the OWW, or in-person free workshops like the one at Wiscon and other conventions. If they seem really serious, I’ll tell them about my experience with Viable Paradise, which I highly recommend, or I’ll encourage them to apply to one of the Clarion workshops — the six-week “boot camps” of the SF field.

But back to my rant. Seriously, what is it with people thinking that writers spend all their time mooching ideas from random strangers? Or even wanting to mooch? I bet that if I turned around and asked those people to write my upcoming book — for which there is a contract and money on the table — they’d look at me like I had a third eye.

I think part of the problem is that a lot of people have no real idea what writers do. They think we sit around all day at coffee shops with beanies on our heads, drinking black coffee laced with gin, and ranting about True Art ™. Or something. I don’t know. And apparently in between rants, we hit up random strangers for marketable book ideas.

I’m trying to master my anger at these people so that I can respond politely when they offer me the rare and precious favor of writing their unwritten novels, because of this — it’s not just that they’re self-absorbed and obnoxious, it’s that they’re genuinely ignorant, and I can’t really blame them for the latter. But good grief it’s tough to hold it in. Kinda makes me feel like this guy sometimes. Not that I have a Messiah Complex.


Put on your Sunday clothes

What does a writer wear?

It’s a silly question, on the face of it, and the answer’s along the lines of “look in the mirror, dumbass.” But given that I’ll be going to Readercon this weekend, it’s one that’s currently on my mind.

See, a writer in her natural habitat (a Studebaker) can dress however the hell she wants, since there’s no one around to care. (Write in a beanie copter! Write in a bathrobe! Write in your lucky pants! Write in the nooood! okay maybe not considering the scratchiness of the desk chair.) But when I go to cons or when I’m in other situations where I’m identified as a writer, I always get very self-conscious about my appearance. Granted, I’ve got enough image issues that I’m self-conscious anyway, but this just amplifies them all.

I know that what I look like will have much, much less bearing on people’s opinion of me as a writer than the actual work I’ve done. And I’m well aware of the danger of a cargo-cult approach to this: i.e., if I dress like a writer and act like a writer and own the same china pattern as a writer, then in theory I can pass as a writer — without the pain of all that actual writing stuff!  I’ve fallen into that pattern of thinking before, and it only ends in tears. Or at least lousy china patterns.

However, it does provide a focus for something that I’m convinced all writers do: obsess over trivia.

So in a setting where I’m going to be seeing a lot of people who I like and whose opinions I respect, how do I go about “looking like a writer?” Business casual, and all the assorted stigma that goes with that? Comfort alone, with a fine disregard for the standards of the mundane? Corsetry (which, damn, some writers look fantastic in) or other period wear? Black t-shirt and jeans? Cat ears? Makeup versus no makeup? Big shiny pink ribbon tied around my neck? Given Nora’s post from last week, I’m guessing the shirt with “Buy My Book” written across it is not the best choice, much as I love the shirt itself. (I always want to imitate Precious Roy when I’m wearing it, which is probably another reason I shouldn’t wear it out in public.)

I know I shouldn’t have a single definition of “how a writer dresses” given that the writers I know all have very different personal styles.  Yet there’s some weird weight on this when I consider how I want to appear, and for some reason I can’t quite wrangle it back into the realm of common sense.

Then again, maybe we’re back to the “obsessing over trivia” again.*

* Even more fun when you’re behind schedule!


Taking the plunge

This last weekend, my husband and I made a pretty big decision. After careful consideration, I decided that, once I leave my day job to have my baby, I’m not going to return. I will instead be staying at home, writing and looking after the kid.

This is a  huge, scary change for me. I’ve always been very work minded and aggressive in pushing my career. The idea of being a housewife terrifies me for reasons I don’t really understand, though it probably comes from being young and impressionable during 80s new wave feminism and the demonization of housewives as oppressed women being kept from their dreams. Of course, I wouldn’t be doing that. I’d be writing more hours than ever before, and still sharing all housework with my husband. I’d still have a job, I’d just be at home.

I tell myself it’s silly to be nervous about this. My life long dream has always been to quit my job and write full time, but the idea of actually doing it scares me shitless. I’ve always had a job, I’ve got professional skills that I’ve worked really hard to obtain and perfect. The idea of just leaving that to do something as famously up and down as writing feels so… reckless. My husband and I, we’re not reckless people, and even the thought of us doing something like this has a hard time finding a home in my brain.

But still, for us, it makes sense. We live in Athens, GA, a college town in the middle of nowhere Georgia famous for alternative music, great food, and cheap living. We can get by very well on not a lot by virtue of where we live and our embarrassingly cheap tastes (paperbacks and videogames instead of cable, it’s awesome). Also, my staying at home means avoiding childcare costs, which are astronomical even in Athens, more time spent cooking and thus less spent eating out, and all the other benefits of having someone putting a couple hours of quiet work into the house every day.

But more than all of this is the simple issue of time. I already don’t have enough hours in the day to work my day job and write books that are any good. Add a baby to that equation and we’ve reached the realm of the impossible. I know there are TONS of authors who balance kids, work, and writing (including this very blog!), but whatever angle I come at it from, I just can’t seem to make it work. Maybe it’s the way I write, maybe it’s my job, but something, baby, writing, or job, has to give. And since I’m stuck with one, and another’s my great dream, it looks like job is out the window, which really kind of sucks, because I’m lucky enough to LIKE my job.

This isn’t to say I’ll never go back to day work. If my Eli books tank (possible) or my kids get older and I find I’m going insane not having a job outside the house (more possible), I can always go back. My day job won’t disappear so long as people need websites to look pretty. And I think it’s that knowledge, knowing that I leave no smoldering bridges behind me, that actually gives me the courage to cowgirl up and take the plunge.

So, the numbers are run, the stakes are set, and come December, I’m jumping into the life of writer-mom-housewife.

In other, unrelated news, a cold front has just hit hell. Fifteen inches of accumulation are expected; bring your snowshoes if you’re planning a visit.


The one that worked

Back when I was searching for an agent, there was nothing I obsessed over quite as single mindedly as my query letter. I wasn’t alone in this, everyone who had a book they wanted to get into an agent’s hands was freaking out over the things. They were the first test, the first blood on the sand, and, as someone who has great troubles with brevity, a personal agony that had to be conquered.

Of course, there are tons of sites for working on queries. I enjoyed Evil Editor and the late, much lamented Miss Snark in particular. But those sites particularly focused on what is wrong with a specific letter, so I thought I’d take a break from pontificating about writerly things and post my query letter as an example of a not-so-perfect missive that actually worked.

So here it is, the query for The Spirit Thief that got me my agent:

Dear ,

In a world where everything has a soul, and an opinion, Eli is a wizard with an uncanny knack for getting inanimate objects to do what he wants. He’s also the age’s most famous thief, with a price on his head large enough to fund a small war. But that’s not nearly enough for Eli, he has a higher goal: earn a bounty of one million gold or die trying. Of course, “die trying” is exactly what Miranda Lyonet, the wizardess in charge of catching Eli before he ruins the reputation of wizards everywhere, would prefer he did. The Spirit Thief, complete at 80,000 words, is about what happens when magic, money, and a royal kidnapping gone wrong change the rules in the old game of cat and cat.

When Eli breaks out of jail by literally charming a door off its hinges and kidnaps the king of Mellinor, a country that has forbidden magic since its founding, there’s nothing the nobles can do. Fortunately for them, Miranda is right on Eli’s trail. But things get complicated when the kidnapped king’s older brother, Renaud, himself a wizard banished by Mellinor’s law, takes advantage of the confusion to make his triumphant return. But Miranda is suspicious, would a banished prince really stick his neck out for the younger brother who took his throne?

She gets her answer when Renaud sabotages the king’s rescue, cheating Eli out of his ransom and framing Miranda for the real king’s death. To clear her name, Miranda must take on the traitorous prince, and for that she’ll need help. Unfortunately, “help” means swallowing her pride and teaming up with the thief who started this whole mess.

I’ve included the first four pages and a synopsis of the entire work below. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Rachel Aaron
(contact info)

Man, that doesn’t sound NEARLY as good as I used to think it did.  Just goes to show, the proof is in the pages!