Me 2012

My Writing Process: the Complete Burbling, 2018 edition

 One of my friends (@InspectorCaracal over on tootplanet.space) asked jokingly about the secret of finishing things a few days ago.
 
There isn't a secret -- that's the joke -- because writers will happily go on at great length about their particular processes. It's been almost two years since the last time I babbled about mine, and I need an excuse to procrastinate on my current WIP, so now looks like a good time to do it again. 
 
I find the process question fascinating, because I have wanted to be an author since I was a smol child. I started writing my first attempt at a book when I was 14 or so.  I finished my first draft of a book when I was 35. I finished a final draft of a book for the first time when I was 44.
 
In the three years since then, I have finished and published six more books, finished editing a seventh, and finished drafting an eighth.
 
I want to emphasize one thing right here: if you always wanted to be a author but so far you've never been able to finish anything, THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOU NEVER WILL. Yes, eventually you will have to finish things in order to be an effective author. But you need not be discouraged or give up on yourself based on your past failures. You can still become that author who publishes three or four books in a year. I say this because I have, so I know it's happened at least once.
 
Still, when I hear people say, "I just can't get anything finished", my reaction is "MAN I TOTALLY REMEMBER FEELING THAT WAY. FOR AGES AND AGES." Like the span of time where I wanted to be an author and write books and yet did not work on anything long enough to finish it is WAY LONGER than the tiny fraction of my life where I go "Okay, I'm going to write this book" and then somehow I ACTUALLY DO. In a reasonable period of time.
 
For my own amusement, a timeline of various milestones in my writing life:
 
1985: I started my first serious attempt at writing a novel: Draco. I'd made at least one other start, but this was this first time I made it past the first few scenes.
1987: By now, I had written over 100,000 words on five different unrelated novel ideas.  I had finished none of them.
1988: I actually finished two things this year! Neither of them were novels.  One was a very short story ("The Bribe", <2000 words) and the other a novelette ("Heartseeker", 10,000 words)
1989-1999: During this period, I finished five more short stories, four of them contemporary fiction that I only wrote because a writing class required it. I started and abandoned several different would-be novels.
2000: Jordan Greywolf told me about Sinai, an RP MUCK where he ran games. I joined and started running games there -- and, relevantly, often seeing story arcs through to completion when I was involved in them.
2002: At this point, I had written about 200,000 words of fiction over the course of seventeen years of "I want to be a writer", and had about a dozen abandoned projects. I decided to go back to one of these ideas and finish them. I picked Prophecy, a book I'd started writing in 1991, and embarked upon The Master Plan(tm). I wrote an outline for Prophecy and set a writing schedule. I also sent the parts of Prophecy to Greywolf to read as I wrote them.
2003: I started writing Silver Scales as my fun side project while working on Prophecy. I hated writing Prophecy a lot. Most of the time that I was writing Silver Scales, I enjoyed it. I never wrote an outline for it.  Silver Scales was the first of many works that serialized as a work-in-progress for a small group of friends. That "serialize every WIP for a small group of friends" habit persisted through 2014.
2005: I finished the first draft of Prophecy and the first pass of revisions on it.
2006: I finished the first draft of Silver Scales..
2009: I finished twelve short stories this year. I'd begun and abandoned another ten or so different novels since finishing Scales. Three of those abandoned efforts were more than 10,000 words long. I hadn't tried a detailed outline for anything since Prophecy. I decided to try outlining a project again.
2012: I finished another nine short stories. I started and abandoned in short order another couple of novel ideas.
2013: It'd been seven years since I last finished a novel. At this point, I had written almost a million words. I had finished two books (although not complete revisions for either).  I  had finished a whole lot of short stories. I decided to write a romance because playing through the Sith Warrior arc in Star Wars: the Old Republic a second time was too much work just to see the romance arc with Malavai Quinn. I finished writing the first draft of A Rational Arrangement by the end of the year.
2014: I finished the second draft of A Rational Arrangement. I also revisited one of my abandoned books, Golden Coils, and resumed work on it. I did not do a private serial for Golden Coils. A Rational Arrangement is one of the last works I serialized while I was writing.
2015: I finished the final draft of A Rational Arrangement and serialized and published it. I wrote/finished Further Arrangements, a collection of three follow-on novellas. I felt guilty about writing only ~50,000 words when two years before I'd written ~220,000.  I decided that 2013 represented a high water mark of productivity that I would never achieve again.
2016: I finished drafting three books: The Moon Etherium, The Sun Etherium, and Golden Coils. I also started a fourth book, Fellwater. I wrote a total of 347,000 words. I also finished editing The Moon Etherium.
2017: I wrote some more of Fellwater and then abandoned it. I also started and abandoned PollRPG, an experimental work-in-progress serial based on poll responses.  I revisited one of my abandoned book ideas from 2009 and started over on it, resulting in the first drafts of Demon's Lure and Angel's Sigil. Total words: about 220,000.
2018 year-to-date: I finished edits on Demon's Lure and Angel's Sigil. I revisited an abandoned outline from 2015, and wrote and then did first-pass revisions of Frost. I've begun work on The Princess, Her Dragon, and Their Prince. Total writing as of 6/21: about 135,000 words.
 
I can draw a bunch of lessons for myself from this. These may or may not apply to anyone else: all advice is a reflection of the person giving it more than anything else.
 
Write Books I Want to Read. I spent 3+ years working on Prophecy because I thought it would be cool, not because I wanted to read a book like it. I thought "books like this don't exist" and didn't realize "no, they exist, but I don't read them because I don't like them." I even changed the ending on Prophecy in an effort to make it more to my taste.  But I disliked writing this book in part because I didn't particularly want to read it. I like re-reading parts of it, but as a whole it wasn't something I looked forward to with eager anticipation. This is one of the key takeaways for me.
 
I Still Abandon Projects: I think of 2018-Me as a disciplined, motivated writer who keeps working on things even when she doesn't want to, and who finishes projects even when they're a slog.  But I abandoned two projects just last year.
 
Abandoned Doesn't Mean Forever: My self-image is "once I start, if I don't see it through to the end via steady work, then I'm never going to finish it."  But of my ten complete drafts, over half (Prophecy, Silver Scales, Golden Coils, Demon's Lure, Angel's Sigil, and Frost) were completed after three or more years of being ignored. Even if I wrote 350,000 words in every year, I'd still come up with new ideas faster than I can finish them. That I decide "now isn't the right time for this" doesn't mean I will never come back to it.
 
Finishing Things is the Best Way to Learn to Finish Things: Two things helped me a lot in Learning to Finish Things. The first was running RPGs alongside Greywolf.  Greywolf was very keen on wrapping up story arcs and campaigns. I'd been roleplaying for over twenty years by the time I started gaming with Greywolf, but "finishing campaigns" wasn't a thing that ever really happened in my experience.  GMs burned out, or players did, or the GM didn't know how to wrap up the story, or hadn't really had a story in mind to start with, just "stuff happens", or all of the above. Greywolf visualized games in terms of narrative arcs, and encouraged me to do the same. He also promoted the idea that "even a mediocre ending is better than leaving it in limbo". Players had a lot of influence on the outcome of an RPG, and a GM might not be able to arrange a dramatic finish to the plot. The GM could always arrange some conclusion, however. I sometimes whined and balked at finishing an arc, but he gently coaxed me through and offered lots of encouragement and assistance. I finished a handful of major and minor arcs with characters in Sinai, and brought three different long-term campaigns to a conclusion. After I managed to pull off endings when I literally couldn't control or predict what most of the major characters would do, writing endings where all of the characters were under my control felt a lot less intimidating. I learned so much from Greywolf, y'all.  He was both an inspiration and one of the first people to encourage me and offer constructive, targeted advice on solving specific problems.
 
The second thing was writing a lot of short fiction. Writing the tarot stories was particularly useful in this regard, because I discovered I could take three random cards and build a little narrative around them. In addition, since these were short, they took much less time and dedication to finish.  So they were quick and satisfying and gave me confidence.
 
Portable Writing Devices Are Magic: I got my first phone with a keyboard in 2007 and even though it didn't improve my ability to actually finish things back then, it improved my word count immediately: I won my first Nano in 2007 and wrote half of it on my phone. In 2016, I got a laptop and that vastly improved my editing speed. The ability to write and edit while not sitting at my desktop with all of my desktop distractions is way more useful than I realized before I had devices that let me do it. 
 
I Don't Revise Until I Reach the End: When I first started writing, I would re-read and fiddle with existing text constantly. I still re-read to a degree, but I've cut back on it. I feel like re-reading before I've finished writing is an indulgence that lowers my willingness to edit once I am done. Further, any edits I make before I finish the initial draft are unlikely to be substantive, and if they are substantive they might just be things I change my mind about AGAIN before the end. 
 
"Don't revise until you're done writing" is a common piece of writing advice that I have followed without much thinking about it for the last 15 years or so, however. I'm not entirely sure it's a good idea, given how much I dislike editing.  On the other hand, I don't dislike editing now as much as I did even two years ago, so writing and editing are much closer to at a balance point with one another.
 
Outlines Work for Me: I waffled on this one for a long time, because I wrote Prophecy with an outline and wrote Scales without one. I thought my success with Scales meant that I could figure things out on the fly and I didn't need an outline. This is arguably true, but an outline makes things easier.
 
I prefer to Write Events in Order: Even though I outline my books now, I don't adhere to my outlines that closely. The benefits of writing out of order are mostly that I can work on the scenes I'm motivated to write at the moment. For me, these are outweighed by the drawbacks: mostly that I will need to do more revisons/rewrites because once I get the earlier scenes done, I will find ways in which the later ones don't fit after all. But also that I will find it more tempting to contort earlier scenes to fit the narrative I already made for the later ones.  Eg, I might realized in writing scene 5 that the setup for the already-written scenes 7-10 doesn't make sense for my characters after all. If I force the characters to follow my original script, the whole book can come across with that "characters being dumb or acting out of character for narrative purposes".  The Demon/Angel books went way off script because of this: the things that seemed reasonable in the overview stopped making sense when I was in the details. But since I was writing in order, I could just adjust the script.
 
Serializing Works-in-Progress Is a Localized Peak of Excellence: A "localized peak of excellence" is from a mountain-climbing analogy. If you climb to the highest point of the mountain that you are on, you will find that to climb a higher mountain, you have to first climb down. Hence, a "localized peak": you are not as high as you can possibly go, but you can't keep climbing up from where you are.
 
When I first started sharing my works-in-progress in 2002, I found it a huge boost in my morale. I loved having instant feedback and friends cheering me on. I was motivated to write more because I had an audience waiting to read the next scene and speculating about the direction of the story. Comments were my incentive to write.
 
But there were drawbacks, too:
 
~ I was using my most enthusiastic readers as cheerleaders. That meant they weren't offering critical feedback on my work, and were less likely to want to re-read the story in order to offer advice for revisions or corrections.
~ Once I posted a scene, I often stopped writing until I heard back from a few readers.
~ I became a lot more reliant on feedback; if I didn't get a few comments on the latest post, I'd become dispirited.
~ It made me feel like a flake who couldn't finish things. This one is more complicated, because I did finish several things that I serialized. But I wrote in spurts, and I posted things as I wrote them. The experience of my readers was "she was posting every day for three weeks but she hasn't posted anything in the last month." Every time I stopped writing for a week or more, I felt as if that slowdown was magnified by the existence of an audience to watch it. I abandoned a book at 80% finished in 2017, and that doesn't bother me at all. Every serial I left unfinished feels like a failure. Taking three years to finish drafting Scales felt like forever. Taking 8 years to finish drafting Demon's Lure and Angel's Sigil felt irrelevant, because no one else saw that abortive initial start in 2009.
~ I was more likely to incorporate authorial mistakes into the narrative. Sometimes I did go back and revise scenes when I forgot to put something in, but I also lampshaded continuity mistakes or added explanations in to cover for them.  This isn't always bad, but it's something I could so without an audience if I thought it would benefit the story, and something I am more likely to do when it doesn't, if I have an audience.
~ It encouraged me to write longer: I wanted to have "something to show", so I'd write something, even if it didn't further the narrative. If readers asked questions about something, I'd write about that, even if it wasn't important to the story.  This is another "sometimes it works out for the better" case, but still.
~ Negative feedback when I was in the middle of writing a book was a major deterrent to writing more. I can use constructive feedback on outlines and on finished drafts, but criticism in the middle of the draft is generally counterproductive for me. I have too many voices in my head telling me "this is terrible and not worth finishing" to afford to give them any encouragement.
 
Ultimately, I decided I didn't need the cheerleading badly enough anymore, and I gave up serializing works-in-progress. I gave it another try with PollRPG, and ran into the same problems all over again.

Amazon Is Better at Selling My Books Than I Am At Giving Them Away: when I ran serials, my peak for commenters was, I dunno, ten or maybe twenty different people over the entire course of the serial.  The reader numbers per LJ stats and the website were considerably higher, but it still peaked at maybe a few hundred unique visitors per post, IIRC.  The Moon Etherium was much less successful, with no more than a couple dozen readers. Whereas all of my books have sold over a hundred copies through Amazon, and A Rational Arrangement has sold over a thousand. I feel like I'm doing a much better job of reaching my audience by selling books than I was by running free serials of them.
 
I Work Better with a Lot of Scheduling Flexibility:  Writing 200,000+ words on a few different books per year is a thing I can do without too much effort.  Writing 500 words every day of  a specific project turns out to be so much harder. PollRPG really emphasized this for me, because I couldn't write a buffer for it (since the polls influenced what happened next.) I would much rather have the latitude to write 3000 words one day and none the next, or to write on unrelated projects, or edit instead of writing, or whatever.
 
Goals Are Useful: In particular, slightly-underachieving goals. I want goals that require some effort to beat, but not enough effort to be daunting.  I love blasting past my goalposts, whereas not reaching them at all is dispiriting. 
 
I Never Do the Right Kind of World-Building Beforehand: These days, I try to do somewhat more world-building before I start writing. This consists of things like "general history of the setting, relevant nations, relevant languages spoken, type of government, kinds of technology/magic available".  I make character notes beforehand and set out some guidelines on how the major ones speak.
 
I am afraid of world-builder's disease so I rarely make more than 10,000 words of notes, including the outline. 
 
I inevitably get to the end and realize that I have basic continuity problems stemming from "I didn't know X when I started out so I made it up when I came to it only that would have affected twelve other things but I didn't think of them at the time and now it's all a mess and I need to fix it."
 
One of the problems is that some times I did determine X beforehand, but in the process of writing I changed my mind about it.
 
Anyway, world-building for me kind of comes down to:
 
~ make up what seems like enough of the world
~ write the first book
~ do all the other world-building it turns out you needed after all
~ edit the first book
~ be glad at least that's all settled for the next book
~ write the second book
~ crap this is in a new part of the setting I don't know enough about
~ dangit
 
I Like to Have Multiple Works in Progress. I am not a "start Book A, write until finished, revise, wait for first reader feedback, complete final draft of Book A, and ONLY THEN may I begin Book B" kind of author. Yes, I do struggle with the compulsion to Write Shiny New Thing Instead of Boring Old Thing.  But it really stopped feeling like a problem in the last two years. Now I'm more like "well, it'll be good to have a head start on the next thing and also I will still go back to Boring Old Thing and finish it." I don't know how to explain the difference except that it seems to pan out? I don't expect to finish every abandoned project I've ever started; Fellwater, to use a recent example, may never be finished even though I have the rest of it planned out. (A big disadvantage many of my abandoned works have is that I have no clear idea of where I was going with them, because they were begun before I started consistently making complete outlines first.)
 
Also, I do less "I'm not going to write anything for weeks/months and then when I decide to go back to writing it will be Shiny New Thing" than I used to. I switch tracks quickly now.
 
Last, I think it's useful to give my first readers a month or more to finish reading and for me to be less immersed in the book before I do my final revisions. Working on a different project lets me make use of that mandatory stop-futzing-with-this-book period.
 
Congratulations to those of you who made it to the end! \o/ Tell me, what are your favorite parts of the writing process?  What parts of mine would you avoid, and why?
This entry was originally posted at https://rowyn.dreamwidth.org/630733.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
studious

Briarley, by Aster Glenn Gray

Briarley is not so much a Beauty and the Beast re-telling as a fix-it fic. It's a short but lovely M/M romance with no sex, no Stockholm syndrome, and a father who refuses to trade his daughter for his freedom.

One of the protagonists is a bisexual Christian parson in WW II England, and the story treats his faith and his vocation seriously, which I particularly loved. With the parson's stance being "I don't believe homosexuality is sinful and here is my reasoning, but I am a flawed human like everyone else and I could be wrong." It felt authentic and respectful.

The dragon (ie, the Beast) protagonist wasn't as well-developed as the parson, which would've made the romance more endearing. But this was still a quick, fun read, with lots of good detail relevant to the setting. And not the standard "Nazis bad" stuff: bits about wartime rationing and German bombings of England and not using lights at night so the bombers wouldn't be inadvertently guided by them.

It's a good story. Check it out! This entry was originally posted at https://rowyn.dreamwidth.org/630473.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Me 2012

You're Never Weird on the Intenet, by Felicia Day

I heard a lot about You're Never Weird on the Intenet when it came out three years ago, but didn't read it at the time because I am too cheap to buy ebooks from mainstream publishers for $10+, and I am out of shelf space for physical books.

But Lut has gotten back into the habit of checking out books from the library. While we were there to browse, I saw it in the "employee picks" section. I picked it up, and found Day's introduction charming and entertaining, leading me to read the rest.

The book as a whole is a fun, quick read. Felicia Day is delightfully nerdy; I was surprised at how familiar her escapades were, even though I'm ten years older than she is. She was a Puzzle Pirates addict at one point, having started perhaps six months or a year before I did. (I can date this because she mentions the distilling puzzle had just been added when she quit, and it was a recent addition when I started.) She was also an authentic WoW addict; the role she wrote for herself in "The Guild" is drawn heavily from her own life.

She also shares some good insights on the process of Creating Stuff, as well as how she handles various struggles in her life: with gaming addictions, depression, anxiety, and overwork. It's all written in a personable, humorous style. She has a way of laughing at herself that I found very relatable. The whole book is; I'd definitely recommend it.

This entry was originally posted at https://rowyn.dreamwidth.org/630067.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
studious

May in Review

Writing
I did some of this! I wrote another 10,500 words for Frost, and about 6,000 words of The Princess, Her Dragon, and Their Prince, which is now up to 14,500 words total.

The Business of Writing
While I didn't do the official launch stuff for Demon's Lure until the beginning of June, it was uploaded to the various e-tailers at the end of May. I also solicited ARC readers and sent advance copies to a handful of people.

I didn't feel much like writing in May, so I finished the initial edits for Frost instead.

I did some editing on Angel's Sigil, but didn't finish it.

I poked at my notes for The Twilight Etherium a little, but I still don't have an outline for it.

Media Consumption
I played a new-to-me single player computer game! For the first time in ages. It was "Regency Solitaire", which turned out to be cutscenes about a Regency love story framing gameplay of a solitaire variant. The solitaire variant involved enough skill to make the gameplay interesting to me.

I also read some books, one webcomic archive, and listened to some podcasts, but I've already written entries about those. Except for Felicia Day's You're Never Weird on the Internet, which I still have to post about.

Other
Lut started a new form of chemo, daratumumab. This one is weekly and via IV. It's been pretty time-intensive. The first dose was supposed to take 9 hours to administer, and ended up taking 20 because Lut reacted badly when they tried to increase the rate on the IV. But "sometimes the first dose takes a long time because you have a bad reaction to it" is an uncommon but anticipated problem (I think it affects about 20% of patients? Don't quote me on that.) The second week was still an all-day process, where we arrived at 8:30 and left the clinic at 6PM. The third week was 8-ish to 3:30. The fourth dose is tomorrow, and is again supposed to be quicker, so we'll see. Lut hasn't had any bad reactions to the administration of it since the first week. His oncologist picked this drug because it only targets the cancer, and therefore Lut's low blood counts are continuing to recover on it, instead of being suppressed by the chemo as with some other drugs.

We're hoping Lut will be eligible to get a port at some point. His low platelet counts make him a bad candidate for the procedure now, but they're going up, so hopefully. It'd be good, because Lut's low blood counts also make finding a vein to put an IV in very challenging, and daratumumab is IV-administered.

No severe side effects from the chemo, but Lut's been having some moderate problems. Insomnia has been especially bad; he's been spending a lot of time trying to sleep and failing. Also some nausea/stomach pain problems, which he's been managing via a prescription anti-nausea drug. Overall, not doing too badly. He got back into WoW and he's been reading more. We've gone to the library a few times to restock on books. ♥

Goals for coming month

Get Lut to chemo appts and other doctor stuff as necessary
Finish editing Angel's Sigil (the re-titled sequel to Demon's Lure)
Write some more of The Princess, Her Dragon, and Their Prince

Optional things to work on if I feel like it
Final edits for Frost
Read some more books
Outline/notes for The Twilight Etherium or some other new book.

I finished the Angel's Sigil edits this morning, so that one's a gimme. Logically, I should put down a word count goal for Princess, probably 40,000-ish words, but I'm not because ... I don't want to.

I am on track to release four books in 2018, even if all I do in the rest of the year is finish final edits for Frost. Four books in one year is enough. In an ideal world, I would write another three drafts this year too, so that I have three drafts to edit/release in 2019, which is how I started out this year. If they average 100,000 words each, that means I need to write about 40,000 words per month. My average word count so far this year is 24,500. I've been mostly editing this year, so switching gears to mostly writing makes sense and 40,000 words per month is an achievable goal. When I'm focused on writing, it's common for me to write more than 50,000 words in a month.

But it sounds exhausting to make that an actual goal month after month after month. July is Camp Nanowrimo, so that'll be as good an excuse as any to buckle down on writing. For June, I want to feel like I can rest on my laurels and coast if I want to. In the last five months, I've written one draft, edited two books, done initial edits on a third, and released two books. It may be that it's time for me to stop telling myself "if you slow down for a few months it means YOU WILL NEVER FINISH ANYTHING AGAIN." If I only finish one more book this year, that will still be plenty.

The other factor at play is that in May, I wrote 16,500 words, got ready for the release of one book, finished initial edits on another, and did some editing on a third. My feeling about this is "I was slacking". Like REALLY ME? Is this what slacking looks like now. Please stop. Maybe I need a break to read some more books and recharge. I certainly don't need to set the goal posts WAY OUT THERE.

This entry was originally posted at https://rowyn.dreamwidth.org/629954.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Me 2012

Demon's Lure Release!

 
In the fight against the demons of the skylands, Sunrise has one of the rarest powers: that of a lure. Where demons normally feed by tormenting their victims, Sunrise draws them with her happiness.
 
She doesn't want to hunt demons, but when a hunter team arrives at her village to ask for her help, she agrees. It should be easy: they just need her as bait for a pain demon that is too fast for them to capture otherwise. And a typical pain demon is no match for an experienced team of demon hunters.
 
But this is no typical demon. And it has its own plans. It has no intention of being trapped, and is not worried about the hunter team. No, its main concern is: what does a demon who's spent millennia torturing and tormenting humans know about making one happy?

~

Demon's Lure is my newest release! It's in a brand new setting, the skylands of the Anesh archipelago. This is my first general fantasy: there is no romance in Demon's Lure or in its sequel, Angel's Sigil*. So those of you who like my world-building and watching characters problem-solve, but aren't so much into the romance: this one's for you! Its theme is change and adaptation, with central questions like "how can you be happy despite things you don't like and can't change?" and "what causes people to change?" and "do the same things apply to demons?"
 
Some of these questions are less universal than others, is what I'm saying.

Anesh is a queer-positive setting; the protagonist is bisexual, some minor characters are nonbinary, and the society as a whole considers this unremarkable.
 
My cover artist for The Demon's Series is the talented Anthony Avon, and I can't wait to show you the cover** for Angel's Sigil, the sequel. That book will be out in August, so you won't have to wait long for the sequel.
 
* If I write a third book in the setting, it will almost certainly have a romantic subplot, though. Just warning you.
 
** Though if you browse around on Avon's DA, you can spot it now. n_n This entry was originally posted at https://rowyn.dreamwidth.org/629530.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Me 2012

Strong Female Protagonist

Someone on Twitter -- I forget who, alas -- posted a recent strip from Strong Female Protagonist with a link to the comic. I read the strip out of context and then went back to read the archives. Despite the genre-savvy name, it's a serious strip, more drama than anything else. It's a superhero comic that's not, for the most part, about winning by punching things. It's different people with superpowers, most of them trying to Do the Right Thing, often in vastly different ways. There's a lot of slice-of-life stuff, "ordinary day in the life of a person with superpowers". There's also some superhero vs villain fights, and hero vs vigilante, and people with superpowers trying to figure out how to effect real change rather than using their powers to punch stuff.

There's some dystopia in it, in the sense that "most people have no powers and a few can do amazing things" is always a dystopian premise. I almost quit reading over an early revelation of 'big world-spanning evil plot' but I stuck with it. The comic also has long discussions of philosophy and ethics. It reminds me a little of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, but with more recognition that a single person can't clever their way into solving all the world's problems.

There's quite a lot of archives to read -- 800+ pages, I'd guess. It took me a few days to get through. Good stuff, definitely recommended. No idea when or if the major plot line is going to wrap up, although individual story lines do run their course. This entry was originally posted at https://rowyn.dreamwidth.org/629503.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
studious

Listening: "#FSCK 'Em All" and "Make No Law"

 
I haven't been motivated to write any fiction since I finished the draft of Frost. I wrote a few new scenes while editing it, but I finished the last of those last Friday. 
 
I'm not really working on anything now.  I've poked at The Princess, Her Dragon, and Their Prince, but only wrote a couple hundred new words. 
 
I've been reading more, and listening.
 
I finally started listening to some podcasts when I'm biking outside. I've been meaning to try "listen to podcasts while biking" for several years, but getting podcasts loaded to my iPod was always awkward. And my old phone was too old to load new apps or stream audio. But Shiny New Phone has no such limitations.
 
I don't need recommendations for podcasts because I have ones that I've been meaning to try for years and years, so ... lots of backlog when I get to them. Recommendations for Android podcast apps would be appreciated, though.
 
The first podcast I tried was T. Greg Doucette's "#FSCK 'Em All".  I've been following Doucette on Twitter for a while; he's a criminal defense attorney in North Carolina, and politically he's pretty much a conservative Black Lives Matter activist. This is not a combination I see often and I find his perspective interesting. #FSCK 'Em All is a weekly podcast, usually around ninety minutes. It's mostly about the failures in the criminal justice system over the previous week. This covers a spectrum of problems, from wrongdoing by cops, judges, DAs, etc., to citizens calling the police for bad reasons, to the occasional story where the cops or other legal officials handle a bad situation well. ("Look, the cops were called on a suicidal guy with a weapon and they DIDN'T kill him!") That last is depressingly rare.
 
In addition to the news round-up, there's often a "Law 140" section, which covers some aspect of civil rights or criminal law. There are also "What the FSCK" segments, where Doucette addresses audience questions.
 
I've listened to the last fifteen or so of sixty-five episodes.  Doucette is enjoyable to listen to: he has a good voice and a casual, conversational manner. I do note that he swears often, but the material is also swear-worthy, so, there's that. The criminal justice news is both depressing and monotonous, because it's so often the same story with new names and other minor variations. "No, no, this is a new story about a white cop shooting a black guy, you can tell because this time the black guy was holding a cellphone and the other time it was a shower head." But it's enlightening on just how pervasive injustice and racism are in the justice system.  There may be only a few of these that attract national attention in a given year, but there are so many that don't.  Every week. 
 
The production values are fine on most episodes, and minimalist: it's pretty much just Doucette talking, no bells or whistles. He does occasional interviews, and these sometimes have audibility issues. Only one that I had to give up on, though, and I suspect it would've been fine if I wasn't trying to listen to it with all the background noise of bike riding. This aside, the podcast does well the things it is trying to do. I will happily listen to new episodes as they drop. I'm probably not going to dive further back in the archives unless I run out of other podcasts I want to listen to while biking, though.
 
~
 
"Make No Law" is the second podcast I checked out. This is a monthly podcast on first amendment law. It's hosted by criminal defense attorney Ken White of popehat.com; I found out about it because I follow Popehat on Twitter. There are six episodes so far, I have listened to them all, and they are magnificent. These are done in conjunction with Legal Talk Network, and the production values are great, including voice actors to read excerpts from trial transcripts and Supreme Court arguments. They're like short history lessons on different important First Amendment cases. The June episode is "Fire in a Crowded Theater" and I can't wait. The episodes weave together White's narration with pieces of interviews and transcripts, so that you get these wonderful informative stories. I had expected to love the content -- I am fascinated by First Amendment law -- but I was surprised at how much I love the particular format of this show. The interviews are often with actual participants from Supreme Court cases, so that's pretty cool.
 
Amusingly, where Doucette is careful to avoid swear words on his Twitter feed but has no compunctions on his podcast, White is the opposite.  "Make No Law" contains no objectionable language, while White is perfectly happy to use obscenities on his feed and website.
 
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Me 2012

Call for First Readers for Frost!

Frost, master sorcerer, only wanted an apprentice so he would have someone to pass the tedium of his work onto while he enjoyed the more sophisticated and varied parts. Sorcery-bound individuals are vanishingly rare, so when he stumbled upon one who'd been overlooked by testers, he counted himself lucky indeed. No matter if the boy was old to begin an apprenticeship; he would learn.

After growing up a bastard and a whipping boy, the promise of a future as a rare powerful sorcerer seemed impossible to Thistle. He tried to brace himself for failure and disappointment.

But nothing could prepare him for his growing attraction to his master. And it turns out there is one thing worse than an unrequited infatuation with one's mentor:

Having it reciprocated.
~

Frost is, fundamentally, an M/M hurt/comfort romance. It has some kink elements, but it's a 241 page manuscript with maybe 15 pages of sexually explicit material. The side plot of characters researching new aspects and applications for sorcery is a lot more substantial than the erotica. 

Most of the hurt/comfort aspect involves the main characters, somewhat inadvertently, doing really awful things to each other. And then they feel terrible about it and struggle to cope with the consequences, to do better, to forgive one another, and perhaps even to forgive themselves.

This is a fantasy novel not merely in the sense that there's magic, but also in the sense that "in the real world, if you have a relationship that turned abusive and toxic, it is almost impossible that this relationship will later have a happily-ever-after." I enjoy this kind of fantasy, but I don't want anyone to confuse it for a role model.

I'm looking for first readers for Frost, so if this sort of story sounds like fun to you and you're interested in providing feedback, let me know your email address! You will need an address that is linked to Google docs in some way. Comments are screened and your email address will not be shared with anyone or purpose but to give you access to the doc.

You can also send to my gmail account, ladyrowyn, or message me on Twitter or Mastodon.

If this story does not sound like fun to you, that's also fine! This one is fairly niche even by my standards. 
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Me 2012

"Her Every Wish" and "After the Wedding", both by Courtney Milan

"Her Every Wish" is a novella sequel to "Once Upon a Marquess", although it is only very tenuously connected to it. It's about Daisy, the impoverished friend of the protagonist from the first book. I enjoyed it reasonably well. The protagonists were likable and both of them were poor, which was a nice change from the general "we are all wealthy titled privileged straight white people" that dominates historical fiction. In fact, the male protagonist is none of those things, which is extremely unusual. This is one of those "protagonists get back together after a falling out before story opens" romances, and the initial falling-out was pretty abysmal.  Still, I liked it on the whole. 

~

After the Wedding  was ... ugh. I have mixed feelings about it, and I'm trying to piece out what exactly made me end up as dissatisfied with it as I am.

So here's the good:

I read most of it pretty quickly; after an early false start, I chewed through it in under twelve hours and that includes the time I slept last night.  So obviously it kept me thinking "I want to see what happens next".

I found the protagonists interesting and their feelings for each other believable. 

The supporting cast is good. The reunion between Camilla, the female protagonist of this book, and her sister Judith, female protagonist from the last book, was the most heartwarming and affecting scene in the book. Of minor characters, I found Mrs. Beasley especially charming. 

The female protagonist is bi and the male protagonist is mixed race (black father, white mother), and as with "Her Every Wish" I found this reasonably well-executed and added variety I don't usually see in historical romance.

It's well-written. There are no rookie mistakes in pacing or timing, no characters who are underdeveloped or inconsistent, etc. If that feels like damning with faint praise, it is, but I have read badly written books and I want to be clear on  this count. There's a reason that my scale goes 1-10 and yet the worst I ever give is a 5, and that reason is "because I have started books that are SO MUCH WORSE and I don't rate those because I don't bother finishing them."

And now the bad:

Camilla's internal monologue was unbearable. Literally, I gave up on bearing it. I just skimmed every time the novel went on about what she was thinking. The tenor of her internal monologue changes over the course of the book, from "I am the worst person in the world and I deserve all the substantial suffering I've gone through and everyone will hate me forever" and to "I deserve to be happy and maybe someday I will get it but first I must martyr myself" and eventually away from martyrdom but by then Milan stopped bothering to write out her internal monologue. 

There was a lot of internal monologue before that point, though, and I found it all unpleasant to read and skipped a 4/5ths of it entirely. Usually I like wallowing in the characters' heads, so this is really saying something.

I found the circumstances that led to the wedding-at-gunpoint that kicks off this story equally miserable to read from the male protagonist's perspective. One of the reasons that I kept reading was that I wanted to see the mystery of "why these characters were forced to marry" unveiled (it's not for any of the reasons you'd expect, like "she was pregnant" or "they had betrayed any affection or intimacy between them whatsoever"). 

There is eventually an explanation for why the antagonists had forced the marriage. It's not particularly convincing. Both in that the motives seemed insufficient to merit this response, and that the response was not the best or simplest way to resolve the antagonists' perceived problem. 

All things considered, the "forced wedding" plot device is probably what ruined the story for me. It's used as the reason why the protagonists can't be happy together more than as a mechanism to convince them to be happy together. The sex scene was utterly spoiled for me because Milan put it in with the Plot Hook Of Damocles hanging directly over it, so instead of "aww this is sweet" my reaction was to recoil in horror and disbelief.  "Maybe the female protagonist is dreaming THAT WOULD BE BETTER."

Actually, this bugged me about the sex scene in Once Upon a Marquess, too, though to a lesser extent. But both books set up a situation where the protagonists have sex while one of them is withholding important information, and moreover it's information that could very possibly have made the ignorant party decide not to have sex if they'd known. It's seriously skeevy.  

On a minor note, there are a bunch of nudge-wink asides to modern problems: a multi-page scene based around making fun of the Nigerian prince* scam, a reference to mansplaining, a complaint about the lack of pockets in women's dresses, and probably another couple of things I'm forgetting. These aren't done in an ahistoric way, but I still found it twee and tiresome. 

Anyway, I am giving this book a 6, and it is easily the worst Courtney Milan book I've read. I still finished it, I will still read other Milan books, it's not the worst book I've read this year, even. But ... eyugh. What I like best about romances is re-reading my favorite parts, and there isn't a single thing in this book I want to read again. Sigh. It's not terrible, it's just disappointing.

* No, it didn't involve Nigerian princes or wire transfers, but same type of con.

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Me 2012

Demon's Lure ARC!

Demon's Lure is not quite ready for release, but it is in epub form now! I am looking for people interested in receiving a free early copy in return for reviewing it on Amazon and/or Goodreads and/or their own blog/site/review platform. Leave me a message with your email address if you're interested! Comments are screened, so no one else will see it. You can also send email to my gmail account LadyRowyn, if you'd rather.

Book blurb:

In the fight against the demons of the skylands, Sunrise has one of the rarest powers: that of a lure. Where demons normally feed by tormenting their victims, Sunrise draws them with her happiness.

She doesn't want to hunt demons, but when a hunter team arrives at her town to ask for her help, she agrees. It should be easy: they just need her as bait for a pain demon that is too fast for them to capture otherwise. And a typical pain demon is no match for an experienced team of demon hunters.

But this is no typical demon. And it has its own plans. It has no intention of being trapped, and is not worried about the hunter team. No, its main concern is: what does a demon who's spent millennia torturing and tormenting humans know about making one happy?
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