Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cover Reveal: "One Night in Sixes"

All right, you guys - the Qwillery's got it up, so the cat is officially out of the bag: One Night in Sixes has its cover!

Are you ready?

Are you SURE?

I know, right.  I just can't even deal.  It is SO cool and SO right and SO awesome it almost hurts to look at.

That does not surprise me in the slightest: my editor, Jonathan Oliver, and the Solaris team at large, were wonderful in inviting me to the art table - asking me for cover ideas, soliciting my input for revisions, going tremendously far out of their way to make sure that it hit all the right notes and suited everyone right down to the ground.  I am so glad I can finally take the lid off and let you guys in on it!

Also, I have to tell you: if you ever need fantasy artwork of any kind, look no further than the mind and pen of Tomasz Jedruszek.  I was talking with a friend of mine who's also an artist, and we agreed that there's plenty to like about this cover here: the colors, the light, the line of interest that starts with the lightning and the tower and winds down to the very bottom through the river - hell, even all those little details that Tomasz just nailed, like Elim's cow-spotted skin, and Día's sort of Franciscan robe (not the usual attire, even for a grave bride), and Molly Boone's shapely silhouette there in the water.  It's fantastic work from start to finish.

But I think what's really special about it, what really could not have been done by anyone else, is that it's a vision of an Old Western town, seen through a totally different lens.  (Tomasz is Polish, as it happens.)  So there's an old-world strangeness to it that I don't think we could have gotten from a corn-fed local who grew up watching Lone Ranger reruns and visiting his aunt in Albuquerque.  There's a heaping, rickety, built-up oddness to this island town, something distinctly out of place in the landscape around it - and that is exactly how our man Elim there approaches it.  In that, the cover is the perfect advertisement for the book: an uncommon thing, or, as has been said of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, a world both familiar and strange.

Anyway, that's enough of me nattering on.  Suffice to say that I am excited and fortunate in equal measure, and will put that to good use once I get back stateside!

Oh, and in the meantime: y'all reaaaally need to go check out Silvia Moreno-Garcia.  Like really.  I got to hear a little bit about Signal to Noise when I was at WorldCon this year, and I can already promise you - PROMISE you - that I will be sobbing like a helpless infant by the end of that book.  Magic, mixtapes, and Mexico (and the '80s!)  It's going to ruin me, and I totally can't wait.

This was only proof of what Elim already knew: the outside world was vast, full of wildness and witchery and things that carried off calves in the night, and God promised no safety to anyone who strayed from the good and orderly home He had provided them.

Elim hardly needed the reminder.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Coneward Bound

You know that thing, when the toilet (or tub or sink) isn't *totally* clogged, but it takes freaking forever to drain?  And so you're like, "well, it still sorta works, so maybe I don't have to deal with this exactly at this moment." So you go on with your day and make a mental note not to use the downstairs bathroom for any protracted visits.

Well, I have been having some epic solidarity with the plumbing, let me tell you.  I am just so choked with obligation and resentment and self-loathing that I can't seem to get anything done these days.  I get up and compile my to-do list by thinking "okay, why am I not allowed to do any writing today?"  I go to bed thinking of all the time I've wasted stalling and procrastinating and putting my headspace EVERYwhere except where it's supposed to be.  And all the while, I eat like a garbage disposal.  (Because when you don't have time to have any fun, the only fun you're allowed is the kind that comes disguised as *efficiency* - as a cheap time-saving reward for all that not-fun you're having.)

And if you do this for long enough, the brain-hamsters start getting louder, and you start thinking that maybe you're not cut out to be a real writer after all - because, you know, real writers write every day.  Real writers treat it as their first priority.  Real writers have self-discipline and a work regimen and the drive to get things done.  So probably you should apologize for wasting everyone's time and go see if it's not too late to grow a career in food service.

This is, of course, horseshit.

Speaking of horses, here's a good one:

Majestic, no?

That's the Duke of Wellington, immortalized in glory outside the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow.  The cone has a long and storied history in itself, but at this point, it's been there long enough that we can safely to call it "icone-ic".  (See what I did there?  --Shut up, damn you, I'm trying!)

Anyway, I'm leaving today to spend a glorious week in Glasgow with my in-laws, and I can't tell you how excited I am to get back there again.  It's a magical land of green hills and gray skies, pubs and pies and people who love me - and I am going to try really hard to use this visit to fix my slow-draining soul. 

Apologies in the meantime for emails unsent, promises unkept, kindnesses unreciprocated, and this neurosis-laden post here.  You are a splendid human being - yes, you! - and I will prove it to you with a vengeance as soon as I get back.

That's plenty.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Snow, Ergo White

Hey, I got a question for you.  Does this gal look like a cool character for a Disney movie?

made by the excruciatingly rad heysawbones.  Used with permission.

I know, right?  How neat would it be to have a princess from Tibet?  (Her name's Nyima, by the way.)

Or how about these guys?  Like, why don't we set a movie in Argentina, maybe high up in the Andean mountains somewhere?

made by the amazing Amy! Used with permission.
Oh, and one more: I didn't hear back on permissions, but you need, want, and deserve to check out Qila and Nanook.  Go do it right now.  I'll wait.

Anyway, here's what all of these ideas have in common: they all are fan-drawn characters, created by artists who wish that Disney had gone a different direction with its upcoming Snow Queen reimagining, Frozen.

And I tell you what: I could not agree more.  There's an interesting Tumblr, thiscouldhavebeenfrozen, which posts fan submissions and rebuts a whole array of "no, but this totally had to be a movie about white people" arguments (and does so pretty fiercely.)

Anyway, there's one post / infographic gallery in particular that I REALLY recommend checking out, about diversity in Disney, and the lack thereof.  (It doesn't look so good on the author's tumblr, but if you click the initial picture, you can click through the gallery one at a time and it's much easier.)  Here's the part that that blows my mind:

The white princesses are never given real-world locations and any assumed setting is based on the origin of source material and sometimes influence in design.

But with the exception of Aladdin, the movies with PoC characters are given explicit settings that justify their existence.

White princesses never have to justify their existence. 

Oh, and for those of you who for some reason don't have your finger on the throbbing heady pulse of the Disney Princess lineup, we're up to 11. (I know, right.  At this rate, the Earth's supply of winsome fictional royalty will be exhausted by 2037.)  Here's the current lineup. 

from Fanpop  © Disney
Anyway, it's a hell of a notion.  The part about how Ambiguous Fantasy Neverland is whiter than Chubbuck, Idaho, and if we're going to have any kind of princess-of-color, we have to program the TARDIS for Jamestown, 1607, or New Orleans, 1923 - you know, go to Earth and set the friggin' GPS, because we need precision scientific accuracy in order to locate sufficient justification for a brown girl.  (Or even a white girl with an accent, in Merida's case.)

Okay, so I was thinking about all that.  And then I thought - you know what Disney movie is COMPLETELY AWESOME?

from  © Disney

YES.  Would you believe that they were originally going to set Lilo and Stitch on a farm in rural Kansas?  Can you imagine how much less interesting that would have been?

Okay, okay, let's go again - think of another one that just took Standard Formula Disney and snapped it over its knee.

from Generic Movie and TV © Disney


The Emperor's New Groove is easily one of my favorite films - I am always hugely impressed with any movie that can do genuinely funny all-ages comedy, and this is easily one of the best.  And again, how much less memorable would it be if we sucked out all that indigenous high-altitude flavor (freaking LLAMAS, people!) and set it in Vaguely Germanic Neverwhere?

And you know what's weird about these?

There is nothing in "cuddy but violent alien crash-lands into the lives of two struggling orphans" that screams modern Hawaii.  There is no part of "outrageous buddy comedy about learning how not to be a jerk" that even suggests Incan Empire.  We got to have two solidly non-white settings just for the hell of it - and I would submit, two fantastic movies as a result.  Why?  Well, here's a theory: because a creative team willing to go beyond generic settings and protagonists was far more likely to do likewise for plot, characterization, and dialogue.

And hell, let's throw up some props for Atlantis while we're at it.  Like, who would have beefed if Kidagakash had looked like Namor the Sub-Mariner?  Nobody!  But there we are - free complimentary princess of color!  Look at her, all powerful and magical and shit!

from Disney Junior © Disney

(So why is Kida not in the Disney Princess lineup?  Maybe because her movie didn't do so hot.  Or maybe because she's an actual twentysomething adult who becomes a queen and leads her people instead of, you know, skipping off into a nebulously responsibility-free happily-ever-after.  But I digress.)

Okay, so I guess what I'm saying is:

1.  I don't think Disney deliberately sets out to be stodgy or exclusive.  (On the contrary, they'll do whatever gets them the best PR and the most money.)

2.  I do think Disney is far more willing to take risks outside of its giant expensive tentpole Standard Disney Formula films.

3.  I absolutely believe that more underrepresented characters and settings need to be brought into the picture - and the more we ask for them and talk about them and support the ones that do make it into the world, the more likely that is to happen.

So that is what I am doing here.

You know, it's a good thing you're not a big fat guy, or this would be really difficult.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

C is for Commas n' Shit

I have a real problem, you guys.  My social circle has now expanded to the point that I live in constant, immediate danger of losing track of all the awesome stuff my posse is doing.  I am beginning to fear that there are more kickass people in the world than I can handle knowing.


I would be hugely remiss not to notice or showcase the awesome A-to-Z NaNo series that my agency, Red Sofa Literary, is putting on this month.  Here is one post that sticks out at me in particular:  C is for Copyedit.

It's written by the newest member of Team Sofa, Laura Zats (whose Twitter feed is kind of like a Bridget Jones' Diary take on Trainspotting - highly recommended!)

This is her auspicious opening:
There are entire books written about why your book was rejected by an agent or editor, just as there are entire books about how to ensure that they don’t reject you. 

But I didn’t write any of those, so I’m going to tell you one of the main reasons whyreject books: the grammar sucks.
Not news, right?  There aren't too many dream jobs that will accommodate the do-what-feels-good school of spelling and punctuation, and Future Novelist is an especially unforgiving position.  Here's the part that got me thinking, though:
But the above things I mentioned are conventions. They should have been drilled into you in 18+ years of school. NOT using these things says just one thing to me: you don’t quite care enough about your future colleagues’ time to do the work right the first time.
This is also not news, but here's what I'm wondering about: what do you do if you missed the boat?  Like, what if your school sucked?  Or you didn't go to school?  Or you did, but you only learned English three years ago - or you did, but that was thirty years ago and your career as an Arctic deep-sea fisherman hasn't kept you fresh on the finer points of prepositional phrases?  Basically, what is your recourse if you don't already know how to write good conventional English?

When I first ventured out of my cave two years ago, I assumed that every writer's story was like mine.  "What," I said incredulously, "like, didn't you guys just read a million billion books and osmotically engulf the entire standard-English ruleset?"

As it turns out, the answer is often "no"!  

And you can still get yourself back up on this wagon, of course.  Obviously we don't lose our capacity for learning the second they plop mortarboards on our heads and bid us a fond "don't let the door hit you."

But here's the thing.  Writing overwhelmingly requires a real, live human being - traditionally in the form of an English teacher - to read your stuff, correct it, hand it back, and make you do it again.  Indeed, the essay is the ONLY part of the SAT (and pretty much any other standardized US exam) that isn't machine-scored, cuz it truly does require the judgment of a fellow carbon-based life-form to evaluate its merit.  And while I know that we have these things called 'critique partners' and 'beta readers' for a reason, I am perpetually surprised and dismayed by the number of writers I meet who think they can't learn this stuff - who feel that they are hopelessly ignorant, and expect that they will always have to pay freelance editors to clean up everything they ever produce, because they are not one of the Beautiful People Who Already Know This Shit.

I would absolutely love to blow that myth to pieces, and use said pieces to fertilize the budding self-esteem of aspiring writers everywhere.  But while I'm okay with not speaking from experience, I don't want to be speaking from my hindparts either.

So this is my long, roundabout way of asking all you guys:  for those of you who didn't acquire this knowledge in your larval stage, how did you master English grammar as an adult? 

In this sentence, your victory against the bear does not need to be connected to the plague rat, so a period is used.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Word About Perseverance

You know what's rough about this whole creative life-of-the-mind schtick?

...well, objectively speaking, not a hell of a lot.  Having the education and financial security to angst into my laptop about my deathless prose is a pretty sweet deal.

But I tell you what: if you wanna lose a hundred pounds or win a triathlon or bulk up and bench-press your car, there is no shortage of inspiring pictures out there to keep you motivated.  Jillian Michaels on your fridge!  Usain Bolt by the bathroom mirror!  Mr. Universe on the ceiling above your weight bench!  (One of the vaseline-slathered beefcake ones, not the poor bastard with the RealDoll girlfriend from Serenity.)

A little tougher to do that if you're trying to write a novel or cut an album or master the ancient art of erotic clowning.  Like, you can paper your house with pictures of famous people in your field, but at the end of the day, the quality of your efforts can't be visually measured - and that makes visual motivation harder to arrange.

Anyway, today is the first day of NaNoWriMo, and as good a day as any to celebrate the relentless nose-to-grindstoning of creative folks in every field.  So here's my contribution to our collective motivational poster-pool.

This is the keyboard I've used for the last eight years of my writing apprenticeship. 

The grooves are from my fingernails.

Did I mention that my first novel was called The Nine Mnemonics of the N'mmmnerian Nunnery?  

Anyway: keep at it, arty people, whatever your art may be.  And remember: there is nothing standing between you and success but years of thankless unrelenting toil!

It's going to take you awhile.