2012 (Spiritwalker Monday 25)

2012 was a rough year for me. No details, just a hard slog for a number of reasons.

For those of you who also had a hard slog, my sympathies and let us hope for a kinder, more joyous, and excitingly challenging 2013 (the good kind of excitement, not the other kind).

For those who had a great 2012: Excellent! And I wish for you another great year ahead.

It took me a long time to finish the third Spiritwalker novel, COLD STEEL (for my long road through the novel and if you are interested in process, you can check all my Cold Steel tags on this blog). But as most if not all of you reading this know, it is finished, revised, copy edited, and making its way through the production process toward publication in June 2013.

I’m planning to continue my Spiritwalker Monday posts from now until publication. Because I’ve realized that posting once a week is about all I can reliably manage (without cutting deeply into my novel writing energy), some of those posts will be more general posts about world building, writing, culture, reading, and so on. However, at least two posts per month should focus specifically on the Spiritwalker world and/or the writing of the books. I hope to complete at least one prequel short story (the one I am working on right now is about Andevai). Upcoming posts will discuss the creole used in COLD FIRE, some reflections on how I developed the love story in the first two books (in February), the use of place names in a world without Germanic-derived place names, and whatever else I can produce between working on Other Projects. I can’t talk about Other Projects yet. I will when I can.

Some of my favorite posts I read this year (heavily weighted to the end of the year as I do not keep good track):

The amazing tag team of Tansy Raynor Roberts (Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy: Let’s Unpack That) and Foz Meadows (Your Default Narrative Settings are Not Apolitical) both tackle the issue of the excuse some writers and readers make that they can’t have women (or women with agency) in their fantasy novels because of what amounts to their lack of understanding of history. This subject has been batted around a lot this year (and in previous years) and perhaps some day it will be put to rest, but I’m not holding my breath yet. Tansy also wrote a guest post on this blog on women of Rome.

In this vein, my favorite of my Spiritwalker Monday posts so far is Why Cat Sews, about the importance of depicting all the kinds of work that underpin human society.

Over at Book Smugglers, N. K. Jemisin wrote The Unexotic Exotic on using details of ordinary life to de-exotify the “exotic” in fantasy worlds.

In Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s Identity and the Indigenous Spirit she talks about allowing herself “to be true to the place that gave birth to and shaped me.” On this blog, her guest post Decolonizing as an SF Writer discusses (among other things) histories of the Philippines and her own relationship with SF.

Seanan McGuire wrote a searing post on Things I Will Not Do To My Characters. Ever. in response to a reader who asked her when certain of her female characters were finally going to get raped. (Imagine! Asking that!)

I have some posts I wrote this year which I particularly value, and one of those touches on another aspect of the use of sexual violence in fiction (although from a different perspective): The narrative of women in fear and pain. (In my recent guest post on Book Smugglers I talk about quite the opposite: positive depictions of sex in fiction.)(There’s also a giveaway open until January 6.)

Sherwood Smith writes brilliantly about writing and reading: You can find her at Book View Cafe. Really everything she writes is well worth reading, but I wanted to highlight a post from earlier this year on Process Narration, what she defines as writers “writing their own experience of writing fiction into the text.” I read this post nodding my head and wincing in fierce agreement; I do this and I need to be more aware of it. Great stuff.

Here on this blog, Paul Weimer wrote about his own experiences reviewing in The Stress of Their Regard: Book Reviews and the Reactions to Them.

Understanding history in its fullest and most complex sense as opposed to the narrow range of history that is normally taught is, for me, a crucial enterprise, a process that never ends.

This post by cosmic yoruba talks about African sexualities and colonialism. She also wrote a post on sex work in pre-colonial Igboland.

Malinda Lo wrote a two part post about same-sex relationships in fantasy and the question “Is it believable to have same-sex relationships in a medieval-esque fantasy world?” in Heteronormativity, Fantasy & Bitterblue Part One and Part Two.

D. B. Jackson wrote on “the history that isn’t taught” and what he learned about colonial era Boston while researching for his Thieftaker series.

In the science department, how about this fascinating article about redrawing the “tree of life”: It is just so cool! And Athena Andreadis has a lovely post on human evolution and The Grandmother Hypothesis: “that the presence of grandmothers allowed more children to reach adulthood.”

I’ve not yet touched on architecture and fashion so here, via tumblr, a Fashion Timeline History of Vietnamese Clothing.

Meanwhile, Helen Lowe discussed the essential element of mystery in On World building.

Okay, that’s surely enough. Except for this link to an article on Early Medieval Science: The evidence of Bede. Because there can never be enough Venerable Bede.

For myself, I worked long and hard on my article The Omniscient Breasts because I wanted to define and describe how the male gaze affects how people write without them necessarily being aware of it, and I wanted to express it in a constructive way that might possibly get through to a few people and make them think about through what default lens they might be “seeing” in their fiction. [You should go check it out if only to make sure it reaches the top ten (in page views) of SFSignal’s posts for the year–right?]

These are just a few of the many wonderful, illuminating, and thoughtful things I read online this past year. There were so many more.

Last, if I can encourage you (and I know I encouraged some of you already) to check out one album this year it would be Fatoumata Diawara’s FATOU.

What links do you have for me? What great posts from 2012 on . . . anything, really . . . got you thinking or laughing or pissed off or excited or learning or asking questions?

And, as always, thank you for reading.

Sex in 2012 (Smugglivus 2012)

This is more of a housekeeping post:

The fabulous book reviewing website Book Smugglers hosts a seasonal cornucopia of guest posts in December, more or less around the theme of your favorite something (often books, films, games, etc) of the year.

I wrote a guest post for them on my favorite literary sex of 2012 and expanded it into a discussion of why I think portrayals of positive consensual sex are so important in fiction (and film/tv, but I focus on fiction).

You can find my guest post at Book Smugglers.

Reviews: a few general comments (Spiritwalker Monday 27)

I always feel a little embarrassed or even a trifle ashamed that I read reviews of my work. Some manner of antiquated Lecturing Voice in my head keeps telling me that after I write the book, I ought not to seek opportunities for unseemly self aggrandizement even if it is only in private in the comfort of my own office. That Voice walks hand in hand (to mix metaphors) with those ideas that anything that might make you feel good about yourself for something you did should be viewed with suspicion and probably avoided, and the related idea that I think really hit a lot of women who came to adulthood in certain cultures in the 20th century that girls and women ought not to seek praise or notice because it displays an unacceptable self-interest and self-absorption or self-praise.

Yet artists of all stripes need an ego in order to create. As artists, most of us (I think) create as a form of interaction. We offer an experience that others can partake of, if they want.

I know for a fact that different writers have different tolerances for reading reviews of their work. Some read everything; some read nothing; others fall in between or along some other vector, and many change their minds depending on what compulsive combination of masochism, narcissism, insecurity, ego, and curiosity drives them in any given month or year.

I do read reviews of my work. Sometimes reviews boost me or enlighten me; other times they make me feel like I’m never going to get this novel writing thing right, ever. Sometimes I’m just looking for a pat on the head, while other times I’m hoping for a more critical engagement with the text; which of those usually depends on my psychological and emotional state at any given time. Some reviews I read strike me as a little mean or even dishonest, while others–not necessarily positive ones–really hit me as heartfelt and sincere and, at times, useful to me in terms of what they’re saying.Then there are the ones that just hit the sweet spot. That’s always gratifying.

Reviews, discussion, and word of mouth all amount to visibility for an author, and visibility matters a great deal to writers who are trying to build and sustain careers. If people haven’t heard of your book, they can’t read it. The book scene reminds me a bit of that line about tourism in London: 90% of the tourists go to 10% of the sites, the most famous ones. That’s visibility. The more people “talk” about a book, the more likely that talk translates to sales, and good sales allow a writer to sell more books in their existing series and to sell new projects.

However, worrying about reviews or about whether the work is getting notice can also get in the way of writing if it takes energy away from writing.

The most important thing is to be writing the next book.

When I write a book, I absolutely write and revise and rewrite to create the best book I can at the time. Often, although not always, by the time I finish reading through the page proofs, I’m satisfied that it came out well. Then I have to wait for reviews to see how it is actually received, and as we know, these two things may not be in line. One really never knows. The weirdest things can pop up in reviews–sometimes in a positive light, sometimes in a negative one–things that never occurred to you would strike a nerve or that you yourself may not have noticed at all in the text. Complaints or praise that you expected may sadden or please you. Things you wished people would talk about may never get mentioned at all.

But in my opinion reviews aren’t for the author, not really. They’re part of a different conversation to which the author is related but not necessarily directly involved beyond having written the book under discussion. My feeling is that once the book is out of my hands, it’s out of my hands. It’s still mine, but it’s also not mine. I don’t get to mediate or demand a certain reader response. I did my thing by writing it; readers do their thing by reading it. Or by not reading it, for that matter: No one is required to read a book (except in school). Furthermore, if you’re not a bestseller, the vast majority of people have never read you, much less heard of you. Even if you are a bestseller and your novel gets made into a movie, more people will see the film than read the book.

Additionally (and I think importantly) while the old reviewing venues, the gatekeepers of yesteryear, are still around, they are no longer the only game in town (many of these critical venues served, I think, a different purpose, but I’m not going to analyze that here). The old top-down authority has shifted as more voices get heard.

The explosion of social media has really altered the landscape in this regard, although I feel obliged to note that I don’t think creators/artists/writers have to be on social media. I suspect they should not be unless they are getting something positive out of it.

Readers can connect with many more like-minded readers than ever before. Readers can talk directly to others readers about books; of course they could before, but the nature of the internet makes the reach much more extensive.

Book discussions have exploded all over everywhere, raising acrimony at times but also in my opinion creating a vast and enthusiastic network for readers and reading. Frankly, I really like the respectful way so many readers talk to each other (even while disagreeing!) on many of the reader-driven review sites.

I do sometimes thank a reviewer for their review, and I do try to highlight ones that I think were particularly interesting (to me, at any rate), but otherwise I try to stay out of the discussion because nothing kills a discussion between readers more than a writer showing up even if only to politely say “thank you.”

(Needless to say, writers really ought never to argue with a review. Short factual corrections are okay but I mean that in the most concrete and specific way: “The story does not take place in England,” for instance, would be a factual correction if a review stated that the story took place in England and it actually took place in Hawaii.)

As for me, these days I am much more in touch with readers and with other writers as well. It’s hard to predict how this interaction will continue to develop over time.

I can safely say, though, that when I was growing up and a young adult, I read far more in isolation than I do today. It is so much easier for me to talk about books and reading (and media in general) now than it was then.

What do you guys think? Did you come of age in the age of social media? If you’ve been around since before Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, and Goodreads, what sort of changes do you perceive in reviewing, in reader interaction, and in the reader/writer interface? Do you find this to be a good thing, a bad thing, or simply a thing?

Doggerland, the Ice Age, & the Landscape of the Spiritwalker novels (Spiritwalker Monday 28)

Twenty thousand years ago Earth was in the grip of an Ice Age (technically we are still in an Ice Age, in one of the interglacial warming periods). Massive sheets of ice covered much of North America, northern Europe, and parts of north Asia and locked up so much water that the contours of the continents were different because the sea levels were lower. As  temperatures began to rise, the ice began to melt and the oceans to rise.

Back in the day, the island we call Britain was not an island but part of Europe. The English Channel did not exist, the Rhine River flowed a lot further south before it reached the Atlantic Ocean, and people lived and probably often thrived on what was then an expanse of land that now lies beneath the North Sea.







Image from ScienceDirect.

Coincidentally, the December 2012 National Geographic includes an article about this region, called Doggerland after the Dogger Banks, a shallow area in the North Sea well known to fishermen.

There is a fabulous map at the NatGeo site which I can’t post here, but you totally should go there and look at it (scroll up, for some reason the link deposits you at the end of the page). The graphic clearly displays how the expanse of land changes across time as the ice shrinks and the oceans rise. The shoreline in Spiritwalker falls somewhat close to what is shown here as the year 8000 B.C.E (Before the Common Era), although of course this mapping is educated guesswork.

When I “built” the landscape of Spiritwalker, I wanted enough ice that Britain would be attached to the continent but not so much that most of Europe would be too cold for extensive human habitation.

Europe’s Lost World: The rediscovery of Doggerland by V Gaffney, S Fitch and D Smith (CBA Research Report 160, 2009) provided a great deal of information by some of the scientists at the forefront of this research.

The book also provided a crucial set of figures depicting “Isopollen maps showing changes in vegetation over the postglacial” (in Europe). I needed to know how a late glacial landscape would differ from today’s European landscape in terms of climate zones and vegetation, not just shorelines. For instance, how far north could people farm? Would there be other geographical variations in vegetation zones? What could farmers grow? Some grains can grow in harsher conditions with shorter growing seasons; others need warmer, longer seasons. I never go into detail about issues like this although they are alluded to, and specifically if briefly mentioned in Cold Steel.

The city of Adurnam is actually in what is now the English Channel, south of Portsmouth, on the old paleolithic watercourse of the Solent River, more or less (despite being named after Portus Adurni, the Roman fort at what is now Portchester, a suburb of Portsmouth). The land controlled by Four Moons House lies east of London and Canturbury, in what is now the southern part of the North Sea but which in Spiritwalker is all land. For these landscapes I consulted references like the Journal of Quaternary Science, which has an entire journal volume dedicated to the Quaternary history of the English Channel.

I also wanted to know how melting would occur, how quickly vegetation could “migrate” north, and by what “mechanism” the trolls (the feathered people, that is, the intelligent descendents of troodons) might have survived into the “present day” of the novel while at the same time allowing for human migration into the Americas.









Image from USGS.

The land bridge between Asia and the Americas was generally ice free during the Ice Age due to climate variables. Called Berengia, this land bridge had a significant population of mammoths and other now extinct mammals. Meanwhile, however, the massive North American ice sheet for a long time cut off Berengia from the ice free southern part of the North American continent.

E.C. Pielou’s excellent After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America (The University of Chicago Press, 1991) is a superb resource for a fantasy writer. It taught me about Berengia’s ice free corridor, conditions in newly deglaciated landscapes, and how plants return to those zones, which they can do remarkably quickly under the right circumstances.

It also taught me about refugia, which are ice free areas, large ones like Berengia and then also small ones: nunataks are ice free zones at high elevations like mountaintops and coastal refugia are small ice free sections of “coastal plain in the lee of high mountains” (Pielou). Some plant and animal species survived in refugia, surrounded by ice and thus cut off from other populations for long periods.

Refugia and nunataks gave me a rationale for the survival of my intelligent descendents of troodons. Also, the existence of coastal refugia made it possible to suggest that humans, after crossing ice-free Berengia either on foot or by boat along the coast, had coast hopped down a string of coastal refugia to the ice-free lower portion of North America (as they may have done in our world). Meanwhile, the ice would have kept the two populations, the small but expanding feathered people population in the north and east and the small but expanding human population in the west and south, from meeting until rather late in this prehistory at which point contact between outlying groups would have brought caution, conflict, cooperation, trade, and eventually yet more complex interaction.

It was easy to find information on Europe and North America–the above referenced books and articles are not the only resources I used–and far more difficult to find information on how the Ice Age affected, for instance, the climate of the Caribbean, something I needed to know for Cold Fire. I did what I could with maps of the sea floor in the Caribbean to consider how the ocean currents would work since the islands of the Caribbean Basin are larger in this alternate landscape, I posited that the hurricane season would be shorter due to water temperature changes, and I winged it a bit.



Image from Nature

I dredged around to find what I could about world regional climate variation–for instance, although my map of the Eastern Hemisphere doesn’t extend that far south, I posit that Lake Chad in the West and Central Sahel is huge because of the climate making west and central Africa wetter–but mostly I focused on areas I knew I was going to visit in the story.


Cold Fire: The Cookie (Spiritwalker Monday 29)

Some time ago a kind and enthusiastic reader sent me cookies inspired by COLD MAGIC. I wrote about this event and included the recipe for “Cold Magic cookies” on the Orbit Books blog (here).

It’s a wonderful recipe (I have eaten these cookies and they are excellent). Since this is the season for baking (well, okay, every season is the season for baking, but you know what i mean), I thought it time to introduce the equally scrumptious “Cold Fire cookie.”

This recipe was also created by baker and seamstress extraordinaire, Raina Storer.

Here’s what she has to say about the Cold Fire cookie recipe:

To commemorate Cat’s great consumption of fruit and rum during her time in Expedition, as well as as her time on Salt Island… these cookies combine all these flavors to great effect.  The extracts can be difficult to find, but ultimately they served the best to really deliver the tastes of Cat’s adventures in Cold Fire.


The fabulous recipe:


dough —
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
16 TB (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup for rolling dough
1 TB light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 TB pineapple extract
1 1/2 tsp lime extract
1/2 cup minced preserved guava
Maldon salt for sprinkling

glaze —
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 TB dark rum


Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Line two large baking sheets with parchment, or spray with non stick cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

Save the butter wrappers aside.  Either by hand or with an electric mixture, beat butter for 3 minutes until soft, then cream the butter with the sugars at medium speed, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed.  Add the egg and pineapple and lime extracts. Beat at medium speed until combined.  Mix in about 1/4 of a cup of the preserved guava, reserving the other 1/4 for garnish.  Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined.

Place 1/2 cup of sugar into a shallow bowl for rolling.  Dip your hands in water to ensure the dough will not stick to them, and then drop heaping tablespoonfuls of dough into the bowl, coating with sugar, and rolling into balls.

Place balls on cookie sheet, about two inches apart.  Repeat with remaining dough.  Using the butter wrappers, butter the bottom of a drinking glass, then dip in the remaining sugar.  Flatten the balls with the bottom of the class until they are about 3/4 of an inch thick.  Garnish the flattened dough discs with pieces of the remaining guava, and sprinkle small pinch of Maldon salt on top.

Bake until golden at edges, about 15 minutes.  Cool cookies on baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

When cookies have completely cooled, prepare glaze.  Combine rum with confectioner’s sugar, and whisk until smooth.  You may add rum or sugar to thin or thicken glaze as desired.  Using a spoon, drizzle glaze atop each cookie.  While the glaze is still wet, sprinkle additional Maldon salt to taste.


(me again: I can’t wait to see what Raina comes up with for Cold Steel)