Category Archives: My Non-fiction

New article! Magic, history and queer romance

KJCharles-booksHello friends! I’ve found that I usually write up to 4 non-fiction articles a year these days, that’s a number that seems to balance well with my fiction writing, but in 2018 I got to write 5! I pitched this article right before basically being away from my computer for a month, heard back from the (wonderful) editor while I was traveling in China, had to postpone writing it because of, among other things, a death in the family, and eventually ended up writing it in the middle of (successfully!) doing NaNoWriMo for the first time. So, it’s been eventful around these parts!

Anyway, I’ve wanted to write about KJ Charles’ work for a long time for an SFF publication, because I’m tired of there being a brick wall between “SFF” and most “Romance”, especially when it comes to queer romance (which is also not exactly embraced by the mainstream Romance industry).

So, if you already know and love KJ Charles’ books I hope you enjoy my take on them, and if you’ve never heard of her before, I hope this serves as a good introduction!

In my experience, people who’ve read at least two of Charles’ books (she’s published about twenty of them) have a tendency to then read extensive swaths of her backlist. Her novels provide something rare in the literary market even today, in 2018: well-researched historical, fantastical fiction that features love stories between queer people.

Genres are flawed, porous constructs, and many stories live in between the established categories or straddle several of them, which doesn’t make a bookseller’s job very easy. The reason we recommend a book by saying “it’s X genre” is that it’s a shortcut to saying: “it’s the sort of thing you like.”

Read History, Queer Romance, and Fantasy Combine in the Work of KJ Charles on Tor.com.

Awards Eligibility Post (aka SF/F works in 2017)

I’ve never done one of these before, but I’ve always wanted to and I guess I’m finally getting it done. I’m still not sure how a lot of SF/F awards work (in terms of categories and schedules, there’s just a lot of them out there for a newcomer to figure out!) but here’s an awkward “a thing I wrote you might want to nominate/vote for if you’re into that sort of thing” first time post anyway.

 

NOVELLA

In 2017 I wrote a novella, Three Keys in the Desert (39,000 words).

In a sentence: it’s science fiction about kids and staff at a military boarding school on a remote planet.

I’m also eligible for the Campbell Award this year.

 

NON-FICTION

 

 

 

 

 

New article: Five Ways To Build A More Believable Futuristic Military

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Hello friends!

My first article of 2018 is already out, and it’s only January! (Well, it’s February, but it was still January when it was originally posted.)

This time I got to talk about military science fiction for Book Smugglers, a venue I love a LOT and a topic I can basically talk about forever.

The five points in this one are mostly about the way fictional militaries represent gender, sexuality, attraction, and the politics and sociology around it all.

Five Ways To Build A More Believable Futuristic Military >>

Things I did in 2017

Person silhouette standing in 2017 on the hill at sunsetIt’s almost the new year, and everything is… well, not snowy at all where I am, but certainly a bit rainy? And I always want to make end-of-year posts and never manage to write them up, so, here’s to breaking that tradition.

In July of 2015 I sat myself down for a chat and decided that I for sure, definitely, wanted to try and write original stories for publication, and transition from being a media critic exclusively to being an author of SF/F as well.

In that sense, 2017 has been my second full year of Taking Writing Seriously. Of course, like for most writers, this came in between other things, like a full time job, grad school, and disability, but despite the time constraints I’m pleased with how 2017 turned out. I did a lot less writing than I’d hoped to, but I did a lot of writing-related new-to-me things, which was a different kind of exciting and necessary.

I wrote articles for huge markets I never imagined I’d be able to successfully pitch to. I did lectures at SFF cons for the first time. I attended an SFF con abroad for the first time (and did 3 events there!). I published a work I’d been sitting on for a decade, the longest SFF thing I’ve written, and more than 5 people bought it! That’s still mindblowing to me.

Stories I wrote

The main thing here is of course, Three Keys in the Desert. I novella I told myself I’d publish “really soon” for about 10 years, and finally got it done in 2017. I waffled a lot over whether to self-publish or go the traditional route, despite the still minuscule market for novellas from first-time authors, but ultimately self-publishing taught me (and continues to teach me) so much. About communicating with audiences, about the business side of publishing, about my own strengths and weaknesses (like most writers, I am terrible at promoting my own work!)

But I got to post this story I love on my website, and get responses from people, and do several giveaways, and through all of it I basically did everything myself, and it was hard but it was also really exhilarating. Thank you, again, to everyone who took part in this journey.

Articles I Wrote

I wrote two reviews for Strange Horizons: one of the TV show The OA and one of the fantasy novella The Drowning Eyes.

(I also had a lot of feelings when my former editor at Strange Horizons, Abigail Nussbaum, who is basically responsible for me having a career as a media critic in the first place, won a Hugo award this year.)

I also wrote two articles for VICE, both of which got a lot more attention on the internet than I’m used to.

The first was about the TV show Black Sails: ‘Black Sails’ Depicts the Untold Story of Queer Pirates. The article was shared on twitter by the creators of the show, quoted by some of the lead actors, translated to Portuguese and had its own thread on Reddit.

I couldn’t imagine such a huge response when I wrote it, so it was all pretty amazing to experience. I still love the show, though I have a lot of thoughts that never made it into the article (I did have a word limit).

The second VICE article about a movie: Wonder Woman’s Best Superpower Is Destroying Sexist Tropes. (I have to confess the editors at VICE came up with the titles, not me.) That article also got a bigger response than I was anticipating (friends kept linking me to discussions and mentions of it at various places online), which was again a lot of fun. The best responses were from people who told me I’d pointed things out about the movie that they’d never considered, but that suddenly made things fall into place for them.

Events I Did

In 2017 I went from going to SFF cons as a fan, to going as an author and media critic, and doing panels and lectures. I went from having done zero of these things in my life to doing 6 of them in the span of 8 months. (One of the lessons for 2018: this was a little too much too fast, and I need a break.)

In April I submitted a lecture called Women Write About War where I talked about debut novels from authors Naomi Novik, Karin Lowachee and Kameron Hurley and analyzed the different ways war narratives work in SFF. I did the lecture twice, in two different languages, once in London and once in Tel Aviv, and the experience was pretty great each time.(My favorite part is always the audience questions/interaction at the end, and I got to meet a lot of wonderful people.)

During the summer I designed a new lecture, called A Pirate and a Gentleman (and a Lady) about “Treasure Island”, “Black Sails” and the fact and fiction of pirate stories, in historical fiction as well as in SFF. I did the lecture twice, though both times were in the same language, about a month apart. The first time was at an SFF con, in the biggest room I’ve ever had to carry on my own – a movie theater with over 100 seats. The second time was in a small living room, where a few dozen people were occupying couches, chairs and the floor.

In London I also got to do two panels. (The last time I was on a panel was as an undergrad student, in Japan, at a press conference. Don’t ask.) One was on International Fandom, and I got to talk about Russian fans, fandom and canons, and the other was about screenwriting and SFF, and I got to talk about pitfalls and tricks for successful adaptations. (And also, to listen to some of my idols talk about their own craft as writers and screenwriters, which was pretty amazing.)

Wow, just writing it all out makes me feel a little tired again! No wonder I spent most of this year feeling like I was doing Too Much (and somehow not getting any writing done). I kind of went zero to sixty with public speaking at cons this year, which ended up being kind of a weird experience. On the one hand I enjoyed every single second, and part of me wanted to keep doing it forever, on the other hand, my inner introvert wanted to crawl into a cave once it was all over and not emerge for two years.

What’s next for 2018?

What am I planning for next year?

– Work on more short stories. I already have several drafts that are in various stages of done and need a few more passes. Start the first draft of the fantasy novel I’ve been working on for years.

– Write about books, TV shows and movies (look out for an article by me at Book Smugglers around January!)

– Experiment with doing events that aren’t lectures/talks, such as workshops, collaborative activities, other formats I’ve never tried before.

Mostly: keep applying for things, submitting things, trying out new things, and be OK with rejection and failure and disappointment. It’s the hardest part of any creative business, and it’s the one skill that it took me the longest to develop.

Happy holidays, everyone, and happy new upcoming year!

 

 

Book review: “The Drowning Eyes” by Emily Foster

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It’s been a busy couple of months, friends. Between posting Three Keys in the Desert in June, submitting a thesis draft in July, attending Nine Worlds in August (\o/ STILL TO WRITE A POST ABOUT THAT!) and now going abroad again in a week, it’s been.. a lot. A lot of really great things! But a lot nonetheless.

Which is why I’m especially pleased that I managed to squeeze in reading Emily Foster’s “The Drowning Eyes”, a novella I’d been wanting to get my hands on for a while, and review it for Strange Horizons.

Emily Foster’s debut novella is everything I like about modern fantasy. The world it builds is not a fictional Europe or a fictional North America; instead it’s set in a tropical climate, in the middle of an ocean, with many small islands dependent on the weather for trade and survival. The characters are a seafaring crew who don’t shy away from illegal work, people from the margins whose life philosophy is that money and happiness should be grabbed wherever they happen to be found. The cast is ethnically diverse and most of the action is centered on women, including older women, who occupy positions of authority within the small world a story of this length allows. All of this is refreshing and a pleasure to read and the reason I was excited to pick up the book in the first place.

And yet, as much as I wanted to fall in love with The Drowning Eyes, as much as I liked its setting and magical elements, as much I enjoyed its characters individually, there were a few structural problems that stood in the way of the book having true momentum. It’s not that the story isn’t enjoyable; it’s just that, considering its premise, it comes across as a little underwhelming.

Read the full review at Strange Horizons >>

 

On Names and Where They Come From

Hello friends, and welcome to the post that will probably interest you if (1) you’ve read my scifi novella Three Keys in the Desert, or (2) you like reading meta about how writers come up with names for their characters.

If you’re part of group #1, I should tell you this post won’t expand the universe of the novella itself. What it will do is give you more background into who I am as an author and where my creative choices come from. (I’m not always into learning about the behind-the-scenes of the stories I like, so I just thought I’d disclose that up front.)

On the meaning of names

So, because Three Keys in the Desert was the first long work I wrote as an adult (the first draft of it, in 2007, was about 24,000 words) it was not only uncomfortably autobiographical but was also an amalgamation of all the things I loved and had always wanted to put into stories. Especially where names were concerned.

For this reason, a lot of the names I used in the novella meant something to me and had a whole backstory behind them. I made sure the names were always a reflection of the character’s identity, but often they also had personal significance to me, like my own secret little in-joke.

So, now I’m going to share some of those personal meanings, in no particular order.

1. Sol

As a kid I grew up watching the show “Chiquititas”, an Argentinian telenovela for kids. The storyline concerned an orphanage for girls in Argentina where everyone wore uniforms and sang songs every episode. If you’ve read the novella you can already see how the setting of that show is reminiscent of its setting 🙂

Sol was a character on “Chiquititas”, but in the first seasons (which are the ones I remember the most) she wasn’t actually part of the orphanage. She was the youngest girl on the show, maybe 10 years old, and lived in an apartment with a few of the supporting characters. I remember learning as a kid that “sol” was Spanish for “sun”.

Little Sol was truly a ray of sunshine. She smiled the most, she was the youngest and most adorable, and her life wasn’t as tragic as the lives of the orphan girls (at least at first). I knew very early on, when plotting Three Keys in the Desert, that my Sol would be none of those things.

Or rather, that she would be like an echo, or a memory, of that little girl.

 

2. Ebie

Growing up I loved a lot of what I call “old school HBO” shows. Most of them were historical fiction (for example, the amazing “Rome”), they had a huge budget, and they were doing things with historical narratives that I’d never really seen before.

I think the last show of this kind I watched before writing the novella was “Deadwood”. It was about a small 19th century settlement in the U.S. that transforms into a town, and the costs and benefits of civilization.

One of the characters on Deadwood was named E.B. Farnum. He owned a lodging house and over time became the town’s mayor. I doubt he was most people’s favorite character – he was cowardly, greedy, selfish, abusive to his employees, opportunistic. He had no backbone and no principles and not even good looks, or youth, or humor or wit to “redeem” him to the viewers.

Nevertheless, he was on “Deadwood” for as long as it ran, and he got a lot of attention and character development. If “Deadwood” was a show about human nature, then E.B. Farnum was a mirror of the worst parts of us ordinary folk. Arrogant, petty, a coward and often a fool. Nothing about him was attractive or interesting except his inherent humanity.

I remember thinking that of all the characters on “Deadwood” – the stalwart hero, the foul-mouthed brothel owner, the silly journalist, the compassionate doctor – E.B. Farnum was almost impossible to imagine being played by a woman.

I couldn’t find a single example of when a woman was allowed to play this sort of role, and remain on the side of “good”, and have significant character development over the course of multiple seasons. What would a woman playing the most cowardly, most wretched, most petty and mean and arrogant human who was still somehow perfectly average even look like? I couldn’t imagine a TV audience rooting for a woman who was all of these things, the way I was meant to be rooting for E.B. Farnum.

So, Ebie is named after him.

Of course, there’s almost nothing in common between Ebie and E.B. In fact Ebie is probably Farnum’s polar opposite. But when I created Ebie I thought of all her faults, and I thought to myself how far this flawed character was from the profound, “unattractive” flaws of E.B. Farnum, and I named her as a reminder to myself. As an aspiration.

Write more women who are flawed and “unsympathetic” and inherently, deeply, movingly human. Write about the ugliest parts of yourself. Women should be allowed to have their own stories, even when they’re only in it for themselves. Even when they’re not there to take care of anyone. Even when nothing about them is admirable.

 

3. Vrei

Vrei’s name, like a lot of the kids’ names (including “Ebie”) is meant to sound like it was meant to be a real name but didn’t quite get there. I wanted to create a sense for the reader that the kids in Three Keys in the Desert had fundamentally different names than the adults. I wanted them to be less obviously gendered, less obviously derived from a recognizable language.

Vrei was named after the French word “vrai”, which means “truth”. There’s an extra note of appropriateness, I guess, since Vrei spends most of the story looking for the truth about a certain incident.

As far as I’m aware, “vrai” isn’t a given name among French speakers anywhere. So, I wanted Vrei to create a sense of “huh, your name is kind of like a real word, except it isn’t”. It fit with how the system saw the kids in the story – they were almost like real people, but not quite.

 

4. Claudia

If Vrei and Ebie were meant to sound like names that were not-quite-names, I chose Claudia because it was a name that sounded ordinary and “normal” in so many languages. Spanish, Greek, French, Italian, English. I don’t have to change a single letter, and Claudia and is still Claudia. (If you’re wondering, I usually pronounce her name the Spanish way in my head.)

As an immigrant myself, I wanted the “permanence” of Claudia’s name to be an indication of her privilege. If the kids in Three Keys in the Desert have identities that are sort of blurry, as far as the system is concerned, Claudia is someone everyone sees very clearly.

It was also important for me to give her (and the other adults) a name with several syllables, contrary to the names of the children. There’s something very “indulgent” in a name that long. In a way, the kids had to have short names because they were moved so frequently. The shorter the name, the easier it is for new people to pronounce and remember. Which is a dynamic that’s never applied to people like Claudia.

 

5. Bo

The reason I chose this name is probably the simplest one yet. In the early outlines of the novella, Bo’s character was referred to simply as “boy”. He was Sol’s boy, the boy Kim befriends, the boy no one takes seriously. And so eventually I just settled on calling him “Bo”, for short.

The point of his character, in many ways, was that the things that happen to him are completely random. Nothing – from Sol choosing him, to the later events of the novella – is really due to his initiative or actions. In my head, he played a role that girls often play in these sorts of narratives, where they just react to things older and more powerful people do around them and to them. So, he was just “boy”.

 

So, these were some of my personal reasons for naming the characters as I did. I mean, you can tell this story took over a decade to finish because I have paragraphs of things to say about the names alone, haha. Anyway, if by some chance you haven’t read Three Keys in the Desert yet, the ebook is on sale for $0.99 until tomorrow, so now’s probably your best chance to get it for cheap.

If you’d like to get an email next time I publish something (probably in uh… a pretty long time), you can subscribe to my New Release Mailing List.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day.