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Writing the Other December 7, 2016

Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in Blog Tour, ex-cathedra from my navel, Forbidden Fiction, Haven's Fall, Rebel Mage, Release date, The School.
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In my initial outlines for Counsel of the Wicked, Matthias, the main character, was gay in a world of religious repression and rampant homophobia. Now, my characters have this habit of telling me things about themselves as I’m writing. It’s how I know I’ve written a good character, when one has taken on a life of his or her own. This tendency took an interesting turn in Counsel, when Matthias took the bit in his teeth in the middle of a chapter, and revealed that he wasn’t gay at all. He was asexual, and I had a problem. Every other time something like this has happened and I try to force the story back to where I thought it should be (no, the outline says you do THIS!), I’ve broken the story, so I’ve learned to go with it. But I had never written an ace character before; I had no idea how to write an asexual character without making them either a caricature or a stereotype. Which led to the question: What do I do now?

Well, like any good writer faced with a lack of knowledge, I started with research. I knew nothing at all about asexuality. Surprisingly, I found that Tumblr is actually a very good source of references for writers on alternative sexualities, with many links to websites that answered most of my questions and allowed me to finish the manuscript. Then I went looking for special beta readers—I sent out a request to my usual communities for readers who could tell me if I’d written Matthias properly. To my delight, I had eight people who identified as asexual come to me and volunteer. And to my dismay, four of them backed out when I gave them the trigger warnings for the manuscript. However, the other four read through the manuscript, and I was told that I’d written a good portrayal of a demi-romantic asexual character. I’d written a believable character who existed outside my personal identity.

I’d written “The Other.”

One of the biggest lies that creative writing students are taught is that they should write what they know. Really. I’m not sure how creative that actually is, but that’s what the book says. Write what you know. So, if I was writing what I know, I’d be writing books about an overweight, 40-something, Puerto-Rican/Italian, gluten-intolerant, bisexual, homeschooling, stay-at-home mom who’s been married for twenty years, and who is currently living in Central Florida. That’s a lot of adjectives, isn’t it? Well, if I’m writing what I know, that’s me, in a verbose nutshell. Now, tell me honestly, how many books do you think that would sell? One, maybe.

Needless to say, I’m not a big fan of “write what you know.”

I am, however, a huge proponent of the Rikki-Tikki-Tavi School of Creative Writing. When you don’t know something, run and find out. Odds are pretty good that you’re writing on a computer of some flavor, which means that there’s a wealth of information at your fingertips. Google is your very best friend, and there are always going to be people who will be willing to read what you’ve written, if only because it is important that all people be able to accurately see themselves in the mirror that is published fiction. Because all the stories can’t be about the overly-muscled white dude who saves the world, or the model with the lower back tattoo beating up on vampires or demons or whatever the monster of the week is in publishing at the moment. Sometimes, the stories need to be about the overweight, 40-something, Puerto-Rican/Italian, gluten-intolerant, bisexual, homeschooling, stay-at-home moms. Or the demi-ace boys.

A couple of months after Counsel of the Wicked came out, while I was hard at work on Haven’s Fall, I was invited to a dinner that had absolutely nothing to do with writing. It was a product demonstration, for a tester that you can use to see if there is gluten present in your food. It’s a fascinating little thing, a real boon to someone who can’t have gluten in any form, but who does have to travel and is at the mercy of restaurants more than is comfortable for someone to whom regular food can be poison. You know, like me.

Anyhow, I’m at this very nice dinner attended by all these big name bloggers and writers in the gluten-free industry, as well as others in the food industry. I spent most of my evening sitting next to the Head of Special Diets for Walt Disney World; that was pretty awesome! I’ll admit that by the time the salad showed up (the device said don’t eat the dressing!) I was wondering what the heck I was doing there. Then the organizer came over to talk with me.

“I wanted to thank you,” she said. “Your book is the first one I’ve ever seen with an asexual main character. My daughter is asexual.”

That is the why of writing outside your identity. Of turning your back on writing what you know and instead doing the work so that you can competently and respectfully write beyond your limits. Because it matters.

havensfall_cvrprt

Haven’s Fall is now available in print and ebook forms.

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Frozen sexuality December 6, 2013

Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in ex-cathedra from my navel, Frozen, mind blown, music.
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If you’ve been anywhere on the internet today, you know that Disney released a video of the big number from the new movie Frozen. If you missed it, here. I’ll wait

Now, I haven’t seen the movie yet. We’re waiting for Winter Break, so we can all go together. But I’m VERY interested in this movie. Not only is this Disney’s first stab at feminism (and, from what I’ve heard, they do it very well. What took you so long, Disney?), but Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) is being heralded as Disney’s first queer heroine.* Granted, it’s all subtext. But if this video is any indication, that is some really durned loud subtext.

Now, I’m not going to comment on that. I haven’t seen the movie, and I’m basing this all on a three-and-a-half-minute showstopping song. What I noticed in that 3:38 is Elsa’s sexual awakening. When we first see her, she is completely covered from neck to toes (minus the one glove). Her hair is bound up tight, and she reads as being very young (and isn’t it something that you can get pixels to project body language?) She’s completely repressed, and admits it: “Be the good girl you always have to be. Conceal, don’t feel.”

Be the good girl.

Remember. Good girls don’t do that.

Then she turns her back on what she’s been taught, turns away from everything she’s been lead to be afraid of, and accepts herself without worrying about anyone else : “I don’t care what they’re going to say.”

And then the cloak goes. That first layer of repression is gone, and she blossoms, casting off her old world for the one that she creates.

Then she lets her hair down. And we go from little girl to siren in one swell foop. Cleavage and dress slit up her thigh, possibly barefoot (hard to tell in the clip). And that swagger! This is a woman who has claimed her sexuality, and isn’t afraid of herself any more.

Honestly, if I can get that out of three and a half minutes, I wonder what I’ll get out of the rest of the movie???

 

*(We’re not counting what they’ve done with Once Upon a Time here. OUaT is for adults. They have a lot more leeway with what they’ll do with sex and sexual innuendo after 8PM)

What do you think of? March 1, 2013

Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in deep thoughts, ex-cathedra from my navel.
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I was at lunch with a good friend a few months ago, sitting outside at Panera. We watched a raven land nearby, and she turned to me and asked, “What do you think of when you see a raven?”

Like I said, she’s a good friend. She’s read Princes of Air, and The Ice Raven, and I’ve bounced ideas for The White Raven off of her, looking for feedback. So I’m pretty sure that’s where the question came from. And I didn’t have an answer for her. I’m still not sure I do, but every so often, that question comes back to mind. Usually, when I see a raven.

What do I think? What do I think?

The answer is, I’m not sure.

Ravens have always been fascinating to me, to the point that my craft name (one of them) is Corvidae. I’m sitting here writing this right now with a Lego raven on my desk, and a Nene Thomas Faery of Ravens print on the wall. There’s a Tlingit raven on my pentacle, so it is kind of obvious that I really dig ravens.

Totem animal? Maybe. Traditionally, ravens were considered messengers, the keepers of wisdom and magic and bearers of prophecy. In Celtic mythology, they were associated with battle (because of the Battle Raven, the Goddess Morrigan). I suppose a messenger is a good totem for a writer to have.

Now, that being said, I really didn’t mean to rewrite Celtic mythology when I wrote those stories! But apparently, I have — some of the reviews have basically said I’m retelling stories of the Morrigan that they never knew existed. And I’ve had to tell them that they never did before I told them, that my Raven Boys are creations of my own imagination. Or maybe the keepers of secrets really are whispering in my ears. I never really know what stories are going to flow out of my fingers when I sit down to start writing, and the stories of mine that have really had legs have all come to me in dreams.

So, what do I think of when I see a raven?

I think “Thank you, for giving me these stories to tell.”

How many shades of what? March 12, 2012

Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in ex-cathedra from my navel, fandom, fanfic, MFU, Sherlock, writing.
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My brain doesn’t want me to work on anything productive today (by which I mean paying copy). Instead, it wants to play, and write fanfiction.

I’m an odd duck among writers. I love fanfiction. I know there are writers out there who think fanfiction is TEH EVIL OMG!!!! I’m not one of them. I love fanfiction. I write it, I read it, and if it ever comes out that there is fanfiction of one of my works, I will know that I’ve made it. It means that someone likes what I write enough to want to play in my world. How is this a bad thing?

Well, okay. It’s a bad thing when someone tried to take advantage of the author (which supposedly happened to Marion Zimmer Bradley. I say supposedly, because I’ve finally heard the other side of the story, and the question of who took advantage of whom is open to debate).

And now we have the incredible popularity of 50 Shades of Gray, which the author admits started as Twilight fanfiction.  I haven’t read Twilight, and based on the reviews I’ve read, I’ve no intention of reading 50 Shades of Gray. Therefore, I am not qualified to have an opinion on the subject either way.  So I’m not going to get in to the ethics of sanding off the serial numbers on a fanfic and cashing in on someone else’s fanbase. It’s a sticky situation, and I’m not sure where I stand.

As I said, I love fanfiction. I’ve written fanfiction for Man from UNCLE, for Gatchaman and for Sherlock, all three of which offer some really challenging characters to write (try getting into the heads of Solo and Kuryakin, or Condor Joe, or Sherlock — I still haven’t mastered Sherlock, so I write from Watson’s POV).

I think it is a fantastic training ground for young writers. Getting a handle on someone else’s world, on someone else’s characters, that can be challenging. Doing it well can be even more challenging. But there is something relaxing about not having to make all the rules. If you play in someone else’s sandbox, you come into it with an established structure and a world already built. You can focus on telling the story you want to tell. For me, that’s playtime.  And for a number of other writers, too. Elizabeth Bear writes some really nice Man from UNCLE fanfic (including one that I cannot find anymore that was a crossover with Torchwood). Cecilia Tan writes Harry Potter fanfiction.  And  Melanie Rawn used to write the most amazing Star Wars fanfiction under the name Ellen Randolph (sadly, not on the web and no longer in print.)

So,  whenever someone says “You’re not a REAL writer, you just write fanfiction,” I can point them at my Amazon author page and say “Oh, really?”

Fanfiction is fun. I’m all for having fun.

Upcoming appearance! September 3, 2011

Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in appearances, author chat, Carnal Machines, ex-cathedra from my navel, promotions, public displays of geekery, RWA.
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The Writer’s Studio
Central Florida Romance Writers of America
Saturday, November 5th
10:00 AM
Casselberry Public Library, 215 N. Oxford Rd., Casselberry, FL 32707

I’ll be in the spotlight as part of the Writer’s Studio program with the Central Florida Romance Writers of America. I’ll be reading from Carnal Machines, answering questions and having a good time! If you’re in the area, and at all interested in learning about the craft of writing or about the RWA, come check it out.

I will have signed copies of Carnal Machines for sale.

Following my portion of the program, there will be a presentation by Eileen Horan on Online Safety for Women.

>On Publishing July 3, 2010

Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in ex-cathedra from my navel, publishing, writing.
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>I wrote this for a writing group of which I am a member. I’m the only one with pro credits, so they asked me about publishing and how to get published. Here’s what I came up with:

*

First, Publishing is NOT like what you see in TV (Ignore Castle. The writers I know who watch it think it’s a comedy). Publishing is slow, subjective, and the writer very rarely gets rich. I can think of three off the top of my head who did (Stephen King, JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer). Most writers I know either have a day job that pays their bills, a spouse/partner who supports them, or can bring in enough in royalties that they can support themselves, a dog and a cat (and that writer has a roommate who helps with the rent. And even she occasionally flirts with the idea of getting a real job. There’s no health insurance in writing.)

The most important thing is that you have to be persistent. Publishing is a REALLY subjective business. What one agent or publisher turns down might find a home with another. Don’t let the rejections get to you. Most of them are form letters, anyway, when you get an answer at all. A good number of agents and publishers are of the “no answer means no” school.

Before you even thing about selling anything, make sure it’s the best work you can possibly turn out. Join crit groups like this one, but make sure that the membership is not open to the public. Public posting of your work ANYWHERE, evne if you made no money on it, means that you’ve given away your first serial rights. One group that I like a lot is the Online Writer’s Workshop — where your work can possibly be read by Elizabeth Bear, Joshua Palmatier and C.C Finley, all of whom are alums. This is something you can put in your query letter to an agent that really makes them take notice. Oh, and make sure that you keep your wordcount in spec — an adult novel over 100,000 words is pushing it. 80,000 is better. A YA novel over 60,000 or so is too long. If you write an epic 200,000 tome, you’ll never get it looked at. Ask me how I know…

If you’re selling anything longer than a novella for your first sale, then you want to try for an agent. You REALLY, REALLY want an agent if you’re going the traditional publishing route (I’m mostly doing e-books right now, so I don’t have an agent.) Expect a lot of rejections, unless you’ve managed to write the next Twilight, (in which case, I hate you). Personally, I’ve queried over a hundred agents for the novel that I wrote with a friend. Please note above that I said I don’t have an agent. 😉  Get a copy of the current Writer’s Guide — it lists agencies, and you can see which agencies cover your genre. You can also check Querytracker, Agent in a Box, or AgentQuery. Do your research. You want to be a good fit with your agent. You will (hopefully) be with them for a long time.

The reason that you need an agent is that there are very few traditional publishing houses that take submissions from unagented writers. In the Science Fiction world, there are two – Tor and Baen. (Right now, that novel is out in the slush pile at Baen). Now, if you submit to a publisher, and you get an offer (my fingers are crossed here), then you can go to an agent and ask them to represent you. Nine times out of ten, they’ll say yes. This is like free money to them — they get their 15 percent without having to do the groundwork to sell the book. (They’ll sell the REST of your books for you, and make sure you get the best possible contracts. Trust me on this. You NEED an agent in traditional publishing).

Now, there is one thing I cannot stress enough. MONEY GOES TO THE AUTHOR. The author doesn’t pay the agent — they take their cut out of what the publisher pays. The author also doesn’t pay the publisher. EVER. If anyone ever tells you that you need to pay reading fees or editing fees or that you have to buy so many copies of your book to see it in print, RUN.

Now, the reason I keep saying ‘traditional publishing’ is because with e-books publishers, the rules are a little different. There are no advances, for one. You either get paid a flat fee and royalties, or you just get royalties. This does not suck — in traditional publishing, if the publisher doesn’t make back your advance with book sales, you never see a penny of royalties. With e-books, we’re talking months to publication, not years (in most cases. I’ve just hit my second anniversary of my first sale, and that story should see publication this month.) You don’t need an agent, and most of them are open for submissions all the time. The turnaround for submissions is faster, too. That novel at Baen? I’ll hear about that sometime next year. I have a novelette out with Cobblestone Press, and I should hear about that by September (they have a 90 day turnaround.)  To learn more about e-book publishing, check out EPIC.

Have I covered it all?