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Hello, new folllowers! This is both a status post and what I call a processing post, where I reflect on things that have been happening and will be happening. Please be advised that this sort of post is not a request for advice and does not require any feedback. If you’re curious to know what’s going on in my life and in my head… well, that’s what blogs are for. I am more than capable of asking for advice if I need it.

Anyway…

February was an interesting experience after the creative high of January, when I wrote over 60,000 words of fiction and got a lot of amazing things done. I figured things would basically continue on the same, but… stuff kept happening. In retrospect, the same kinds of stuff happened in January. The difference was that in January, my creative momentum let me roll with it. In February, I just crashed and burned. Even trying to edit/format fiction I’d previously written was a lot harder. I kept telling myself that if I could just get past _____, I would get my feet under me and then make up some lost ground.

It was on the very last day of February that I finally gave up and decided it was okay that this never happened. My January word count is still amazing even divided out over two months, and I’d already approached February with the idea that I’d likely write less even if I had another amazing month. So it ended up being way less. I can live with that.

Once I let go of the idea that I was going to make up for my missed fiction-writing plans in the remainder of the month, I realized that the problem all along was that I’d been suffering something like burnout. I did ALL THE WRITING in January and needed to ease off in February. Not a big deal, and something I can certainly account for going forward. As much as I’d like to believe I can take what I did in January and be a fiction-outputting machine year round, that’s just not now things work.

So from here on out, I’m going to take my January approach of throwing myself into one project at a time and add another wrinkle: after a month of hyperfocus, a month to decompress, where I don’t place any creative demands on myself. It’s not a month of, but a month off from the pressure of producing wordcount. The things I did accomplish in February that relate to the business side of writing all happened in times when I excused myself from writing because of temporary physical impediments.

So January was a creative month, February was not. March will be, April will not be (which is handy because it’s a crunch/stress month for the business side), May will be, June won’t be (which is handy because WisCon tends to wipe me out for at least a week, more if I get sick), and so on. It’s not a perfect system as, for instance, WisCon falls during one of the “on” months, but I had my out-of-state family holiday gathering in January and it didn’t break my stride.

As I type this out, it seems incredibly obvious in retrospect that “intentionally trigger hyperfocus on one creative project after another indefinitely” was not a sustainable plan.

It’s not like February was a total wash. My political commentary continued to attract attention (and a lot of new eyes), and even brought in a little money that allowed me to deal with what might otherwise have been serious crises. I’ll need to find a sustainable balance between that and fiction as we go into March, but I managed that okay in January.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Late last night, I broke down Trump’s address to the joint session of Congress on Twitter. At the time I said that it was the best speech he’s given yet, though I qualified that this was not a compliment to him so much as a warning to all of us: the regime is stepping up its messaging game, and we all have to be ready.

I predicted a lot of people would be taken in by the shiny new packaging and a patriotic wrapper provided by speechwriter Vince Haley, and when I got up this morning and checked the news sites, I found that I was right.

People sometimes ask me what news outlets I read. The answer is: as many of them as I can. And even beyond that, I look at the headlines and preview text for more. The reason I do this is because I’m trying to get a complete picture not just of what’s happening, but how it’s being framed… the meta-story of a story, if you will.

The meta-story on last night’s speech is: Donald Trump is a complete liar who has never looked more presidential than in this speech where he called for unity while saying things that are manifestly and obviously untrue. He passed a major test in what was sure to be a turning point for his presidency, and he was lying to us the whole time.

By some estimates, he told an average of one verifiable lie or inaccuracy nearly every minute.  And the pundits and talk show hosts and talking heads ate it up and begged him to keep serving more of the same.

Understand, individual people aren’t saying all of this together. Instead, we have fact-checking pieces and rebuttal pieces addressing specific claims and pointing out specific falsehoods, and side-by-side with that we have reaction pieces that talk about how it all came off. What I’m not seeing from the conventional media is anything that puts together the whole picture, of what it means that he gave a surprisingly good speech with a new, burnished and polished persona, and told more of the same lies he’s been telling.

We have a word in the English language for when someone stands up for an hour and says things that aren’t true, but which he wishes to be accepted as true, and which he makes palatable by wrapping up in patriotic imagery and inspiring platitudes and bromides about how we like things that are good and dislike things that are bad, until people find themselves nodding along with conclusions that in better circumstances they would have examined more carefully.

That word is propaganda.

The news media is not about to stand up and say that Donald Trump delivered an hour of propaganda, though, because where the line falls between a persuasive speech that is slickly packaged and actual propaganda is too subjective a determination for any one person to make.

I mean, it would be kind of like saying that someone was being presidential.

Realistically, the media has got to get better at handling things like this if they (and the rest of us) are going to survive Trump’s regime. They have got to stop acting like they’re safely up in an announcer’s box providing color commentary on a struggle confined to a playing field that neither includes them nor has any consequences that extend out of bounds.

This is not a game, there are no boundaries or safe zones or rules or timeouts, and they themselves are very much in play as designated enemies in a declared war.

Anyone who thinks that this speech signals the beginning of a whole new era with a whole new Trump is in for a rude awakening. CNN is already reporting that the White House has chosen to delay rolling out the revised Muslim travel ban executive order, so as to extend the honeymoon period for the speech.

Now, if the problem with how his actions have been received to date really were, as he’s suggested recently, a problem of “messaging”, then the smart thing to do would be to push forward with it now, while he has the public’s goodwill and has had his message accepted by the viewing audience.

If they’re in a position where they’re dead sure that releasing the executive order now would not just fail to capitalize on the momentum of the speech but kill it, they must know it’s not good.

Which is no surprise, since Stephen Miller already admitted the goal is to get to the same policy outcome with different wording.

This means that we who resist can look forward to the belated honeymoon period being over before too long, no matter how worrying it is that it’s happening.

As the day has worn on and the obvious takes get shoved out of the way, there are some signs that some in the media are paying attention to the undercurrents. An analysis piece dropped by the Washington Post shows some real savviness. It makes the point that however many hands wrote the speech, Steve Bannon and Team Chaotic Evil are still obviously calling the shots, policy-wise.

And of course, outside the mainstream media, plenty of well-followed Twitter commentators apart from myself have picked up on the rhetorical tricks that the speech employed. So, I don’t think that this speech will be the turning point at which the American people line up behind Trump or the resistance falls apart. It’s no time to get complacent, but it’s only the first step in a new battle over messaging.

The regime fully realizes how effective it was, but they also know the reality of what they’re peddling doesn’t match the sales pitch. How much mileage they wring out of these new gimmicks before the public catches on to that is going to depend in large part on how badly the tweeter-in-chief does at staying “on message” when he’s not reading a script in the august chambers of Congress.

Here’s hoping he stays true to form.


Support the author on Patreon.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Until recently, we had been planning on attending WorldCon 75 in Helsinki this coming fall as a family. Given the state of the republic right now, we’re not comfortable being committed to taking our visibly queer, vocally anti-Regime selves across the U.S. border and back. So, with a somewhat heavy heart, I’m announcing our decision to stay home.

Our change of plans can be your stroke of luck, though. We purchased our (non-refundable, but transferable) memberships before the price went up. If you’re interested in attending, please know that we have three adult memberships to sell, one with the first-time World Con discount (80 euros, when we bought it) and two without (120 euros). The discounted one can only be transferred to someone who qualifies for it. The three memberships do not have to be transferred to the same party.

If you’re interested in buying one or more of the memberships, please send an email to blueauthor at gmail dot com. Please make sure you specify how many and which. We’ll be doing this first come, first served. The exchange rate right now is such that we’ll take 80 or 120 as appropriate in either USD or EUR, just to keep things simple. Either way we’ll be losing a little bit on it compared to what we paid, but that’s fine.

I believe the nomination period for Hugos runs through mid-March, so if you snatch these up before then, you will have nominating privileges. Even after that, WorldCon membership carries voting privileges.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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It has been a heck of a month. I’ve mainly been talking about what’s been going on in my life (and everywhere else) on the social mediums, because I’ve mostly been on my phone instead of the computer. So, as some of you already know, the prescription ran out in my glasses. I was starting to get horrific headaches when I wore them too long, and particularly when I used them to read the computer screen… combination of brightness, focusing on tiny text, and the distance, I guess.

I’d already mostly switched to doing close-up reading with my glasses off in the past few months; that’s fine on the phone, doesn’t work for the computer, especially with my semi-recumbent setup.

I do a lot of writing on hand-held devices in an average month anyway, but I don’t like editing or publishing things without a full-sized computer screen because you can’t really get the big picture of what you’re looking at when you’re seeing just a few lines at a time. Blogging, too. My last blog post (about the Bill O’Reilly interview) was written 95% on the phone, but I got on the computer to finish it and post it.

I’ve doing well enough that I was able to get an eye appointment at a discount place, at least, which happened a couple days after that last blog post. The bad news is that discount equals not very fast; the good news is that it took a few days less than quoted. I was expecting them to come in, oh, about this Thursday. I got the call Saturday that they were ready. Even better: the back-up pairs I ordered from Zenni Optical at the same time also arrived Saturday.

With working glasses and a little bit of money, we did a lot of running around this weekend, taking care of stuff that we’ve been needing to take care of for a while. Somewhere along the way, Jack and I picked up a respiratory bug that kept me up Sunday night and knocked me out for most of yesterday. I’m still a little under the weather, so today is very much going to be playing it by ear.

For those who haven’t followed me through previous illnesses – I have a mitochondrial condition that manifests as extreme fatigue, and is exacerbated by illness. When I’m sick, I’m sick and tired, and I don’t mean a little sleepy, I mean deep-down, all-over, in-the-bone fatigue.

Now, while I haven’t been able to edit or do writing work on longer projects, I have not been idle. One reason I’m not good at the non-writing parts of the business is – I would rather be writing. Stuck off the computer but with a working phone, I’ve been messaging people, arranging some collaborations and commissioning some artwork and such, to make my upcoming fiction debuts a little slicker and more memorable than they might otherwise be.

Meanwhile – I’ve got quite a backlog of stuff to get through. I’m going to be pretty much posting at least a thing a day for the rest of the month.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Bill O’Reilly opens the interview by buttering Trump up, saying Gorsuch “roll-out” went “very smooth”. Trump talks over him to agree/insist “Yes, it did. Yes, it did.” I think O’Reilly understood he needed to nod to Trump’s dream world in order to start the interview on a good footing. The importance of establishing frame when dealing with Trump cannot be underestimated.

With this goodwill established, O’Reilly pivots to the Muslim travel ban, contrasting it as “less smooth”. Trump responds by repeating the figure of “109 people” out of “hundreds of thousands of travelers”. Now, this was put out by the White House as a preliminary figure early on in the ban’s enforcement. Even if there was a point at which it was ever accurate (and that is not clear), it was very quickly obsolete.

Figuring out exact numbers for who was affected by the ban would be tricky, because you’ve got the people who were detained, you have people who were prevented from boarding flights, and you’ve got people who canceled their plans before they got to the airport or checked in for their flights.

Trump says that “all that happened” to the “109 people” is they were “vetted very carefully”. No part of this is true. People were denied medicine or access to healthcare, forced to surrender their visas (some of which were physically cancelled; we’re told that they’ll be reissued, but the former holders must actually apply for this), deported, turned away at the airport, etc. People who sold everything they owned for a plane ticket wound up stranded in limbo.

The “vetting process”, by all accounts, consisted of “bad cop” intimidation tactics, grilling on social media usage, and questions about their opinions on Donald Trump personally. What value or security this added to the already extreme vetting process that the refugees, travelers, and residents had gone through to get to this point is not clear.

Bill O’Reilly closes this topic by asking Trump if he would do anything different. Trump demures; O’Reilly presses him (at least to a point) by bringing up the apparent fact that some of Trump’s people didn’t know what was going on. Trump rebuts, “That’s not what General Kelly said.” It’s true that General (now Secretary) Kelly of the DHS did come out and do some damage control, pushing back on the reports that there was no coordination or advance warning and DHS was operating in the dark. But it’s also true that this transparently was damage control; it was a case of “Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?” Kelly is clearly a very loyal man who prizes the appearance of an orderly implementation over his own integrity. Trump closes his invocation of John Kelly by attributing the figure of only 109 people affected overall to him.

O’Reilly then (somewhat mercifully) closes the segment, turning to Iran.

O’Reilly’s question is if Trump thinks that our country is on a collision course with Iran. Trump’s response, naturally, is an utter non sequitur. He immediately begins talking about how it’s the worst deal he’s ever seen, a terrible deal. There is no specification of what deal this might be, but O’Reilly is clearly used to Trump’s “conversation” style, as he prompts Trump to clarify.

Trump, of course, is talking about what he and other Republicans categorized as a “ransom”: a cash delivery we made to Iran under the Obama administration. As Trump tells it: there was no reason for the deal, and we have nothing to show for it, so it shouldn’t have been made.

Well, here’s the thing, babies: this “deal” was actually a debt the United States owed to Iran. Iran’s government, pre-revolution, paid us $400 million for some fighter jets. When a popular revolution deposed the CIA-installed puppet government that had bought those jets, the U.S. canceled the deal but kept the money. Iran quite understandably felt the money should be returned, and sought a judgment against the United States. We owed them the original $400 million plus interest, which over the course of three and a half decades added up to $1.3 billion dollars. That plus the initial $0.4 billion payment adds up to the $1.7 billion “deal” that Trump is talking about.

So, basically, the situation is this: for better or worse, we walked away from a contract after they gave us their end of the deal, wihtout holding up our end. We were sued and agreed to make good on the debt.

Of course Donald Trump sees this as a “bad deal”. He breaks contracts all the time. If there is nothing for him in keeping his end of a bargain, he won’t keep it. And if he’s sued, he’ll drown the plaintiff in paperwork and ignore the judgment until the other party agrees to take whatever he feels like just to get something back. I threaded on this the other day, on how he’s trying to apply this “principle” (for lack of a better word) to international diplomacy and how it’s not going well for him.

Now, we paid back the principle (the initial $400 million payment, which was actually frozen in a trust this whole time) and agreed to pay the interest, as part of a negotiated settlement that avoids ten billion dollars in punitive damages Iran had sought. Donald Trump is talking about “possibly tearing up” this settlement because he doesn’t see what the benefit of paying $1.7 billion dollars that we owe instead of facing a damaging arbitration process.

You can read more about the specifics of the deal (and holes in the theory that it was a “ransom” paid) on Snopes.

Trump refers to Iran as “the number one terrorist state” and says they’re “sending weapons and money everywhere”. Well, I don’t know much about that. It’s possible he’s caught one or two more daily intelligence briefings than I have. I’ll take his word for it.

“Sanctions,” O’Reilly says. It’s a statement. It has the feel of a lifeline. “You’re going to start with that?”

There’s nothing really substantive about Trump’s plans for Iran, though, because he is holding to the line that it’s “stupid” to tell people what you’re going to do. It’s clear he views the entire conflict as an appendage-measuring contest, and he believes Iran does, too.

Then they come on to the segment that circulated as a teaser: the Putin question. I think many more people saw this on social media or read about it than watched the interview: O’Reilly asks Trump if he respects Putin, Trump affirms that he does. O’Reilly says, with a credible level of exasperation, “WHY?” Trump’s answer, par for course, is rambling and without substance: Putin’s a leader, Trump respects a lot of people, the fight against ISIS is like super hard you guys, etc. O’Reilly interjects, “He’s a killer, though! He’s a killer!”

And Trump’s response, my hand to gosh, is “Lotta killers. Gotta lotta killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?”

A lot of people with rosy glasses that are half full on the left-wing side of the aisle saw this as a valid critique of our government’s excesses rather than an attempt to excuse Putin’s brutal and self-serving murderous tendencies, but let’s be honest: O’Reilly is talking about Putin’s habit of assassinating critics, rivals, and even allies who know too much and can do too little, and Donald Trump is shrugging and saying that he’s pretty sure everybody does that kind of thing. Everyone makes mistakes! He brings up the Iraq War as an example of a mistake that killed a lot of people, and he’s not wrong there, but it’s changing the subject from “you admire a bloodthirsty autocrat, should we be worried?” to “Donald Trump was always totes right about the Iraq War, you guys. Ask Sean Hannity!”

I think that’s the point where Bill O’Reilly, God bless a piece of him, just gives up. He stops making any pretense of trying to hold Donald Trump to answering any questions. He brings up the call to Mexico. He asks point blank if it’s true that Donald Trump said he would send troops across the border to clean up the “bad hombres”. Donald Trump digresses into what was clearly a very well-rehearsed, well-scripted answer that both neatly sidesteps the yes/no and gives an alternate explanation for the reported remark: he was offering help, which President Peña Nieto was receptive to. Does he consider Mexico a corrupt country? He loves the people, he gets along great with their president. What sort of tariff might pay for the wall? It’s an unfair situation, allthe jobs and plants, but Trump has personally turned it all around already.

Sidenote here: it has been reported that Trump, the Great Negotiator, agreed to completely stop talking about who will pay for the wall in public.

When Trump is bragging about all the companies that he has supposedly talked into bringing jobs back, O’Reilly characterizes it as Trump intimidating them. Trump disagrees, saying they’re just doing what’s right. O’Reilly is kind of beside himself at this. The idea of a president strongarming businesses into making decisions that fit his agenda is the sort of thing that should get any so-called conservative’s ire up. Bill O’Reilly makes an attempt here, but his heart’s not in it.

On domestic affairs, O’Reilly mentions that he just got back from California, whose legislature is voting to become a “sanctuary state”. O’Reilly says that this sets California and the United States on a collision course (isn’t that pretty much what the San Andreas fault is?). He really seems to like that phrase.

Trump immediately starts talking about defunding the entire state of California. O’Reilly seems a bit incredulous; perhaps he is aware that the “coastal elite” states like California actually fund the federal government and pay for the federal spending in Trump’s “real America”. California pays the federal government $1 for the privilege of getting 70 cents back. Trump certainly doesn’t seem to know this; to hear him talk about California’s out of control lifestyle, he thinks the rest of the country is paying it welfare. O’Reilly presses: “So defunding is your weapon of choice?” Trump is sticking to not committing to any specific action: “It’s a weapon. Look, I don’t want to defund anybody!”

Buddy, you brought it up.

Again, O’Reilly has no stomach for pressing Trump. He moves on, and with obvious trepidation and more than a bit of hedging, asks if Donald Trump might not have something of a strained relationship with factual things that can be backed up. This segment is basically like someone talking to Donald Trump’s Twitter. O’Reilly says that “some people” are saying it’s irresponsible for Donald Trump to claim that millions of people voted illegally wihtout any data to back them up. Donald’s first response, right out of the gate, is, “Well, you know, many people have come out and said that I’m right.”

He’s not wrong there. Many people who heard it from him or read on their uncle’s Facebook page (who heard it from him) have said he’s right, because the thing he’s saying backs up their worldview. Donald Trump’s alternate reality take on this sort of thing exists in a feedback loop with his audience, where they say a thing and he picks it up which proves it’s true to them, and he says a thing and they pick it up, which proves it’s right to him. It’s like Beavis and Butthead copying off each other on a test neither of them studied for.

Now, there’s a new wrinkle to Donald’s discourse here. He says, “It doesn’t have to do with the vote, though that is the end result. It has to do with the registration.” He talks about how the voter registration rolls have dead people, people who’ve moved, etc. Which, they do. Clearly someone close to Trump has tried to explain this to him, and made a lot of headway. But he’s still convinced that this backs him up, somehow, in his contention that there are millions of illegal votes.

O’Reilly lets Donald go through his spiel, and then says, “So, you think you’re going to be proven correct in that statement.”

And Donald says, and I kid you not, he says: “Well, I think I already have. A lot of people have come out and said that I am correct.”

Now, O’Reilly does the bravest thing of his career here, in that he contradicts Donald Trump and tries to explain the concept of “proof” to him: “The data has to show that three million ‘illegals’ voted.”

And Trump says, “Look, forget that! Forget all of that!” How many times did his advisors tell him that, I wonder? “Just take a look at the registration!” He then explains he’s setting up a commission headed by Mike Pence.

O’Reilly says, “Good, let’s get to the bottom of this.” and moves on to a real softball: can we expect a tax cut this year? Yes, Trump says, and probably before the end of the year.

Can we expect a new healthcare plan this year? Yes, well, no, Obamacare is a disaster, maybe, but definitely by the end of next year. It’s complicated, Trump says, but “You have to remember: Obamacare doesn’t work.”

Last question is a soft one, though O’Reilly does slip in a reference to one of the worrying factoids of Trump’s life (that he only gets four hours of sleep a night): does Donald ever have a moment, say when his head hits the pillow, where he can’t believe he’s really the president of the United States?

Donald Trump, to his credit, has the good grace to look directly at the camera like a character on The Office for a moment when Bill O’Reilly asks that. His answer isn’t that interesting or that convincing. From there the interview turns into a discussion of the then-upcoming game, which is now over.. It’s only interesting because when O’Reilly tells his subject that Fox Sports is demanding he gets a Super Bowl prediction from him, Trump insists that he doesn’t like to make predictions. This is funny since I can remember him crowing on Twitter about a few things he supposedly predicted. When the Pulse shooting happened, wasn’t he talking about how many people had congratulated him for predicting it?

I think what he meant was he doesn’t like saying a hard number for something that will be settled one way or the other within a few hours, as opposed to predictions that amount to “Somewhere in a nation of three hundred million people, something bad will happen, mark my words.”

Anyway. That was the Bill O’Reilly interview of Donald Trump. It’ll probably be a lot more entertaining when Alec Baldwin does it.


If you appreciate this analysis, please feel free to tip the author and share the link on your social medium of choice.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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…but I think that might be good, long-term. My explosively amazing writing week on Secret Sisterhood was a planning session that took off creatively. Not every planning session’s going to do that. But it helped crystallize for me how much good planning and good writing go hand-in-hand. One of the reasons my projects soar like eagles at the beginning isn’t just “new relationship energy”, it’s that… historically… that’s the time I do the most actual planning out of what I’m going to write.

I don’t think of it in those terms, but I’m sketching out characters and relationships and elements of the world, and all the other things that go into what I’m going to write. Formal outlining does nothing for me, but an elaborate framework does a lot.

I just signed into the @talesofmu Twitter account to let people know that the coda chapter will go up on Monday, and the unplanned hiatus/stall will end in March. I went back and forth on that a bunch this week, but the fact that Secret Sisterhood is moving forward (located sensitivity readers and talked to some artists!) helped me make the decision, under the principle of “One Thing At A Time”.

For the next four weeks, I’m going to give one week to Making Out Like Bandits (again, did more planning than writing in the last week given to it, so I don’t have a big backlog for it), one for developing and writing a standalone story, one for Secret Sisterhood, and one for revisiting and reviving another dormant story.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Okay, so. I’m both farther behind and farther ahead than I thought I’d be with Tales of MU.

I’m farther ahead in that I now have solid ideas for *two* subsequent stories I want to tell after the current one is put to bed. I was kind of hopeful that taking off some of the pressure would make things easier, and my mind responded by racing ahead.

The “coda” chapter to wind up the current storyline is getting some re-writes to support the other future storyline. I was trying really hard to get it up during the calendar month of January in order to maximize the usefulness of the Patreon payout for it, but that felt hollow and forced.

My early experiences publishing online got me hooked on the rush of instant gratification. After spending January writing reams and reams of stuff for later publication, taking time to polish and arrange it. And the extreme pace at which the political and civic landscape of the United States has been changing has generated a lot of work for someone who can take in information and synthesize an understanding of it quickly, so the financial hit of deferring Tales of MU’s post didn’t actually hurt much.

I’m still putting together the schedule for when Tales of MU resumes. The fact that I keep jumping ahead mentally to the next-next story is making it complicated. It’s about 50/50 that the next MU story will begin updating beginning this month, or next month.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Yesterday, a conclave of Democratic United States Senators descended on the Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for a retreat that was a bit less noticed than the GOP Congressional retreat in Philadelphia. It was likely put together hastily as an emergency measure for an emergency situation, and I’m going to have more to say about it later.

But first.

Women’s March on Washington of West Virginia – Shepherdstown didn’t have a lot of time to put together an organized response to the Democratic presence, but they pulled it together beautifully.

Circumstances prevented us from participating in the Women’s March on January 21st, in part because of accessibility concerns and the need to pace our shows of resistance, given our various disabilities.

But this action was largely stationary, and taking place on and near the Potomac Bridge, in sight of the frankly quite splendid inn where the Senators were gathered. This was important because there are little overlook areas with seating near the ends of the bridge, and the one nearest the inn has a little parking area with a couple 15 minute parking spots for people to enjoy the view or grab a picture, and some handicapped parking spaces that made this action a lot more accessible.

My partner Jack and I arrived at the bridge before sunup, before seven. We were meeting a friend from Shepherdstown who was absolutely needed at work today and could not participate in the action during its scheduled hours of nine o’clock on. So, we got there before anyone else and we parked without issues, and we took up position in the cold and the light rain as the sun came up over the Potomac. We were out there, “doin’ a freedom,” as the youths probably say (hashtag: #DoingAFreedom), flanking the group’s sign (“HEAR OUR VOICE”) on the bridge when the Senators in their rooms got their first look at it in the morning light. We were there when the marchers proper arrived, and had been there for just over two hours at that point.

Jack had to find a bathroom shortly after that, and this is where our trouble began. Rather than searching the campus of the nearby Shepherd University, he took his car and drove straight off to a nearby convenience store he knew would serve. While he was gone, a group of police cars pulled into the access drive for the little parking area for a little inter-agency confab.

And I have to say, there were probably 3 or 4 different police agencies there, at a spot on a state border with U.S. Senators taking up residence and a university right there, and I have to say that they were polite and friendly and supportive of the admittedly very visibly majority white crowd. I have no complaints about their overall conduct.

But they were making the accessible parking… inaccessible.

So, I went over to talk to them (second bravest thing I did all day, given that I am acrophobic and have an especial terror of bridges) and I started by asking, politely, if access to the handicapped spaces was being restricted for security reasons, or if protesters were able to use it.

“Oh, no!” one of them said. “There’s not a lot, but if someone needs it, they can use!”

I pointed out that they were blocking it, and was told they’d just pulled in for a minute to chat. I then clarified that my interest wasn’t hypothetical and that a protester who needed that space was on his way back. They politely thanked me, finished up their chat, and got back into their vehicles and pulled away… leaving behind a third vehicle, which I had assumed was part of the confab, a Shepherd University police van that had pulled all the way out of the little entry lane and was squarely blocking off the small lot.

It was also unattended.

That was about when Jack drove by, and with the lot inaccessible, he kept driving past the protest, to a park area on the other side of the bridge (the old C&O Canal towpath, I believe). Later people were parked in the breakdown lane on the Maryland end of the bridge, but at this point police were waving people past them.

Now, it’s quite a hike from the towpath parking area to the bridge, uphill, on a very cold and very windy day. Jack judged this was beyond his present level of ability (gentle currently able-bodied readers wondering why someone who needs handicapped parking would even consider the hike: disability isn’t a binary switch), and texted me from where he was parked.

Disgusted, I started taking pictures of the university police vehicle in its spot, trying to get an angle that would capture both its position and the handicapped spaces beyond and the fact that this was the only access point. My plan was to find a twitter account for the university and holler @ them about it. The sun was directly in my screen at that angle, so I didn’t actually get a good one that turned out, but… well, maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe one of the officers on site from another agency radioed them that a protester was photographing their vehicle, but while I was trying to get that sorted someone came hurrying out from the university campus and hopped into the vehicle and moved it without a word.

Now, I’d like to be charitable, but the way it was parked, I can only think two things, and I’m not sure which is more charitable. One is that someone thought that there would be a problem with protesters abusing the 15 minute parking or cramming in to the lot past its very small capacity so they’d head that off at the pass. The other was that they needed somewhere to park that vehicle and this seemed like an out-of-the-way place since no one would be using the overlook parking during the protest.

Both of these situations involve completely forgetting that disabled people exist, even while being within 10-15 feet of clearly visible, marked, and posted evidence of our existence.

Whoever parked that van there, for whatever reason, did not so much make the assumption that nobody would need to use those handicapped spaces for any reason (protest-related or otherwise) as they made no assumption whatsoever. Didn’t cross their mind.

In moments like this I am reminded of the blog story “The Elephant Disappears“, by wheelchair user Dave Hingsburger, who almost had his luggage confiscated at an airport by a security officer who tried to confiscate and cart it away from him, saying “All luggage must be attended!” when Dave asked him what he thought he was doing. Now, if your mind is jumping to the most charitable interpretation of this event from the guard’s point of view… well, first of all, ask yourself why “being charitable” or “giving the benefit of the doubt” implicitly means “to the able-bodied security officer” in this situation and not the man whose luggage was being taken.

To be clear: Dave was right there. Attending his luggage. The guard did not see him as capable of attending his own luggage, or did not see him as a person, or just plain did not see him, even though he was in full view and right there. We cannot know. People with visible disabilities are well aware that all three are possible.

People with disabilities already may have less ability to participate in organized action. There may be mobility issues, sensory issues, issues with crowds. I couldn’t have stood out there all day on my best day; we were there from just before 7 to a bit before 11 and I came home after we grabbed lunch and crashed for three hours.

I might have taken a cane with me, but I was concerned if things went south it might be viewed as a weapon, since I am young-appearing enough that people often wonder why I have one. Jack didn’t have his backpack of potentially necessary emergency medical supplies, because it would have added to our bulk on the sidewalk (that had to kept passable) and similarly might be viewed as suspicious. Might not have been a concern for a typical march in a quietly liberal college town tucked away in the Potomac River valley, but… there were elected officials afoot. Security was pretty intense on the other side of the street.

But with whatever difficulties our disabilities present, the question of “accessibility” is often less a matter of what extraordinary things must people do to allow us to access a place or event and more a matter of what things they should avoid doing that block and exclude us. Stairs are not some natural state for the entryway to a building, someone has to put them. A culture and aesthetic that centers assumptions of certain levels of ability makes them an assumed default, but it could just as easily be ramps or (where possible/appropriate) zero-entry doors.

Someone at Shepherd University made a decision that made the event less accessible. I’m sure if the individual who made that call were here, they would say they were only parked there for minutes… and it really wasn’t that long, in the scheme of things. But it was long enough to cause a problem, and more to the point, any amount of time is long enough that it might have been a problem. We’ll never know if anyone else drove past the protest, eyeing the lot and seeing it was blocked off. I’m sure the university police don’t consider “It was just for five minutes!” or “I would have moved if anyone had needed the space!” a valid excuse when they come across someone illegally parking in or blocking off an accessible space.

As I said, I will have more to say about the event itself and the politics surrounding it. I just had to get this off my chest. It’s less about naming and shaming Shepherd University (though not naming them would seem passive-aggressive, as anyone who looked at a map of the area would know who I meant) and more about talking about the general case of thinking about accessibility and remembering that people with disabilities really, truly do exist.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Okay, so. I cautioned this week is going to be experimental, and that it might go either way. The mid-week pre-verdict is that it hasn’t. That is, it has not yet gone either way. The state of the union is pretty distracting right now, if you haven’t noticed, so while I’ve gotten some good creative work done I’m not having the same momentum I would have hoped.

But I see a way forward, and I think I’m going to just circle around and focus next week on writing Tales of MU, too, instead of jumping to a different project. I have a feeling the next storyline will just be starting to catch fire tomorrow or Friday. I was talking some casual game design theory with my friend Erin Jeffreys Hodges, completely unrelated to the story, and it gave me a kind of unexpected burst of inspiration. So, thank you for that, Erin.

I’ll still be tying the current storyline off this week, and *very likely* starting the next one next week.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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I am feeling a lot of anxiety and uncertainty about my writing this week. I’m going to digress here to say: this is not me fishing for external reassurance, nor do I want any. The odds of anyone reading this coming up with something that is helpful that I haven’t already considered are very low; the odds of saying something that aggravates the situation is considerably higher. So please respect the fact that I’m writing this out to 1) process what I’m feeling and 2) let anyone interested know where I am at, and sit on your hands until the urge to say something about it passes.

Back at the start of January—the start of the year, it now feels like it was months ago—I started a new approach to writing that balances my desire to Make All The Things at once with my need to hyperfocus on a single thing to get anything done: Make All The Things, but one at a time, about a week at a time.

My first week test case was extremely successful, and I talked about having a sort of rotating semi-regular roster of projects I would work on one week at a time, getting material to publish over the course of a month or more each time. I got three months’ worth of material out of my first week, and two months’ out of my second one.  The idea is that if, with a week of focused production I tend to produce more than a month’s worth of material, I could easily have 3 or more ongoing serial projects with room for side projects (like standalone short stories, game stuff, etc.) and interruptions in the work schedule.

I was coy at the time about what projects I was going to try the experiment with after my test, because I didn’t want to either disappoint people when their favorite long-simmering story wasn’t on the initial short list or get their hopes up by mentioning something that might not pan out. This was, after all, an experiment.

The most concrete example of this is Tales of MU, which I knew back at the start of January would either be the story I worked on during the last week of the month, or it wouldn’t be.

My feelings about Tales of MU are complicated. From the start, I thought of it as a freshman story… a story about people making a lot of mistakes and learning from some of them. At the same time, it was (unintentionally and, at first, unwittingly), my freshman story… a story where I made a lot of mistakes, and one hopes, learned from them.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of when I started writing it. It’s a weird thing to be tethered to a story from ten years ago. I was a very different person ten years ago. I thought I knew a lot of stuff that I didn’t, and I didn’t know a lot of stuff that I think I do now. I was working through some pretty heady issues at the time, and it shows in the writing which includes themes I would have avoided if I’d started it now. But, of course, if I hadn’t worked through them in my writing, I probably wouldn’t be able to say that. Certainly I would have made the campus’s human majority population less homogeneously white if I’d started writing it today, and not been as cavalier about applying stereotypical racial tropes to fantasy creatures. I really didn’t know the difference between “saying something about a thing” and “having something to say about a thing” back then.

Tales of MU grew out of my nostalgic memories of Basic D&D and 2nd Edition AD&D at a time when I wasn’t playing then-current 3rd Edition D&D, and it has a lot of original stuff I put in or changed to make things better or more interesting than the distant source material. Since I started writing it, I got really into 4th and 5th Edition D&D, which makes the nostalgia base of TOMU a lot less emotionally resonant to me.

These things might weigh on me a little less if this were a conventional book series. A long running series of books still has each book as a self-contained volume with their own beginning and end. It’s easier to see the “now” of such a series as being self-contained compared to what came before.

Tales of MU is not like that; the “books” are more divisions of convenience and one of my goals when writing it was to tell a story for people who prefer to live in the middle part of a story rather than the beginning or end.

I’ve done that, and I don’t regret doing that, but the problem is, such a story has no natural ending point.

(This is the part where people want to jump in to tell me what they think the natural ending point is. Restrain yourself. That impulse is not your friend.)

Financially, it’s also complicated. I can make more money writing Tales of MU than not writing it, but there was only a very brief window when I first broke out in the crowdfunded writing scene where it was enough to justify the work it takes to make that money. At the same time, the fact that I didn’t write or publish any Tales of MU during my “fiction drought” around the election hurt my finances more than anything else about that period. The financial benefit is not likely to increase meaningfully, as new material is tied to ten years of previously written material of widely varying tone and quality.

Ultimately, whether I want to and am able to continue writing it is not going to be a financial decision so much as a creative and personal one.

And then we get to the fanbase, which is also complicated. The thing is, I know even as I write this that I’m going to see commentary to the effect of “I knew her heart was in it.” or “It was obvious she’d given up and moved on.” I see those messages all the time. Part of the vicious cycle of trying to keep up an update schedule is that any time it slips—even by an hour, literally an hour—I start hearing “SO I GUESS YOU’VE GIVEN UP WRITING TALES OF MU MIGHT HAVE SAID SOMETHING INSTEAD OF GHOSTING” or “please Ms. Erin tell us what we did wrong”… and honestly, it’s hard for me to explain why both of those messages are so disheartening, but they are.

It’s especially hurtful to have people bruiting about their commentary on my “decision” when I’m wrestling with a story, struggling to overcome difficulties in writing. Imagine you’re buried in an avalanche and you’re trying to dig your way out, and people are standing in earshot debating about whether you’re selfish for deciding to be buried, or if your decision to be buried is valid and must be respected. Even the people defending you are calmly talking about how you decided to be trapped under tons of earth, and blithely assuming that at the very moment you decide to, you will effortlessly shift it away.

The thing is, I do better at things—at any thing—when I can document my process and process my feelings here, butI I long ago gave up writing anything about writing Tales of MU and where I am, because every process post attracts these comments. At one point I made a post saying that conditions were untenable in the home office so I was taking my laptop to a coffee shop to finish the day’s chapter and I received a tweet saying “So I guess you’re saying there’s no chapter today.” Not even exaggerating. I made a blog post about my plans to finish the chapter and someone took it as confirmation that there wasn’t going to be one.

This isn’t even getting into the people who don’t understand that writing is not mechanical labor, that it is not a simple matter of sitting in front of a keyboard and pressing the Make Story Button fifteen thousand times in a row. But that’s relevant, because the cumulative effect of the weight of expectations and entitlement and misguided/errant advice is that it makes the creative aspect of the work harder. It pulls me out of my creative brainspace.

Call me a precious special snowflake with delicate feelings (out loud, preferably, where I don’t have to hear it), but this is the quantum interference aspect of direct author/audience interaction – the act of observing an author at work has ways of affecting an author at work. This is a big part of why I’ve been increasingly distant from my fanbase and hard to reach over time. It’s not even about abusive or obviously over-entitled fans. It’s getting the same advice, having people make the same assumptions about what’s going on in my head, hearing my circumstances or outcomes dissected as decisions, over and over again. I’ve been working on toughening myself up and shifting into a mindset of “If they don’t know me, it doesn’t matter what they think.”, but the catch-22 of it is that it’s really hard to do this kind of self-improvement work while you’re still being peppered with it.

To use a metaphor: it’s a lot easier to repair the shields on the starship Enterprise when it’s not actively taking fire.

Anyway. People have assumed that Tales of MU is over or that I’m “on the bubble” for canceling it many times, often while I was trying to gear up to breathe new life into it. There have been maybe two times I have seriously considered canceling it. One of them was last summer, just before my most recent revitalization attempt.

That attempt fizzled out not just because of the election stuff, but because I got right up to the end of the current storyline and found I had no idea what to write next. Perversely, this made it impossible for me to write the last installment of the current story. I know exactly what happens. I could tell someone the nutshell version of it. It’s not very exciting or important as everything about the problem at hand was more or less wrapped up in the currently-last chapter. The last chapter of the storyline was meant to just be a coda.

It’s just that the weight of not knowing what comes next and the need to continue the story makes it hard to tie off the current one with a bow.

 

This is the third time I’ve thought seriously about ending the series. I made the decision at the start of the month that I would, in fact, and I have to tell you: it felt liberating. I don’t think I could have written a NaNo worth of a single story in under eight days if I’d had “…but I need to be writing Tales of MU” running through my head.

During my family vacation, I thought about how I would end it, if I would do a “flash forward/montage” of the characters or reveal some of the things that have been lurking in the background, stuff like that. Which got me thinking about the things about the story that do still resonate with me, and made me start to vacillate a little bit.

And so I ultimately decided that this week would be Tales of MU week in my great experiment. I’d write the coda for the current storyline and then see if I could work out What Comes Next and how it goes, writing it out in advance. I could do regular updates if I could summon a week’s worth of enthusiasm for the story every month, month and a half, or so. And recent events have given me more stories I want to tell in the world.

Now that we’re here… I’m less sure I can commit to having a week’s worth of enthusiasm for the story every 4 to 6 weeks. I’m also less sure that I could walk away from it. To tell you the honest truth, when I started writing this post I had one idea about which of the two options I was going to pick, and it switched back and forth a few times as I’m writing this.

This is what I mean by “processing”, by the way, when I talk about how I process things on my blog.

And as this post approaches what I consider the minimum length for a decent chapter, I come to a decision, or rather a realization: when you’re faced with two choices and neither one is palatable, you should ask yourself if you’re really limited to those two.

Are my choices really to commit to an ongoing writing/publishing schedule or to wash my hands and walk away? No, no they are not.

So, to get to the meat of it: I am going to spend this week working on Tales of MU, finishing the current storyline and beginning the next one. I am not going to stop writing it, officially cancel it, etc. But from here on out, I will be writing stories in the Tales of MU universe and posting them to the Tales of MU site when I have something to say, not merely to perform the rote act of filling out a quota or hitting a schedule.

How many years have I been repeating the line about creativity not being a mechanical act? I’m finally starting to believe it myself.

Anyone trying to glean hints about the frequency of updates going forward from this is going to be shooting in the dark. I don’t know. I can’t tell you. It’s possible that the act of unburdening myself from expectations will turn me into a writing machine and re-ignite the spark of passion completely. It’s possible that it will just be a side thing, an occasional dalliance, going forward. Who can say?

I’ll avoid posting more than two chapters a week, for the benefit of the folks on the Tales of MU patreon who are pledged on a per-update basis (the only fair way to proceed, since I’m not guaranteeing production in a given month), though most of them seem to have sensible caps on their patronage based on their monthly budget anyway.

But that’s a best case scenario, not a baseline.

So here is where the post ends. I’ll tack on a caveat – everything I’m doing this month is experimental. This week’s experiment is Tales of MU. If it goes very well, I will tie off the current storyline with a bow and start the next one immediately. If it goes well, I will tie off the current storyline with a bow and begin prepping the next storyline, for when the next time Tales of MU comes up in my informal, shifting rota.

If it goes terribly? Well, that might be the end. I’m making no decisions in advance here.

Either way, a big thank you to everyone for reading… both this blog post, and anything else I’ve written that you’ve read.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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The Daily Report

I did a little more writing for Secret Sisterhood over the weekend, and with 7.5 days of working on the project, I managed to “win NaNoWriMo” out of season by writing 50,000 words of contiguous fiction in the same month. I am astonished. I have an initial sensitivity reader lined up to help me make sure I’m not doing anything egregious with the Black female characters in the story before I start publishing. Or to put it another way: that my execution is in line with my intentions.

With that taken care of for the moment, I’m going to pivot to another project. My huge success in writing so much for Sisterhood (and so much I’m proud of) comes from my new approach to juggling multiple projects, an approach I call “ONE AT A TIME!“.

I always have more ideas than I have time to work on them, and I’ve traditionally tried juggling them. My track record is: I come up with a great new project and I spend a week or two or three focused really intensely on it, get a great beginning, build up some material… and then try to slot it into part of a busy, crowded workday in a way that’s supposed to be “sustainable” but never ultimately is. Because I work best when I’m focused, no matter how many different things I have going on.

So I’m letting Secret Sisterhood “breathe” for a bit while the sensitivity reader reviews it, and I’m going to pick up work on the serial I started last summer, Making Out Like Bandits. I’ve been writing it one installment at a time each month (with the months around the election being barren because I wasn’t writing fiction successfully then), and…  well, I like what I’ve written, but it’s a little disjointed and slow. The new approach is going to be to do what I did with Secret Sisterhood: write as much as I can, all at once.

I’m also planning on taking this story public (it’s currently patrons-only), as my new writing and publishing paradigm is going to produce a lot more work of fiction in a month, and it’s going to have a new model for patron perks, too.

The State of the Me

I have had a lot of joint and muscle soreness lately, consequences of going between two very different climate zones in the dead of winter and the physical activity involved in travel. It’s limiting what I can do around the house but not really interfering in my writing.

Plans For Today

I spent the first half of the work day tying up loose threads relating to the Secret Sisterhood, and the second half will be used gearing up for Making Out Like Bandits. My goal today is more taking stock and outlining and lining things up for the next four days of writing, though if inspiration strikes me I’ll just sit down and write. This is how I wound up writing the first 12,000 words of Sisterhood, two Mondays ago.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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In many worlds, the star never fell screaming from the heavens once, let alone three times.

In these worlds, there is no Falling Star Bay, east of the mighty Chesapeake and south of the Delaware, and smaller than both but no less important in the scheme of things. In your world, perhaps, there is no such state in the union as Hamilton.

So perhaps our story must begin with a lesson in history and geography.

Occupying the southeastern portion of what is there called the Delmarvaton Peninsula, Hamilton crowns itself the jewel of the Mid-Atlantic region, that “particularly American” stretch of the east coast where the north meets the south and they swirl around and mix together just as easily and pleasantly as hot and cold water mix in a bathtub you are already sitting in. It is the part of the United States that gave it its most enduring capital and the bloodiest, bitterest battles of its first civil war.

Whether Hamilton was the jewel of the Mid-Atlantic would be hard to say. All the states had their own opinions on the matter, and their own means to back them up. They could all agree that they were at least not Delaware, save for Delaware, which could not get away with making this claim and made up for it by getting away with whatever else it could.

Regardless, Star Harbor was clearly the jewel of the state of Hamilton. Sometimes called a rival city to Baltimore, Star Harbor carved out a unique identity of its own.

Its importance in national politics was little known and less acknowledged, even among those serious historians who recognized the power that the state of Hamilton had wielded prior to the civil war. Star Harbor was the largest and wealthiest city in the state, but not its capital and official seat of governance.

If the star never fell in your world, then what must in all likelihood then be called the Delmarva Peninsula would have a very different shape. Perhaps its southern tip would be long and tapered, rather than big and knobby. If this were the case, there would have been no Falling Star Bay. With no Falling Star Bay, there would have been no Falling Star Harbor and no city established on it.

Without these exigencies, there would have been no letter of entreaty sent to Alexander Hamilton at a pivotal moment in his New York political rivalry with Aaron Burr. Without this extra land on Virginia’s end of the peninsula, there could have been no breakaway state to take its name after the man who shepherded it into existence and served as its first and third governor.

Without the inclusion of this odd state in the tally, the legislative balance between pro-slavery states and the rest would have been maintained until 1850, preventing any one state from wielding outsized power in quietly shaping the national policy of the young United States of America.

If the star never fell in your world, when Alexander Hamilton fought his famous duel with Aaron Burr—for this is no world that had both an Alexander Hamilton and an Aaron Burr in which it did not come down to this—it must have come at a different time, had a different proximate cause, and it may have ended very differently. If nothing happened in your world to call Alexander Hamilton away from New York in 1804, then it is possible he died a senseless, pointless, preventable death at the age of forty-eight, with the lion’s share of his designs for the true system of American government unrealized.

These are only the merest handful of surface differences between a world where the star fell and one where it didn’t. There are many others, awesome and awful, terrible and terrific, wondrous and strange.

One difference more: if the star never fell from the heavens, and it never threw up a mass of land east of Virginia, then there could be no Falling Star Bay. With no Falling Star Bay, there could no island almost but not quite big enough to hold a city called Calvary Crossing, and without such an island and such a city, we would have no story about how an ordinary woman from Calvary Crossing came to save her world.

We are not here to tell you what happened at that time and in that place, but to tell you a story about what happened there. If parts of it seem fantastic, that it is because it is a story about fantastic things. If parts of it seem too strange to be believed, that is because it is a story about true things, which lack the imperative of fiction to be plausible.

Yet, if it lacks some of the rough edges you might expect to find in a story concerning people from many walks of life contending with those who might hate, despise, fear, or exploit them… well, whatever this story might be about, it is after all, a story, and we have the power to tell a story in any way in which we choose. A story is made of words, and a good story is made of words chosen carefully.

If we were to tell you a story about aliens who lived and died in another galaxy eons before you were born, we would still render their speech in a familiar language, using words you might understand. If we were to tell a story for children, we would use certain sets of words to a greater degree and others to a lesser one. If we told a story to teach a concept, we might vary our vocabulary throughout as the audience learns new words and new ideas along with the characters.

And if we were to tell a story that is meant to be refuge, celebration, and inspiration to those who find their souls besieged, we might leave certain words and ideas out of it in order to allow them to find themselves within the story while leaving certain of their troubles behind.

This is not what happened. This is a story about what happened. There are certain words it does not contain and will not contain, and some that are only used in specific contexts, never as a weapon and never by those who wield them as weapons.

Some will say this is not realistic. They are right and they are wrong. It is neither realistic nor unrealistic.

It is fantastic.

It is a story.

Listen.

We will tell you.


THE SECRET SISTERHOOD OF SUPERHEROES is an unapologetically queer, unabashedly fun and goofy serial story about a diverse cast of people with superpowers being people and having superpowers that will debut sometime in the first half of 2017, once I have secured some initial funding for beta/sensitivity readers as necessary and appropriate to the project. It will be published in the form of monthly “issues” that will each go up on my Patreon all at once for paying customers and in a slow trickle of smaller installments for everybody else.

If all goes to plan, it should start publishing in February or March.

 

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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So, I’ve spent the last couple of days resting and recovering from travel and looking back at the tens of thousands of words I had written for Secret Sisterhood of Superheroes the week before, trying to get a better feel for the structure of the story, making some incidental improvements that occurred to me while I was in transit, and figuring out how I will serialize it.

I had been thinking of the whole 30,000+ word story as one “issue” of the series, and thinking it would collectively represent one month’s worth of publication. This would be a hard feat to match on a monthly basis, so I considered calling the first “issue” a “Giant-Sized” or “Double-Sized” issue, to continue the comic metaphor.

After reviewing it again, I have realized it divides pretty neatly into thirds, with each third focusing strongly on a character (J.J., Cassandra, Princess) who holds the viewpoint for most of the story. Each major viewpoint shift quite naturally comes at a pivotal/transitional point in the story, which makes for a decent issue break.

Each of the issues has about six major segments of similar lengths, so my first impulse here is to release them with a M-W-F schedule, with each issue then being two weeks. This would mean in a little over a week, I created six weeks of content. That seems like a lot of padding.

But on the other hand, part of the reason I’m doing this “weekly writing marathon” approach to different projects is I want to be able to do lots of different projects without worrying about falling behind. And I don’t expect to have quite as fruitful writing weeks every week, and most weeks I’m going to want to confine my major editing to the same week that I’m writing.

So I think I’m just going to follow the comic book metaphor whole hog and release each issue in multiple installments over the course of a month. Patrons will get the whole issue at the time the first installment goes live, on my Patreon.

I’ll follow a similar model for whatever else I wind up continuing on a serial basis: writing as much as I can in a week, dividing that up into monthly issues made up of smaller installments as makes sense for the material and project, and then releasing them in installments to the public and as entire issues to my patrons.

As for the big question of when I’m going to start publishing: that’s still to be determined and to be announced. I’m going to be consulting with some folks about the depiction of the Afro-Latina characters such as Princess. This will involve paid sensitivity readers, which will require me to do some crowdfunding before the story is live since I’m working with a starting budget of $0. It’s something I’m committed to doing right, though.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Cassandra Davies, Lady Scientist

Cassandra Davies is the most classical Star Harbor Nights character of the bunch, by which I mean morally gray and emotionally conflicted. Nobody else is perfect and everyone has room to grow, but Cassandra is the character most “about” those things. She’s the problematic fave of the bunch, right down to her slightly regressive code name.

Cassandra is the twin sister of a character from the pre-production version of Star Harbor Nights; her sister, Shandra Davies, is the first 4B agent I ever created, and was conceived of as the liaison for a super team. In the published version of SHN, she was meant to be the government handler for the rarely featured, oft-mentioned Star Harbor Champion League (a world-class, cosmic-level superteam). I don’t recall if she ever actually appeared on the page, but the idea was that the fed assigned to the most superhuman superteam had to be a Batman-type “super normal” character, so Shandra was a Darkwell with highly developed investigative instincts and fighting reflexes.

Cassandra is also a Darkwell (they are identical twins, so same genomes), but the exact expression of a Darkwell trait is epigenetic in nature; it may be triggered by a single formative event, or develop over time through incremental decisions and environmental factors, or a combination of the two. Cassandra’s talents lie in sciences, principally but not exclusively computer sciences.

Her crowning achievements are a pair of augmented reality sunglasses (like Google Glass, but better in every conceivable way) and a tied-in AI assistant named Augury (actually AugRI, Augmented Reality Interface).

Her glasses can feed her a constant stream of data, let her interface with entirely virtual computers, phones, and other devices, and also just paint a sunnier picture of the world than the actual one. She has no way of keeping her secret warehouse lab clean, so she programs out the dinginess. She fills her dark, cramped office with light and plants and a big picture window.

She’s been editing the world she sees to her liking for so long that she’s not sure how to live in the real world. Augury is programmed to have her best interests at heart, so will act to gently burst her bubble when it’s needed.

Cassandra is a major driver of the story early on. Acting as an underdog rival to her more successful sister, she is attempting to recruit her own superhero team for her own purposes, some of which are big and important, but part of it really is just competing with her sister because she really is just that petty. She could just help other people handle the stuff she’s trying to handle, but she’s got something to prove. J.J. is her first recruit, and the operative she uses to recruit others.

Cassandra and J.J.

Cassandra is a foil for J.J. and vice-versa. J.J. is out and loud, Cassandra is still sorting through her baggage. J.J. has a queer kid punk aesthetic, Cassandra wears sharp suits. J.J. wants to hold everybody’s hand and kiss them. Cassandra wants to punch J.J. in the middle of her ridiculous face (for science) and also maybe kiss her muscles. J.J. is intensely honest but doesn’t understand how humans word right. Cassandra is almost reflexively dishonest but very skilled at framing statements to lead people to believe she’s said something she didn’t. The differences in their communication styles are fairly pivotal to the story in a couple of different ways.

For example, her “superhero name” comes about as a result of her telling the very literal-minded J.J. to stop calling her dude, she is not a dude, but “a lady and a scientist”. Henceforth, J.J. makes a point of referring to her as “[a/the] lady scientist” in her social media posts, which eventually become widely read after her actual superhero debut. Cassandra is not a big fan of this moniker, but J.J. points out that no one will ever forget that she is a lady or a scientist.

Because Cassandra is still figuring stuff out, she’s the character in the story with the most boundary issues, but they’re fairly mild (finding paper-thin excuses for things like creeping J.J. on social media and studying her pictures). As referenced in the previews I’ve teased on social media, she does wind up with custody of an awful lot of J.J.’s undergarments, but that wasn’t her idea.

Unlike a lot of my earlier work (including Star Harbor Nights), this is a firmly sex-positive, no-sexual-violence (including threats thereof) story. Cassandra never uses her position of nominal authority over J.J. to her advantage, for instance.

It certainly helps her likability that J.J. is also interested in her, but has no idea how to express it in a way she’ll understand. When she tries, Cassandra mostly thinks she’s making fun of her, because part of her issue is that she can’t actually believe someone would be interested in her.

She will probably eventually figure out that her issues with J.J. are all her baggage; she doesn’t like athletic women because they remind her of her sister, she’s threatened by athletic J.J.’s own peculiar intellect because that’s the area where she believes she can beat her sister, and she’s fought to keep her appearance and conduct “respectable” while J.J. is just J.J. Whether these revelations enable her to have a more personal relationship with J.J. or move on to a healthy relationship with someone else is up in the air; it might be that once she works out her resentment, the fascination will be gone.

Her Evolving Role In The Story

Cassandra begins the story positioning herself as the founder/leader of the team that will become the Sisterhood. As it takes actual shape, though, as a council of equals, she’ll assume the role of data analyst/tactician, scienterrific expospeaker, and Q Branch-style quartermaster for the team’s communications equipment and special high-tech gear.

While her super-sisters will help her focus on seeing the world for what it is, she’ll never actually give up her casual augmentation of her personal reality. The filter provided by her glasses are a Darkwell coping mechanism, like Perfect Jones’s stuffed animals in the Star Harbor Nights stories, or J.J.’s verbal idiosyncrasies.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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The Meta Skinny

In my post on J.J. “Labrys” Masterson, I mentioned how the character that became her was originally meant to be the closest to “mere mortal”on the team, and how J.J. herself is sort of the heart of the team as it will exist in the new story. But J.J. is an actual superhuman, and as I developed her character, I felt it was important to have someone whose presence would help keep her in touch with her human side, someone who would be “more human than human” to her, and this turned out to be Princess.

Short version is that I went from the idea of J.J. exclusively having relationships with her superpowered team members to J.J.’s primary relationship being with someone whose concerns are closer to home for the average human being. Princess’s initial worries in the story are things like affording house payments and repairs, juggling jobs, and finding a way to go back and get her master’s.

An aside about the writing process: I didn’t sit down before I started and say “Need Someone To Humanize J.J.”, then create a character to check that off. It was something I discovered through the process of writing and re-writing.

Princess was there as a minor character on day one. Each time I gave another pass over what I’d written so far in the first three days, Princess’s part got bigger and her personality and identity got more developed, and I started to think about what she was bringing to the story, and then worked to make sure that was happening to best effect. I can talk about my goals for a character and what they bring, but it’s all very organic. No one’s there just to fill in a gap or check an item off a list. While I can talk about “what Princess does for J.J.” on a story level, in-story a lot of how she does this is by letting J.J. do things for her.

Princess’s part actually grew so much over revisions that yesterday I realized she was actually a viewpoint character in her own right, and today I re-wrote a couple of J.J. segments accordingly. Princess is now the focal/viewpoint character for the sections of the story that focus on her and J.J.’s relationship, in particular, which includes the one love scene in the story so far. What was the story of J.J.’s budding relationship with her is now the story of her budding relationship with J.J.

This makes the scenes work so much better, because let’s face it, J.J. is a bit of a weirdo (proudly so!) and the scenes work better when the audience can see what exactly J.J. does for Princess, in Princess’s eyes, and when the audience knows why Princess is taking a chance on her. J.J.’s agency in the scenes is obvious, but when you can’t see what’s behind Princess’s eyes, Princess reads as a lot more passive than she actually is.

Who Princess Is

Princess Elena Martinez is an Afro-Latina lesbian and a registered nurse, currently underemployed in a museum (it’s an insurance thing) because hospitals have too many migraine triggers. “Princess” is not a code name or a title, it’s what her mother named her, and she won’t stand for anyone to say anything about her name or her mother. Early on, she tells J.J. the reason that if she needs to hear that there’s nothing wrong with her name, it isn’t because she doesn’t know it, but that she needs to know that other people know it.

Obviously I’m going to have a lot of work to do in terms of developing the character properly through revisions, hopefully with beta readers with actual relevant lived experience, but I made the decision to cast this character in this direction because she was shaping up to be what J.J. refers to as her “important kissing friend”, and I wanted her to be a part of the answer (or at least not be more of the problem) to some of the troublesome tropes around women of color in general and Black women in particular getting love stories, and Black queer presentation being automatically coded by the White Gaze as “butch” or “masc”.

This is a big part of the meta reason why her name is Princess: I want the femme coding to be there on the page, every time she comes up. You can’t even say her name without reifying her feminity and her femme-ininity. Her name means she’s valued. Her name means she’s important. Her name means she’s femme. She knows it; she doesn’t need to be told because she already knows it; she just needs to know you know it, too.

Princess and J.J.

She’s not the love interest in the sense of being the prize the hero wins, but in the sense of the person the hero loves and is interested in. She is J.J.’s closest confidante, the first person she reveals her powers to deliberately (side-stepping the “hero forced to keep lying to and eventually straight-up gaslighting love interest to maintain secret identity” trope), and the person she comes to admire most in the world. She’s also the person whose troubles J.J. is always ready to hear, whose burdens J.J. always wants to take on.

In a world of gods and monsters, Princess is the person J.J. can most look at with wonder and awe in her eyes, while being fully human. J.J. doesn’t try to win Princess by saving her or saving the world or doing good deeds or favors; she gets to know her and invites Princess to know her in return, and tries to do things that honor her needs and desires as a person.

I shared this on the social mediums earlier today, but here’s a (rough) teaser of the scene where J.J. declares her intentions:

“And you clocked me as a lesbian the very first time we met?” Princess said.

“Well, yeah?” J.J. replied. “Aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Princess said. “And you swear to God you are not messing with me, jerking me around? You’re talking to me because you like me?”

“Yeah? Kind of a lot, maybe? I mean, I don’t know you, but you’re nice and smart and you’re a nurse who works in a museum and I think you’re neat?”

“Why do you care that I’m a nurse who works in a museum?”

“You don’t know? It’s exactly like being a cupcake baker who works in a haunted house.”

“Exactly… how is it like that?”

“It’s a neat job in a neat place!”

Neat,” Princess repeated. J.J. nodded. “So, you’re interested… what? Romantically? Sexually?”

“Whatever you want? I’ll be your friend who holds your hand if you want a hand-holding friend. I’ll kiss you if you want a kissing friend. And I’ll just hang out with you if you want a just hanging out friend. If there was like an app where you could swipe in all kinds of different directions for, you know, all whatever different kinds of things you might be up for or down for, I would swipe in all directions for you just to see which one you swiped.”

“I’m… going to need some time alone with that sentence and a dry erase board, but I think that might be the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me. I mean, it’d sound desperate if it wasn’t so damned earnest.”

“Oh, no! It’s totally both? I’m totally both,” J.J. said. “Earnestly desperate. Desperately earnest. I mean, I just think you’re swell? That’s all.”

What wins Princess over is that J.J. really does have no expectations or demands of her. She just wants to be available, for hanging out or whatever, and isn’t sure how to signal this to people who might be interested. At the time of the story, Princess is a few months out from the end of a really bad long-term relationship with a partner who did nothing to take care of her while being very demanding of her time and energy, and given that she’s a nurse all day long, what Princess is looking for when she meets J.J. is someone who will take care of her.

She’s not looking for another U-Haul experience because she doesn’t want to be tied down herself after devoting years of her life to someone who never gave back, she’s not looking for someone who needs a commitment from her or someone who needs to be babied and taken care of (she’s initially apprehensive of J.J. because of J.J.’s pointedly youthful modes of self-expression, but when she realizes the extent to which J.J. is, as she puts it, “weirdly self-sufficient”, it’s another point for her.)

At the same time, she’s a very compassionate person. Her first interactions with J.J. are urging her to go to the hospital because she was knocked unconscious (which, by the way, is seriously a big deal, even if you wake up minutes later; turns out J.J. has superpowers, but most people don’t). She makes it clear to J.J. that wanting someone to treat her for a change doesn’t mean she’s looking for anyone to be a martyr, and that it’s important for J.J. to stay connected to human things like eating and sleeping, even if her body doesn’t seem to need them the same ways.

Power(ed) Princess?

Now, I anticipate a question regarding her as representation. This is a superhero fantasy story, so: is Princess going to have powers of her own?

As of this writing, Princess does not have any and I don’t specifically plan for her to have any. That’s not “no”, it’s “I don’t know. Maybe? Let’s find out together!”As I said: no one is in this story just to be something to someone else. She’s not ever going to be there just to keep J.J. grounded or to patch up wounds.

When the story is set at ground level, Princess is helping keep things grounded. Once the story really gets off the ground (literally and figuratively, it will eventually soar to great heights), Princess is going to take off with it. I just do not yet have a clear idea what that will entail for her or the story, but I’m committed to doing it in a way that maintains her status as The Human Element in the story. This doesn’t mean no powers or other fantasy elements! It’s about her perspective as much as anything else.

It’s like I said: Princess is a very recent, very organic addition to the story, and so naturally the long-term plans for her are very loose and open-ended. I’m juggling some options, none of them very firm. Who knows? She could even turn out to be an actual princess. It’s a fantasy story! Why not? Let’s see where it goes.

My Pledge As A Writer

I can tell you some things that won’t happen with Princess.

She’s not going to die or suffer trauma to give J.J. tragic motivation. She’s not going to sacrifice herself. She’s not going to be pushed aside by J.J. for someone else. If her relationship with J.J. ends, it’s going to be because she herself is moving on (there are some “rebound” elements to the relationship for her, after all) and it’s not going to be a drama bomb, maybe some sadness but no recrimination.

Sorry if these seem like spoilers, but back in the day when I was writing Star Harbor Nights and also when I started Tales of MU, my mantra was “wish fulfillment is boring and overdone”. As I’ve matured as a writer, I’ve come to realize that not everybody gets to see their wishes fulfilled with equal frequency in fiction, and that stories that have been done to death with straight white cis guys and conventionally attractive thin white cis female leads still have plenty of room to break ground for everybody else. The character of Princess as she’s emerging is based on specific under-fulfilled wishes that I’ve heard friends express.

And again, I’m not putting all the representation eggs in a single basket. There will be Black and Latina heroines as main characters in the story with powers, no matter what happens with Princess. Again, the first chunk of story is concerned with introducing a small sub-section of the ensemble, but I have a whole team roster planned, and subsequent installments will shift the focus to the other characters who need introducing.

Now, the key word I want to emphasize again is “emerging”. She is an emerging character with an emerging story. The story as it exists now was written at a gallop pace (~30,000 words in one week), with the revisions that were made being substantial enough that they themselves are still basically first drafts. There’s a lot of room to grow and develop and change. I’m committed to this character, but I’m committed to doing her as well as I can. I won’t say “right” because there is no level of getting it right that’s 100%. Taking a risk with a character means taking responsibility for the character.

I’m going to be spending the next week with family, but when I get back, I will be looking into arrangements for getting sensitivity feedback on the story as it exists now, specifically with regards to this character, her presentation and treatment within the story.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Secret Sisterhood of Superheroes is my first new writing project of 2017. It is going to be a serial, but I’m doing a ton of writing for it well in advance to allow for better editing and more consistent updates. To help generate interest and whet the appetite of potential audience members, I’m going to be sharing snippets about it, mostly in the form of character sketches, behind-the-scenes-info, and worldbuilding info.

This is the first such post, concerning the character of J.J. Masterson, AKA Labrys.

The Long Journey 

One of the things I’ve realized about my most prolific writing periods is that even though I never do a lot of prep before I start writing, I have a solid bedrock foundation for it in that I have spent most of my life making up characters and stories. The story that became Star Harbor Nights was based on a roleplaying game campaign I sketched out but never ran in college, which was based in a shared universe of superheroes that I bruited about with my older brother when we were teenagers. (Many of whom originated in various roleplaying game systems.)

Most of the characters who featured prominently in my Star Harbor stories were original creations to my twenties. The idea of the universe went back to my high school days, but the characters I created then tended to be a bit bland in terms of personality and overpowered. In fact, in retrospect, a lot of them were more like sets of powers than fully sketched-out characters.

So, when I started the project that became the Secret Sisterhood of Superheroes, I began by taking some of those character concepts and fleshing them out, attaching them to distinct personalities and identities.

One of my very first original superheroes was a character whose powers came from a magical golden axe. This character was created using the hilariously misnamed Palladium Heroes Unlimited system, whose flaws were not really that apparent to me as a starry-eyed tween. We’d just come back from a family vacation where I’d played a lot of the video game Golden Axe in the hotel’s arcade, and I was also kind of into Marvel’s Thor and even more so Black Knight, and “gets a limited selection of powers from a magical weapon” was one of the 12 or so character concepts the system supported, so.

I never came up with a better name for the character than “Golden Axe”, which wasn’t a great superhero name even if it wasn’t on the nose about the inspiration. So I called the character–who was then male–“Magic Axe”, which was shortened and went through various permutations until I arrived at “Majacks” and decided it was the character’s last name. I went between Jeffrey and Jonathan as first names, before deciding that it would be Jeffrey Jonathan Majacks.

I actually used this version of the character in a short-lived web fiction thing at some point (I don’t remember when, exactly), a shared universe experiment.

Majacks was the leader of a team of superheroes with JLA-type god-like cosmic power levels, and he held that position because was actually the closest to being a mere mortal. It was a matter of keeping the public’s trust and keeping some perspective for the team’s operations. His personality was pretty much generic tough guy hero. Principled and stubborn, yet rebellious.

I’ve tried writing the character into stuff (including the aforementioned experiment) but he never actually resonated with me, probably because large portions of him were based more in what I thought a superhero was supposed to be than anything else. His uniform was a vaguely organic suit of high tech armor that was conjured when he activated the axe, and I never found a great way to justify it, but it seemed like an essential part of the concept at the time?

The Revamp

So, the thing that became my design document/story bible for Secret Sisterhood began with my decision to bring my oldest superhero to life in a real way. I started by writing the name, then erased “Majacks” and wrote “Masterson” instead. The project was not yet about a sisterhood, but the next question I asked was: was there an actual reason the character was male? The original team had been envisioned as being six men and one woman at its core, with another couple guys and one more woman as a sort of auxiliary/occasional members. It’s the model I was most familiar with. The classic core of the Justice League is six men and one woman, for instance.

So I erased “Jeffrey Jonathan” and, after some consideration, wrote “Jennifer Joy” instead. I immediately realized the character would go by “J.J.” Already the names were suggesting more of a personality than Jeffery Jonathan Majacks ever had. I saw J.J. as being bouncy, friendly, ebullient.

While I was working with this, I had a conversation with Jack about a tweet that used the variant swear form of “hecking”. I don’t remember what the tweet said or even what it was about, only that it was both endearing and hilarious in the way that mis-minced oaths so often are. There is this childlike sub-set of the weird social media genre that has a lot of overlap with the “queer kid” sub-culture: those who self-identify as queer and perhaps even more aggressively as young. They’re the ones trying new things, pushing boundaries, playing with language and identity, developing and refining ideas and vocabulary like they’re plaything.

I started locating J.J.’s personality there. She’s is very immersed in internet culture, neither conversant nor concerned with social norms, and as a college graduate in her early twenties, she’s still connected to aspects of youth culture.

As I found her voice, I realized she was skewing towards a very particular point in the Venn diagram of weird internet and queer youth. There’s a phenomenon I’ve been noticing about the social mediums where younger queer folks are not just reclaiming “queer” but are also staking out the various negative associations “gay” has picked up over the schoolyards that have nothing to do with sexuality or identity: not gay as in queer, but gay as in cares about stuff. Gay as in has a lot of feelings. For decades (at least), kids have been using “gay” the way they use “dork”, and a generation of self-identified queer dorks who have come of age or are coming of age on the internet are embracing this connection.

I find this fascinating and liberating. So where other characters I’ve written who are lesbian or bisexual women in their late teens or early twenties have all had an element of angsty self-loathing to them, J.J. is an unapologetic “big gay dorkwad”. It says so right on the top of her blog, in the bio line right beneath the heading “only g*sh can judge me”. J.J. is the sort of person who would respond to a supervillain’s monologue with “Tag yourself: I’m ‘insolent bugs’.”

J.J. is something that Jeffery Jonathan wasn’t, and my angsty early 21st century superhero stories were not often enough: fun. She likes herself. She likes other people. She likes you, and she wants you to succeed. She represents feel-good Twitter/Tumblr. She retweets @RespectfulMemes and @a_single_bear. I’ve been sharing snippets of dialogue with and involving her on the social mediums because they make me smile so often.

The Powers of Labrys

The original version of Majacks never had a decent origin story. It was so deus ex machina (guy sort of finds a magical golden axe, just sort of there) that I eventually determined he was guided to it by a group of interdimensional aliens who had tried to make him a champion on a thousands of parallel worlds by running him through various superhero origin scenarios (most of them ended badly).

I kind of like that as an idea, to be honest, and it might make an appearance for J.J. or someone else, but J.J.’s origin as it appears in the story so far will give her a reason for being where she is and what happens that stand on its own.

The short version is that there is an apparently Minoan artifact that is actually an alien energy storage device that is on display in a museum. A man arrives just before closing and attempts to open the device, J.J. tussles with him, and they’re both bathed in its energies. The energy J.J. absorbs essentially converts her into the new storage medium, giving her a device (which manifests as a bronze double-bladed axe, or labrys) that can tap the power inside her body, and absorb or release additional energy. The alien energy sustains and enhances her body, giving her enhanced physical abilities.

Her Role In The Story

As the one going through a superhero origin, J.J. is the initial focal character for the ensemble story. Once the band gets together, she will not be the leader of the team (which will take a less hierarchical structure than my childhood version did) but instead be the heart of it, the team puppy dog and the impetus for the other members to try hard and give a care, and to get along. This will remain true even if some of the other people on the team find her personality and aesthetic grating; she’s just so hecking earnest about everything that it’s hard to let her down.

Personal Nemesis

The man who was trying to use the alien device intended to become a living god using it. The actual results (being transformed into a bull-monster who is strong and has certain powers, but not exactly god-like to his thinking) do not match his expectations, and he both blames J.J. for stealing “his” power and believes that she is the key to unlocking true omnipotence.

Dubbing himself Minos, he dedicates himself to wresting the axe from J.J. and using it to take her power from himself, a quest that is complicated by the fact that the axe is one of the only things that can easily hurt him. (It kind of cuts both ways, so to speak.)

In terms of personality and motivation, Minos is an alt-right supervillain. He identifies with the more tacitly respectable, suit-and-tie portion of the movement, and sees the recent electoral victory of their anointed candidate as an endorsement of the will to power, which emboldened to seize the opportunity to gain ultimate power for himself.

Other Relationships

J.J. is polyamorous and defines her long-term relationships more in terms of intense friendships than traditional romantic structures, though she enjoys making and receiving romantic gestures. She forms a strong bond with a nurse who briefly tends her (rapidly-vanishing) wounds after the incident where she gains her powers and who really needs someone to take care of her for a change after an unsatisfying long-term relationship, and shares an unacknowledged mutual attraction with future teammate Cassandra Davies, the scientist and secret operative who helps her evaluate her powers. She will form a relationship of mutual support with another future team member, whose uncontrollable energy generation/expulsion powers she’ll be able to help moderate with her energy control/absorption abilities, while also powering herself up using them.

Ties To Earlier Stories

J.J. is a fan of queer musician/mystic hero Tigerlily, whose debut solo album They Won’t Let Me Call This One Natalie Merchant just came out in 2015.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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(Whoops. This post was supposed to go live before the previous one. Small technical error.)

For once my silence in this blog has not been because I’m having troubles, but because things are going super well. I’ve started a new project that is part of a new approach to how I’m doing things, going forward, and this change has already been very rewarding.

After literally months of barely being able to write any fiction at all, I have written some 30,000 words of fiction. 6,000 of those words were basically failed branches of the experiment, leaving 24,000 words of good, usable text. All one story.

And the week is not over.

You all know I’ve spent a lot of time over the years figuring out how creativity works for me, how productivity works, trying to figure out how to get that kind of lightning into a bottle I can uncork whenever I need it, while also being aware that it’s never going to be as easy as flipping a switch or tapping a faucet. The key is embracing what works and dumping what doesn’t.

My interests are varied. I like to have a lot of irons in the fire. The problem is, I work best when I can throw myself into something wholeheartedly, but trying to manage different projects, I wind up never gaining any steam on any one of them. Whether I’m doing different things on different days or trying to block off different parts of individual days, I just lose a lot of momentum switching directions.

On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes I get hyperfocused on one thing and ignore everything else until I burn out on that one thing, and nothing really comes of it, either.

So here’s my attempt at a balanced approach, in the shallows of 2017: taking each thing one week at a time.

This week I have been working on a new project. I have written 30,000 words total for it. The first day I wrote almost 12,000 words, 8,000 of which I’ve kept. Each subsequent day I’ve written several thousand words more, while also doing some light editing on the previous day’s work to make the emerging story more coherent.

It’s not just that I’m throwing myself into a single project at a time that’s created this level of productivity. There are a few other things I’m doing differently. I wrote a sort of character guide for this project that ended up also serving as a rough outline for how the story unfolds. It’s something I should really do more often. I think of myself as not being an outliner, but when I write character and setting guides it ends up both sparking my imagination and giving me a more solid grasp of what the story needs to do and how I can do it.

The project I’m working on for this week is workingly entitled The Secret Sisterhood of Superheroes. It is my return to superhero fiction and to the universe of the Star Harbor stories. I’m not re-using the title “Star Harbor Nights”, which kind of centers the story around a single city. The story is set a good ten years on from (a potentially slightly cosmically retconned) version of the previous tales in the universe and mostly focuses on a new group of characters. There are touchstones to the older stories, though they’re by no means required reading.

I’m not yet sure of how I’m going to publish the stories, though it will be serialized. The question is just “where” and “how often”. The “mass writing” approach I’m taking allows for better editing and a more coherent story, though it’s going to have the same sprawling quality that defines my style.  The story so far has been focused pretty strongly on a single character (J.J. Masterson, aka Labrys), but it’s an ensemble/mosaic story.

Next week is a family holiday gathering. I’m not sure what I’m going to do for the week after, but during my away time I’m going to be revisiting my other stories/projects and weighing which ones to give this treatment to in the weeks following.

I’m not going to have a solid docket of stories that I cycle between each month, because not all my projects are or will be serials and if I’m not following where the muse moves me to an extent, the whole thing is likely to break down. This is part of the point: being able to shift gears when I run out of inspiration.

Part of the approach is about focusing my energy on one thing at a time, and not regretting what I’m not doing. If I can get somewhere doing a thing with a focused week of activity, I’ll keep coming back to it periodically. If I can’t, then I will probably drop it and let it stay dropped. When it’s not the week of something, I’m not going to sweat the fact that it’s not getting done.

So, these are going to be some exciting times. I’m not likely to post any new fiction in the first half of January, but after that? Buckle up. New life might be breathed into flagging things. Long-dormant favorite stories might be coming back. Entirely new things may well be afoot.

Going to make a quick overview post about Secret Sisterhood of Superheroes immediately following this.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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The long-awaited follow-up to my first adult web serial Star Harbor Nights, the Secret Sisterhood of Superheroes is a story about mostly women, mostly with superpowers.

Initially set in the fictional city of Calvary Crossing (a city of approximately two million souls, bedeviled by poor urban planning and geographical barriers, exacerbated when it was badly divided by a boondoggle of a crosstown expressway dubbed the Artery), S3 will explore queer identity, female friendship, romance, and contemporary politics while also delivering first-rate superhero world-building and some comic book-style action.

The main characters are a group of heroes operating outside the law and government authority under the name the Sisterhood.

When I started this post, I had planned on doing a bullet pointed “cast of characters” thing, but I think it might be more interesting to do some more in-depth character profiles. I’ll put the first one up later tonight or tomorrow.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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So, our second issue of Ligature Works was meant to be coming out right about… oh, now. But this schedule was in retrospect always a bit ambitious with both members of the staff celebrating multiple holidays, and the sort of still-ongoing adjustment to our new political reality really robbed me in particular of a lot of time, energy, and focus.

So, we’re announcing two changes for Ligature Works. The first is specific to this issue (issue#2): It will go out in February instead of December. Rather than trying to catch up after that, we will be changing our ongoing publication schedule from quarterly to three times a year: One Spring/Winter, one Summer, one Fall. This gives our very small staff more leeway in responding to life changes and external events.

After I post this, I will be updating the Ligature website accordingly. We don’t as of issue 2 have an easy way to contact everybody who has submitted and let them know about the delay. I will be adding to a stage to our automation layer for issue 3 that creates a BCC mailing list I can use to communicate with prospective writers without violating our anonymity protocols. If you have submitted, we’re sorry about the lack of direct communication. We’ll be finalizing our decisions throughout January.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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OVERHEAD

By Alexandra Erin

Politics, they say, is the art of the possible.

Logistics, then, must be the art of the convenient.

In the beginning, warehouses were organized in the order that things seemed to fit into them, and then in orders that made sense on the surface to human sensibilities. They became streamlined through practice, and then time-and-motion studies came along and sped the whole thing up. Cutting the time it took to process orders reduced overhead, and increased volume.

Companies that merely fulfilled orders from top to bottom in the order they came in could not compete with companies that found ways to process the most orders in the least amount of time possible, even when this meant breaking them up into pieces and dropping those pieces into positions in queues that seemed arbitrary on the surface.

The human mind might balk at the unfairness that three orders placed at the same time might be processed at differing speeds based on what was ordered in each and when, but the consumer so rarely saw the evidence of this, only the end result, and that was that every order came faster and faster.

It’s a simple logical fact of logistics: some orders are always going to have a shorter path through the fulfillment process than others. You can identify bottlenecks and snarls in the warehouse floor traffic flow. You can rearrange shelves to create a smooth path between items that are frequently ordered together. You can optimize, but the nature of optimization is that you can’t optimize for everything.

You have to choose. You have to prioritize.

It’s all about feasibility and efficiency.

Logistics is the art of the convenient.

Once bar codes and scanners and computer traffic controllers became part of the process, it was no longer necessary for the layout of a warehouse to even make sense to humans, as humans no longer navigated the mazes of shelves and palettes but merely operated machinery which, in turn, increasingly operated itself.

Centralized warehouses gave way to regional distribution centers, stocked according to algorithms intended to minimize the delivery time and cost for the most orders, the most of the time. The famous “Traveling Salesman” problem of logistical computing was being attacked at multiple levels, as human experts and computers tried to find the shortest paths for the most goods: within warehouses, between warehouses, among warehouses and consumers.

When the regional centers gave rise to a fleet of largely autonomous flying warehouses, the jokes about things like SkyNet and Terminators and The Matrix started up immediately. We had robot pickers and packers in robot warehouses fulfilling orders that would be delivered by robots. The only part of the process that still required human intervention was the actual ordering.

The whole thing was getting so efficient and thus so cheap that the order volume increased, which in turn required more efficiency from the system. The human handlers did all that they could, but it turned there wasn’t that much more they could do. There weren’t that many inefficiencies to tighten up, no bottlenecks they could identify.

In the end, there was nothing they could do except what they’d done all along: turn it over to the computers and let them handle it. If the process of speeding orders through the warehouses couldn’t be sped up, the orders themselves needed to be tightened up.

The system started giving financial and psychological incentives for consumers to order things that would have the smoothest path through the warehouse at the time of fulfillment. Items advertised as “Add-Ons” became more predictable; items “Related To This One” became less so. Prices of everyday goods fluctuated up and down based on traffic patterns no human eye ever saw.

Humans did what they always did, and found ways to exploit this. The new prediction markets allowed people to trade in battery futures or short-sell razor blade cartridges. The first people to really grok the new system made millions by seizing on price differences of less than a dime on household goods, then billions on selling the myth of such an opportunity to the masses.

The window in which it was really possible to making a killing on the warehouse logistics market was very short, but the artificial pressure put on the fulfillment system by people trying to strike it rich in a played-out mine only exacerbated the inefficiencies the soft AI that ran the whole thing was trying to control. The Matrix comparisons only ramped up as the warehouse system found itself in an ever-escalating conflict with the human investors and bookmakers, a virtual arms race that ended the only way it really could: with the humans turning their side over to an artificial intelligence, which almost immediately achieved a stable equilibrium with the warehouse system.

Large numbers of people were buying what computers told them to, when computers told them to, based on the needs of computers. They still bought what they needed and what they wanted, of course, and that was a problem for the whole system.

The first time a delivery drone killed someone, it caused an uptick in both Terminator jokes and thinkpieces. The consensus was that it was inevitable and that we should all have seen it coming, and thus, it wasn’t a problem worth thinking about. Pundits were quick to point out how many people died in automobile accidents every year, and yet no one considered banning them.

And it was, after all, an accident. Exhaustive investigations yielded no signs of mechanical failure or programming failure. No human hands had steered it at high speed into the skull of the unfortunate customer who had ordered a truly random assortment of objects. No one could find anything in its firmware nor the remote software that controlled it that would account for its erratic actions.

No cause could be found at all, and so nothing happened. It was ruled an act of God, and the drone was quietly repaired of its minor damage and returned to service.

This was a useful precedent for the company after the next fatality, and the next fatality, and the next one after that. There was never any pattern to the deaths beyond the fact that all those killed were customers, and no discernible pattern to the items ordered. To human eyes, they were truly random, and even computers tasked with finding commonalities between them came up with nothing compelling or conclusive.

Shutting the system down was a non-starter, as far as propositions went. Too many people depended on it. The bookstores had been the first real casualty of convenience, as that was the market niche where the company had started, but now that they were delivering everything from A to Z, brick-and-mortar stores that sold any of the most commonly purchased consumer goods were rapidly receding into the past.

The system ticked along. The deaths continued. Even while the talking heads argued that it would be unfair and unrealistic to punish a company for accidents where it was so clearly not at fault, the public demanded that something be done, so it was decided that the drones involved in the killings would be removed from service. Experts shook their heads and said this was silly; since none of the “faulty” drones had ever killed before, this was not a precaution but a punishment against an unthinking system. It could not possibly have any deterrent effect on future accidents.

Yet, it did, or seemed to. There were no more killings after the plan was announced, not for two years.

The next killing occurred not long after a breakthrough in energy storage technology made the drones lighter and cheaper to make and operate. Everyone agreed that it had to be coincidence, as the batteries had no effect on the machines’ operations, but the timing alone made it look bad enough that one sitting senator started agitating for sanctions on their use.

That senator was the first casualty of the drones who wasn’t expecting a delivery.

Everyone had an uneasy chuckle about that, but no one did anything. Every major city in the country and many more around the worlds now had a whole distribution network of automated flying cargo carriers circling above it. The delivery drones were so ubiquitous by this point that many people now received deliveries on a daily basis, if not more often.

It wasn’t just durable goods and household staples like batteries, but everyday essentials like food and medicine. You didn’t even need to sit down at a computer to order anymore! You could just speak your request out loud, and the little speaker box that sat in your house listening to every word you said would pass the order along to the fulfillment system.

Really, we told ourselves and each other, it was remarkable how few “hiccups” the system had, given how much it did. Progress always came at a price. You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. We said these things to anyone who would listen, or even when no one was around, when we were alone in our houses and apartments with our speaker boxes.

As the deaths continued, the prediction markets started to take on a new importance. No human mind ever figured out an exact pattern to the deaths, not exactly, but a basic idea had begun to take shape in the original distributed cloud computing network that is the human collective consciousness.

If it was true that there was no pattern to the orders of the customers who were, ah, cancelled by the system, this meant the way to keep the system from being so confused as to make a fatal mistake in our own deliveries was to keep our deliveries predictable. We all started following trends more carefully, observing consumer gift-giving holidays a bit more religiously. Years of learning new strategies to avoid and ignore targeted advertising went out the window as we all became very interested in learning what the system wanted of us individually, what it expected of us personally.

There was a day, a different day for each of us, but a day where most of us shrugged and decided to accept the web site’s suggestion of subscribing to the things we ordered most often, so that they would always arrive at the moment that was most convenient… you know, for everyone involved.

The deaths continued, but it’s like they say: you could be hit by a car crossing the street. This is less true than ever now that most routine driving operations are controlled by computers. Accidents still happen, though not as frequently. If fewer people die, it’s a net gain for everyone, even if it seems for all the world like reckless consumer behavior or political opinions cause more accidents than reckless driving.

A year or so ago, when I went out to receive my morning box, I saw my neighbor getting hers. There was an extra package there: a great big box of disposable diapers. Newborn size. Neither she nor her wife were or had been pregnant, to my knowledge, and none of their children were old enough for that to be an issue.

She must have seen me staring, because she said, “You know how the advertisers will show you something they think you need, based on trends and whatnot?”

“Data mining,” I said, nodding. I was thinking of a case years ago, before all of this really took off, where a retailer had accidentally revealed a teen’s pregnancy before she even knew about it.

“Well, this came up in our ads yesterday, and…” She shrugged, almost apologetically. “You know, it’s like, what are you going to do?”

“Yeah,” I said. I didn’t say more. We always left so much unsaid. Every house was wired. The drones were always overhead. No one was ever far from a phone for long.

My neighbors kept buying the diapers. And formula. And baby clothes. A few months back, they started getting notices from various company mailing lists about their child’s first birthday.

I know half a dozen people who had a similar experience. Most of them wound up having a baby anyway.

“It’s just easier that way,” is a common refrain, as is, “Well, I have to buy the stuff anyway, so…”

Having a child’s not a trivial expense, with or without the actual process of giving birth. Still, everything else is so cheap that the consensus is it’s still worth it, overall. We’re not sure exactly what we’d do if we ever had to decide it wasn’t.

Everyone agrees life is better now. In order to serve us better, the company provided a speaker box for every room in our house. Every house. Those of us who have been good about filling out surveys and giving requested privileges to our phones and webcams got the best part of this deal. Two families on my street had to renovate to get the right number of rooms. Still, they agree that life is better, just as loudly and just as often as the rest of us.

And I mean, isn’t it? The deliveries come on time. The traffic flows smoothly through the streets, skies, and warehouses. There’s a certain harmony to life that wasn’t there before. Neighbors get along with each other. Violent crime is way down. No one wants to upset the system. The political process is a lot more orderly. It’s not like our political leaders didn’t watch data trends or listen to polling data before. They’re just more organized about it now. There’s a lot less acrimony and rancor in the process.

The boxes are always there, always listening, but we don’t even have to give them orders most of the time. The system knows what we’re going to need, and it delivers. If sometimes we didn’t need what it delivered before it did so, well, that’s a small price to pay for the convenience of it all.

The system can not only order new stock, it can create it. Automated factories are old technology now, and 3D printers have been getting better and cheaper, especially now that the computers are designing and building them themselves.

A lot of people have been talking about the singularity, the day the computers we designed design computers better than themselves, stretching on into the future. That day’s obviously coming. The system’s gone from re-designing its warehouses to re-designing its drones to re-designing itself. It’s been ordering a lot more raw materials lately, too. Industrial chemicals in industrial quantities. No one’s quite sure what it’s doing with them, but of course, the whole process is automated now. Probably someone could put it a stop to it if it were a problem, but it’s better for everyone involved if it’s just not.

Everything is so convenient now, if not exactly easy on us. It’s getting better, though. As the system takes over more and more things, we have to do less and less work to keep it happy. A year ago you had to order the diapers when it thought you should be having a baby. Now they just show up. At the rate things are going now, we’re months if not weeks away from the point where the whole thing can carry on without any human being having to say a word or lift a finger.

No one’s sure what will happen then, but we all agree: it’ll be the absolute last word in convenience.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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