The Randomly Special Ones

There’s a story motif that’s really popular in YA fiction, where certain individuals, usually ones who are underdogs in the beginning of the story. Their story kicks off the moment they find out they are somehow special, or chosen, have special powers. Harry Potter finds out he’s a wizard. Talia of the Valdemar books is chosen by the head companion magical white horse to be a Herald. They form a telepathic bond with a dragon, or some other animal, and become part of some order. A million other examples.

They discover they’re part of a special world and get taken away, and though there are bullies and selfish people just like everywhere else, they’re still special and get to do all these wonderful things. It’s a story structure that’s quite popular and successful, especially in YA fiction.

And I hate it.

It’s not that those books aren’t good, or even that I didn’t enjoy at least some of them. It’s just that, it seems a cop-out to make certain people randomly special, to pull them into the story. And I always think, what about the muggles? What about the one’s left behind? Do they get to do amazing things? What happened to the stories where a character wants to do something so badly, they will fight through anything? But if a Muggle wanted to do magic, they’d just kind of be screwed.

Anyway, I had this neat idea for a premise that I thought would be good for my next nanowrimo novel. It would be set in a world where people are bound to the earth in a magical way, so that if they go too far off the ground, they get sick. People wouldn’t live on second stories of buildings, or build towers. If a person was ill, the village doctor would prescribe a few nights sleeping on the bare grass. But every once is a while, there’s a person who isn’t earth-bound. In fact there’s an order of them, who fly aeroplanes. And of course, my main character wants nothing so badly as to fly, so of course it would turn out that she’s sky-bound. I had a fairly simple, standard YA novel plot to play with – nothing so complicated as usual, though, and I was looking over it for some twist to up the ante and make the plot got bang somewhere.

Then I realized what I’d done, and I hated it.

And I thought, well, what about the people who want just as badly to fly, but they’re earth-bound?

That was when I had my story.

I will be having some fun kicking around some tropes this November.


The Problem With The Warrior Woman

I’ve been thinking about this the last couple of days, and it’s because of one of the last main characters I was working with, and the new one that I’ll be working with for NaNoWriMo in November. They’re female characters with dreams, and their stories are about them chasing those dreams and the obstacles they run into, and what they’re willing to do to achieve their dreams.

A lot lately, I’ve seen agents and readers alike saying they want to see “fully fleshed out characters with dreams and goals.” Whether they say it or not, they usually mean that those dreams and goals should be more than getting married and having children.

I’m gonna grab some examples: Hiccup from “How To Train Your Dragon”: at the opening of the story, he wants more than anything to be a dragonslayer like all the rest of his tribe. Taran, from the Prydain Chronicals, in the opening scene of the series is complaining about making horseshoes because he wants so badly to make a sword and learn to fight like his hero Prince Gwydion. It’s fairly common for a young main character to dream of heroism. Sure, they almost always regret it later when they realize how much they’ve bitten off, but that’s beside the point.

If they’re male.

But female characters? Look at a couple: Katniss – she’s a warrior – did she choose it? Hells no. How about Xena, Princess Warrior? She was driven to it after being shattered by the destruction of her village.

And someone’s going to point out “But male characters are often forced or driven to become warriors too!” But that’s not actually the problem. See, there seems to be some equality in the cases where characters are forced into the warrior role – at least it’s commonly done with both male and female characters. Where the inequality appears is in the former case – when it comes to hopes and dreams. Can anyone even think of a story where a female character dreamed of being a hero and went off to chase that dream?

If fact, can anyone think of any story where a female character dreams of taking on a role that is typically filled by a man, and goes on to chase her dreams? And again, I’m not talking about cases where she’s either forced to, or driven to by a negative experience – for example, a woman’s police officer father is killed in action, and she feels driven to take his place or finish his unfinished business in some way. I’m talking about a young woman who idolizes her police officer father and wants to be like him.

I’m not saying there’s a problem with the stories being told. I’m saying there’s a problem with the stories that are not being told. We’re flooded with stories of women making desperate choices to protect those they love, fighting for the tiny shreds of happiness the world offers and then rips away. Women’s dreams in fiction are the simple humble dreams – they just want to live a simple, peaceful life and the events of the story tear that away from them. And yes, there are male characters with those simple, humble dreams too, but that’s not the problem. The problem is we so seldom see stories with female characters who walk onto the set and say I want something, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get it.

Well, not unless what she wants has something to do with a man, of course. Belle from Beauty and the Beast wants so much more than this provincial life, but it turns out what she was looking for was just a different man than the one she was first presented. Ariel? Part of that world means specifically part of Prince Eric’s world.

I think in the near future, there might be some shift in the popularity of this sort of thing. Dystopias are hot right now, and I think that reflects the hopelessness that my generation feels. But I think, or at least I hope, that things will shift towards something more positive, and we’ll see more characters who dream about a life that’s better than what they have. Characters who dare to dream of making the world a better place, or just dream of something more for themselves than get married and pop out kids.

In any case, I’m crossing my fingers that it’s going to spark something in the hearts of my readers, because that’s what I write, and I can’t help it.

Finished Edits – And Title Change!

This has taken longer than it would have if I were just working, rather than working and flying, but my planned revisions on the novel I had been calling The Eyelet Dove are done. I’m pretty happy with it overall, though revisions have a tendency to take the shine off of things.

I’ve been considering changing the title for quite some time though, despite The Eyelet Dove being a phrase that nicely rolls off the tongue. The thing is, it makes it sound more like a novel aimed at female readers, and it’s really not. Not at all. I mean, there’s female characters, but they like to blow a lot of shit up, you know? Which is not to say women won’t enjoy it – I just want to make sure it doesn’t sound like something that only women would enjoy.

At the time I came up with the title, I hadn’t come up with a call sign for the character Michel. When I finally realized that I had subconsciously cannibalized my very first novel (practice novel – will never see the light of day – I can’t even look at it without cringing) for a lot of the themes in this one, I decided I might as well use the same theme for call signs as I had for code names in that old novel. Which was songbirds, and Michel’s call sign became “Redwing.”

Redwing makes a much better title, I think. The feel of it reflects the type of story it actually is, so I’m going with that.

Anyway, I’ve revised my query letter, and I’ve sent out a couple queries. And I’m done that in time for NaNoWriMo to start. Those who know me know I do that every year. I don’t know how well I’ll do this year – I’ve made it to 50k the last four years, but not the three years before that when I was going to school while working. Now I’m in school again, so that has to come first, but I’m hoping I’m prepared enough to be able to make it again. After all, I have a 20 chapter outline already. But I’ll post more about the next project closer to November.

In other news, I’ve posted a review of Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer on the Punkettes Blog – go check it out – the book was everything I was promised and more. I think I’d call it the best steampunk related work I’ve ever read. Book two just came out yesterday, so I’m off to go pick up an e-pub copy.

Safe landings, all!

Seven Ways Writing Is Not Like Flying

Okay, there hasn’t been a lot about writing lately on this blog, with all the flying. I did finish my revisions on The Eyelet Dove (Though I’m still really considering changing the title to “Redwing” because it sounds so much less like it’s going to be a romance novel instead of the adventure fantasy that it is).

I’ve been flying a little while now, but I’ve been writing much longer, and when I place the two side by side in my mind, my mind wants to draw comparisons between the two. Maybe it’s a writer thing – my mind likes metaphors and similes. My husband is sick with pneumonia, so he was giving me instructions on using the barbecue, and I spent the entire time referring to him as my co-pilot, flying a barbecue S-120.

Only, it’s been kind of hard to draw comparisons. All the things that come to mind are the ways in which the two are so very different.


Writing: When you’re learning to write, you can do it privately. Write your million words of crap. Get a beta reader, and let them give you feedback, but that’s just between the two of you. Maybe you get to hook up with a published writer for mentoring, but even then, even if you’re sharing your work with others, the actual work – the butt-in-chair-pen-to-paper, is done alone, unobserved. You share it with others once you’re confident you’ve got it as good as you can get it on your own.

Flying: You have an instructor. She’s seen your pathetic first baby steps, and every shitty landing you’ve ever made. Even when you’re solo, I swear to all the sky gods there’s always someone watching when you screw up.

Measures of quality:

Writing: This is largely subjective. I mean, sure, there’s a point where it’s pretty obvious to just about anyone that you’ve got a ways to go, but once you get to that point where you’re possibly publishable, maybe not, but send it around until you find an editor who likes it – one editor might think it’s rubbish, and another might love it.

Flying: Each flight test element is marked from one to four. There’s not really any room for wishy washyness on the marking part. You don’t get to go to another examiner if the one you get doesn’t appreciate your style. Flying is not a matter of taste.


Writing: You spend months or years developing plot, characters, setting, writing it all down, revising, getting feedback, revising some more, until you’re sure of yourself, then you present it to the world, and sit back and pray to the pen gods that someone likes it.

Flying: You get tested, and you get one shot at each maneuver. You spend time practicing and preparing, yeah, but you don’t get tested on your preparation, you get tested on how well you do that day, that time, and that’s it. You pass or fail based on how well you do that day. There’s no finished product to show people, and you’re only as good a pilot as you are any particular day.

Sharing it with others:

Writing: You spend months talking your friends and family into reading your book even thought they don’t read, or don’t read that genre. Then they read it and go, that’s lovely. (Or maybe they like it. Hey, it could happen!) You turn your nose up and know that you’re a good writer, they just have no taste.

Flying: All your friends (except the one or two who are terrified of flying) want you to take them flying. You take them, and they have a ball, and tell you that your landing was wonderfully smooth. You know it was actually kind of a shitty landing, and your instructor was probably watching (see #1) and you’ll probably hear about how your touchdown was nearly past halfway down the runway from somebody later. But you just smile and say “thanks” to your friends and let them keep thinking you’re awesome because they don’t know any better.


Writing: Okay, so there’s certain things that you have to take into consideration, like whether or not you’re going to use your real name, or a pseudonym to protect your identity and prevent stalkers. I’ve decided that’s way too much fuss, and realistically, if someone’s going to stalk me, they’re going to be able to find me unless I go completely nuts paranoid. But aside from basic personal safety, and maybe attention to good posture, writing isn’t the most hazardous activity in the world.

Flying: Don’t even get me started. I think three quarters of what you learn when you’re learning to fly is just how to avoid doing something unsafe. It’s a constant concern, or at least, it should be. If you forget things, stop paying attention, get cocky, etc, maybe it’ll be okay, maybe you won’t get into trouble today, but eventually, you will. And when I say get into trouble, I don’t mean getting chewed out by an instructor – chewed out by instructor is best case scenario.

Personal Responsibility:

Writing: If your book bombs, it’s not necessarily your fault. Often, it hits the market at the wrong time, or the publisher fails to promote it, or maybe the market just has no taste. Or if you can’t get a pulisher or agent – it may be a wonderful book, but maybe the agents don’t think there’s a market for it, or it just doesn’t appeal to them. A book failing doesn’t mean you wrote a bad book, it sometimes just means you weren’t quite lucky enough.

Flying: It’s all on you. It’s your job to get that riveted hunk of metal into the air and back down again. If you touch down 3/4 of the way down the runway, it’s not because of the lack of headwind, it’s because you sucked at compensating for the lack of headwind. If something happens, 90% of the time, it’s something that if you did everything you were supposed to do, you probably could have prevented, and you just hope to all the gods that the day you miss something it’s not going to kill you.

What’s the worst that could happen?:

Writing: Worst thing – you publish, your book bombs, you can’t get anything else published because you’ve made yourself a reputation as a failure. So you change your name, go by a pseudonym, and try again.

Flying: You die.

So there’s not a lot of crossover between writing and flying. But there must be some way that flying is like writing, isn’t there?

Of course there is. I imagine there’s others, but I’ll throw this one out there: A writer, like a pilot, should always be striving to get better and better at what they do. There is always room for improvement, new techniques to learn, more challenges to overcome.

Keep your wings level, all.

Keycon Short Story Contest – open to all!

The first year I ever went to Keycon, they had a short story contest, and I entered and won first place. On the one hand, there weren’t many entries – I don’t think there were many more than the four that were published in the chapbook, but still, it was my first publication. But there hasn’t been a Keycon short story contest since then. I keep saying I want to run one, and my friend says, but if you run it, then you can’t enter it. But no one else runs one either. And I really wanted to see it happen. I got involved in Keycon programming, and one of the other writers expressed the same desire. So that’s it – we’re running one.

It’s open to all, so if I have friends in far-off places who are reading this, here’s your chance to make me read your short fiction! The details are here. Send me your stuff!

(And by send me your stuff, I mean, send it to the email address on the page on the link, and they’ll strip the names of so we don’t go all nepotistic and pick our friends. At least, not on purpose.)

Thoughts on Writing Forums

I’m on a number of writing forums, and I’m a little torn on how useful they are. I found them a lot more useful back when I was a beginner writer (maybe because I didn’t know better), but these days I see more and more stagnation within a group.

Perhaps this as partly because the group I was on the longest has recently had a change of moderators and the new moderator has a bit of a stick up his butt, rejecting posts of mine that were perfectly within the rules of the group, for violating made up rules of his own. I had to make him check with his supervisors, and get the ok to post it. But I’ve kind of given up on any really deep, intelligent discussion on that particular group.

Because the other thing I’ve noticed is that the published authors – they don’t stick around. There are dozens of published authors who used to hang out in that group, but they’re not there anymore. They’re not chiming in with their opinions on answers to questions from beginner writers. Instead, the questions of beginner writers are being answered by members who have been vociferous for years about their opinions. Members who speak in a very authoritative tone, but are not necessarily validated by professional publication.

And then sometimes I see noob questions being answered by the stalwart and vociferous members, where it seems like very old ideas are being cemented – truisms that I have seen (on blogs of professional writers) refuted, many times over. But in these forums of near-exclusively unpublished writers, these sort of things that amateurs stumble on are not receiving the same educated answers I see coming from professional writers. Because the professional writers *are* out there answering these questions. On their own private blogs.

Instead these questions are being answered in the forum with “Well, in my novel (which the poster doesn’t mention is unpublished and therefore this opinion is not validated to be successful) I did it this way.” There’s the occasional “I like it when an author I’m reading does it this way,” or “So and so published author did it this way” but those are shockingly rare.

And it seems, as soon as people get published, they disappear off this forum. Maybe it takes a year, or maybe they post something every few months for a while and then disappear. But they’re not contributing on the same level they used to.

Is this because their opinions are getting trashed by the select few in the forum who think they know better than anyone else? I don’t know. I do know that when I see those noob questions being answered with a million variations of “I do it this way”, I’m not even tempted anymore to chime in, because I don’t think it’s worth it. I don’t believe that anyone there will pay attention if I direct them to a professional author’s blog, where their question is answered, or to a book where the technique is used, or the problem they’re dealing with is worked around. I think my comment will be lost among a hundred other comments of varying value.

I dunno, maybe this is a sign I’m settling into my own style and way of doing things. There’s nothing wrong with amateurs sharing ideas, it’s just that I see so much of a couple of people pushing their own way of doing things. A little like the critique circle phenomenon of eventually everyone in the group writes in the same style.

Anyway, the last time I tried to post something that was publishing related, and not “writing related” (because apparently publishing is not writing related? wtf?) I was directed very cutely to one of those tiny little forums called blogs, where I can post whatever I want. I think that’s where things are going though. That forum is dying, and I’m enjoying having my own blog, and following other author’s blogs – being able to control who I see posts from, and see more posts from actual published writers. I think that’s the way things are going to go.

NaNoWriMo 2012 – Here It Comes

I can’t believe it’s only a couple days before I leave for B.C.! I’ve got all my shift trades in to make sure I have the days off, and I have littel travel sizes of toiletries, and a lint roller. I finally found my good flat iron! Can’t wait, getting nervous and excited. But in the meantime….

It’s that time of year again, and this year will be year seven for me. I’m fairly confident in my ability to make it to 50k this year – I have two weeks of vacation booked in November, so while it’s never a piece of cake, there shouldn’t be too much stopping me from making it.

As usual, my screen name is Lindenfoxcub, for anyone who wants to friend me.

And this year, I’m changing gears. It’s been a very very long time since I’ve continued something longer than one book. The only one so far, really, is my first work, which I had figured to be three books worth when I wrote it, was really only around 130k total. God knows what it would have been revised though. Granted, it was all but unsalvageable. There were a couple of characters and concepts I’ve pulled out and put into other novels, but the first novel itself will never get revised.

Anyway, this year, I’m doing a sequel – the sequel to The Eyelet Dove, no less. ‘Dove was originally planned as a standalone. Or rather, it was originally a short story, believe it or not, those of you out there who have beta read this thing for me. But then Michel showed up and lured me into a novel. ‘Dove stands alone as it is now, as a single novel, but there’s a bit of a hook at the end – and open door so to speak, hinting that there’s more to come.

The sequel will be titled “Redwing”, and it will be a loose sequel. I hadn’t thought to write a sequel at all because the two most central characters, Etienne and Claire; their stories were told, they went through their character development, and found their satisfying ending. There was one character whose subplot doesn’t get resolved – not in a happy way, anyway – but that’s life.

So what would the story be in a sequel and what characters would I use to tell it? Ideas mulled in my head, new characters appearing, and I realized what the sequel would have to be. It will pick up more or less where ‘Dove left off, but with an almost entirely new cast of point of view characters. The Admiral will return as a point of view, but that will be the only one. Claire and Etienne will be around, just not central. Instead, they’ll be supporting the new characters with new stories to tell. And heckling. Lots of heckling, and dramatic irony. I love me my dramatic irony.

The other way I’m changing gears is in preparation. For some time I’ve found success in writing a loose outline before I start writing. Just a bunch of scenes with the big events, and some connecting scenes, just so I don’t lose my way, or have to think too hard to get back on track if I’ve sidetracked. Then I revised ‘Dove, and hacked that wreck of a first draft to pieces and sewed it back together with 3/4 new parts. There was a lot of rethinking and reworking the outline that went into that revision, and I started thinking, as I started drafting my outline, is that thinking that I can do before I start, without hobbling my creativity? And I think I can. I think the problem with that draft was that I hadn’t thought through the logistics of a lot of things, or worked out a lot of the relationships in the story. I’m starting to think in those terms more fluently now; learning to use relationships and character motivations more to drive the plot, and I think now that I’ve learned it, I can apply it to the novel on the first draft, rather than on revision.

I know Nano is all about spewing crap all over the page, and believe me, it’s still going to be crap. But with just a little luck, it’ll be crap with a little bit more solid structure that isn’t going to have to be rebuilt from the ground up this time. Crossing my fingers here that experience has brought me wisdom.

Flying My Flagship Novel Into Battle

It’s been about ten years since I’ve been any farther from Winnipeg than Brandon, and while I’ve done my share of traveling when I was a kid, with my parents, I’ve never made my own travel plans. Add to that a PTSD reaction, from a period in my life where I had a man in control of me yell at me for hours on end, every few days, that I was worthless and stupid and couldn’t look after myself.

So when got together with The Punkettes and they invited me to join them in BC for the Surrey International Writer’s Conference, my knee-jerk reaction was “I’d love to, but no, no, silly, I can’t go off and do crazy things away from home and family and protection, and – no, no, absolutely not, I can’t do that. Lindsay doesn’t do things like that.”

And of course that sounds silly, so my brain immediately re-routed to excuses – the main one for the last while having been the completely legitimate “I’m too goddam poor to do stuff.”

And then suddenly it sank in that this is the first time in years that we’ve not been strapped for cash. We’ve come into  bit of money, most of which we want to hoard in hopes of buying a house one day, or something – we’ll figure it out, but also, because we’ve been living with the mother-in-law, our living expenses have gone way down.

So I was out an excuse and decided ok, if my best writing buddy wants to go with me, then I’ll go. I’ll do it. There’ll be agents and editors there, and there will be tons of networking I can do, meeting people and all that stuff I taught myself to do at keycon last year and was so successful at. And I’ll get to meet the other punkettes in person, and we can gush about punky stuff together! And my best writing buddy checked her own finances, and being a student, waiting on loans and yadda yadda, she can’t make it.

At which point, I realized I really wanted to go. So I’m going.

And thus begins the BC mission. I wonder if they’ll let me wear my Abney Park flight goggles on the plane? I wonder if it would get me strip searched….

I’ve flown before – I love flying. If you read any of my long form writing, you’ll probably notice a theme of flying machines, animal characters that fly, etc. It always frustrates me that I’m not the sort of person who would likely end up in one of my own stories – that I’m not someone who likes to charge into things and has everything together and confident.

On the other hand, maybe I am. Every time I see myself shying away from these things, don’t I slap myself in the face and tell myself to stop being wuss? I am going after all. Don’t they always say the heros are the ones who are scared, but wade in anyway? So I got registers, I got my plane tickets Sunday (thanks to @AntigothTCO for his reassuring guidance there), and here’s me, bravely flying my flagship novel across the skies into battle.


Perseverance is nine tenths of any art

Not that it helps to be nine tenths an artist, of course.

Or so says Mabruk, in Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. Reading the graphic novel reminded me of that – it’s one of my favourite quotes from the story, though I have many.

I think it’s true. But I also think that 99% of people have that one tenth of being an artist that we call “talent.” The creativity, the ideas.

I roll my eyes when someone says “I have this idea for a novel/movie/TV series, but I have no talent to make it into anything.” They may not have what it takes to make that into something, but it’s not talent, it’s passion and perseverance.  The just don’t want it badly enough.

Which is fine. Those are those people they’re talking about when they quote “Anyone who can be discouraged from writing, should be.” It’s just not rewarding enough to bother, if you don’t have the passion that drives writers to do what they do.

But if that person really wants it, that other nine tenths, can be taught and learned. It takes time, and dedication, yes, but it can be learned.

So, if you don’t have the passion for it, fine, don’t bother. It’s okay. But if you have a passion for ideas and creativity, don’t let a bullshit “lack of talent” be the thing that holds you back.

Thoughts on Receiving Critiques

With critiques coming in, and one beta reader nearly finished reading the novel, I’ve been thinking about how I receive critiques. Partly because I’ve also been watching others receive critiques, in various face to face groups or partnerships. Some people handle negative feedback better than others.

The way I look at it, is the whole point of this is finding out what’s still broken that I can fix and make the story better. In which case, the negative feedback is useful and much appreciated, and I try to let my critiquers know how much I appreciate it. Because getting the feedback is a means to an end – the point is making the story better.

It’s different from a review – a review is when you get the book published and people say what they think sucked and what was good and whether or not other people should bother spending money on it. It’s a reflection of what someone thinks of your writing skill. A critique, on the other hand, is not supposed to be a reflection of your skill, but a tool to improve. A stepping stone to better writing, so that when those reviews come in, they won’t be as disappointing as they could be.

One big factor in how I see people receiving critiques is the writer’s perception of how good they are. Most people in critique groups think they’re a lot better than they are. I won’t say most writers, because the writers who think they’re worse than they are, generally are too embarrassed of their work to join a critique group. But, especially with a newly formed critique group, with members who don’t know one another well enough to want to spare one another’s feelings, there is often that first time critique that’s received with a disappointed frown.

Sometimes the person has had much more positive feedback from a more supportive, but possibly less honest environment (my mom says she liked it/my fanfic is well received by my following).  It can be hard for those people to hear a more honest opinion from a less invested stranger.

I find it’s never a good idea to have close friends or family critique your work. I did give my novel to my mother in law to read, but I didn’t expect her to offer a lot of negative feedback with the honesty of an actual critiquer – she just wanted to read it. The reason family and close friends are a bad idea is because the relationship will get in the way of the feedback – the person giving feedback will be afraid to hurt the writer’s feelings, and if they value the friendship, they are very likely to hold back. On the other side, if the writer values the friendship, their feelings are likely to be hurt even more than if the feedback were to come from a stranger.

I do have one very close friend with whom I trade critiques, and we are brutally honest with one another. When we started trading critiques though, we weren’t friends yet – just fellow writers who met at the day job and who made a mutually agreeable arrangement. The friendship grew out of that, but the brutal honesty in critiques remained, because we both know the other has a very thick skin and can handle anything we say.

We also know that critiques are only opinions. She’s a great copyeditor, but every once in a while, she makes a suggestion of a style change that would change my style to hers. I just ignore those. I appreciate the suggestion, and sometimes her more formal style would suit the character I’m writing, and I’ll make the change anyway, so I’d just as soon she point it out as not, so that I can make a choice. But we have very different styles, and not everything I suggest is going to be something that works for her either, and we both respect one another enough to not get hot under the collar if we disagree on a point.

But in closing, if you’re one of those people who’s heartbroken at receiving a critique that points out weaknesses in your work that you didn’t realise were there, don’t be. It’s not a review – the work isn’t published yet, and it doesn’t have to be perfect yet. No one expects brilliance in a critique group. Take that feedback as it’s intended – as a tool to help you become a stronger writer.