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Jan. 30th, 2017

11:09 am - Elfquest Re-Read, Fire and Flight: A Maiden’s Place

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

I mentioned in my last post the cultural exchange between the Wolfriders and the Sun Folk, two very different societies. One of the differences between them comes to the forefront when the earthquake sends the zwoots stampeding toward the Sun Village, and the Wolfriders head out to try and turn the herd away. Leetah is shocked to see Dewshine going with them, saying “But it is not a maiden’s place to –” She can’t even muster a justification for that incomplete thought, and Dewshine shrugs it off with a laugh, because she sees no reason she shouldn’t ride in the hunt.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/790592.html. Comment here or there.


Jan. 27th, 2017

10:42 am - A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. 6

I pity the hypothetical poor bastard who ever tries to go through these notebooks to write some book or paper on me. The fifth page of this notebook features the following gem: “Tá mé réasúnta ard agus measartha tanaí. Caithfidh mé a ? láidir. I should email [name]; he can probably help.” Four pages after that, we get “家へかえりたい” — the start of a whole block of Japanese text. I think by this point in my life I had stopped randomly writing things in Spanish, but I can’t swear to it, nor that there won’t be some Old Norse later on. The actual content of this stuff is rarely meaningful; the Japanese says “I want to go home” and goes on to whine about how I can’t write in kanji anymore and I’m tired, while the Irish, from what I can piece together with the help of a dictionary, is an evaluation of my height and weight and physical strength (why I was writing that I don’t know, other than as a way of not forgetting the language). But a casual glance at the text doesn’t tell you whether it’s pointless filler or not, written down because I was bored in class. Some of it might be load-bearing. The only way for that hypothetical researcher to know is to translate the Irish and the Japanese and the Spanish and maybe the Old Norse, along with the Welsh song lyrics and Latin poetry and other crap I scribbled out because I was trying not to fall asleep.

Dear god. A later page has me trying to write out the first line of the Aeneid . . . in katakana. アルマ ウイルムクエ カノ。

My brain has always been a weird place.

Anyway, this notebook. It mostly continues straight on from the previous one, as in I’m still taking notes from my junior year Japanese history and witchcraft classes. (Also my ethnography class, but either it bored me stiff or it was the kind of class that was more about discussion than absorbing information. Possibly both; I could tell you better if I remember which professor taught it. Anyway, my “notes,” such as they are, largely consist of details about paper due dates and complaining about my fellow students.) Reading through it took me a while, because I was pretty gung ho about writing as much as I could of my notes in Japanese; I got a lot of hiragana practice the last couple of days, and had a few rounds of “what do those kanji mean? Bakufu, maybe? <goes to dictionary> Okay, yes. Then the bit right before it probably means Kamakura, because I know that’s the next historical period after Heian.”

From a writing perspective, it means this volume isn’t very interesting, as the vast majority of it is class notes, and the bits that sparked story ideas are pretty scarce. But I’ve got a page or so of noodling about the Nine Lands, scattered notes on The Kestori Hawks, and the occasional nugget of idea, marked to hold onto for later. My paper for that ethnography class was written on the local SCA fencing practice, which is further evidence of how my interest in that subject developed. Toward the end I started working on my junior thesis, which wound up being about weapons in Viking Age Scandinavia; apart from more proof of “hey, I like sharp things,” that thesis led directly to a short story and an as-yet-unpublished novel based on same. (I read Hervarar saga and was wildly disappointed by how it squandered the narrative potential of the poem “The Waking of Angantyr,” which was included in my Old Norse textbook. So I decided to write my own version.) And I think this one page full of random words was me scribbling down names I liked while working for Anthropological Literature as an indexer, because the second page of that also features the note “Kumari” by Allen, Journal of the Indian Anthropological Society, 32:3 207-221 pp. I knew “Once a Goddess” was inspired by an article I read while indexing; now I have the exact citation. Thanks, Professor Allen!

The most interesting bit, however, comes at the back of the notebook — which clearly got used before the rest of it did, because the material there dates to my sophomore year, before everything else. I’ve got contact info for several archaeological sites, which must have been field schools, because the last thing on that page says “Cas Hen’s a possibility.” That would be Castell Henllys, the field school I attended the summer after my sophomore year, which is noteworthy for two things in particular. The first is that I wrote a good chunk of Doppelganger while sitting in my pup tent with my laptop balanced on my air mattress — including the pivotal scene where Miryo comes face-to-face with the Primes after her encounter with Mirage, which will forever stick my memory because my subconscious threw a spanner into the works that night, that wound up making the entire story much richer. And the second noteworthy thing is that Cas Hen is where I met Alyc Helms, who seventeen years on is still a good friend and my closest writing buddy. As I said when recommending her to my former editor after he set up shop as an agent, every time I hit a wall mid-draft, Alyc is the person I fling my manuscript at, wailing piteously for her to hellllllp meeeeeeee. So, uh, I’m glad I decided not to go work on Low Briker Farm or Silchester Roman Town or the Billown Neolithic Landscape Project, because I could have written Doppelganger there, too, but I wouldn’t have met Alyc.

Oh, and there is Spanish in this notebook, though it’s limited to me scrawling CALLATE! (shut up!) when one of my classmates wouldn’t stop talking, and some song lyrics when I got really bored. So, par for the course.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/790312.html. Comment here or there.

Jan. 26th, 2017

11:12 am - Elfquest Re-Read, Fire and Flight: Wolfriders vs. Sun Folk

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

Fire and Flight, the first volume of the series, could stand on its own just fine. It’s the story of how a tribe of elves called the Wolfriders were driven from their home and found a new one; it’s also a romance story for the protagonist, the Wolfrider chieftain Cutter. Both of those things find resolution here, so while the seeds of the ongoing story are present, you get a complete tale right out of the gate.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/790115.html. Comment here or there.


12:33 am - Introducing the Elfquest Re-Read

Growing up, I never read that many comic books. I associated the medium with superhero stories, which didn’t much interest me; later on, when I knew there were lots of other kinds of stories out there, I still found myself bouncing off them for various reasons (didn’t like the art style, found the stories too thin to engage me, etc). These days there are some comic book series I love, but even now they’re few in number.

And then there’s Elfquest.

A friend of mine handed me the first graphic novel when I was about twelve, and I fell hard. She went out of town right after loaning me the third volume; I just about went mad waiting for her to come home and give me the fourth. I discovered there was an Elfquest roleplaying game, and I got my local bookstore to order it in. Had I ever played an RPG? Nope. Never got around to playing that one, either. But it was an Elfquest-related thing, so I had to have it.

I’ve decided, in the tradition of my Wheel of Time and Diana Wynne Jones Project, to re-read the series and blog as I go. I don’t have a terribly organized plan for this; I think I want to approach it more via topics than making one post per volume, but I’ll tackle those topics in narrative order, revisiting some of them as they become relevant again. Right now my intent is to stick only to the first eight graphic novels (up through the end of Kings of the Broken Wheel); nothing after that worked as well for me as the early stuff did. But possibly I’ll change my mind, especially as I’m still working my way through The Final Quest, and may want to revisit some of the middle volumes to remind myself of what’s going on there. If you want to read along, all the stuff I’m definitely going to post about is available for free on their website.

This post will serve as the index for the whole blog series, so I’ll update it as I go with links to the individual posts as I make them. Look for the first of those soon!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/789783.html. Comment here or there.


Jan. 23rd, 2017

11:46 am - A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. 5

Years ago I numbered these notebooks so I would know roughly what order they went in, but it’s more what you might call guidelines than actual rules. This one, #5, starts out with my junior year of high school — I can tell because there are three pages from a project I was working on for Theory of Knowledge — but then it jumps straight to my sophomore year of college. And I can tell that because I was finally taking actual notes in class.

In fact, the bulk of this notebook is dedicated to class notes, stretching across three semesters. But even if there were nothing story-related in it — which isn’t the case — I would still consider it fair game for archiving, because of what it shows about my development as a writer. The classes recorded here are Ancient Celtic Society, my Irish Gaelic language course, The Christian Revolution (on the early formation of the church), Shakespeare’s Later Plays, the history of folklore theory, Japanese history, and witchcraft. (Yes, I took a course on witchcraft. My textbooks for that had the most interesting titles.) This is characteristic of my education: I ricocheted all over the globe, filling my brain with bits and pieces of material from a dozen different cultures.

I hadn’t realized it began this early, but here we get the first scattered appearances of the mark I mentioned before, the thing I would put in the margins of my notes to let me know when I’d gone haring off the path of class material and into ideas for my stories. It’s a little MB, for Marie Brennan, and it makes obvious what otherwise would require inference: the fact that my classes were directly fueling my fiction. It’s possible that one of my other notebooks will even record the moment at which a folklore seminar gave me the idea for “Calling into Silence,” the first piece of fiction I ever had monetary success with. I’ve said before that I didn’t choose my majors (archaeology and folklore & mythology) with an eye toward what would be useful to me as a fantasy writer, but I don’t think I could have chosen better for that purpose if I tried. Here is the proof of it, with my college education dumping truckloads of fertilizer and seeds directly into my brain.

Story-wise, there are a bunch of things in here, starting with Old Project C (that can be the code name for the originally-fanfic-based-but-later-original thing I may revive someday in vastly altered form) and bouncing around through Doppelganger, The Kestori Hawks (my third and wildly unsuccessful novel, now trunked), the Nine Lands short stories, and Sunlight and Storm (my fourth novel, which may get revived from the trunk someday). I can see the moment where I started noodling around with the name that wound up becoming Shikari. There are some scene-bits for what would probably be the pivot point of a series I have not yet written, more than fifteen years later. There are diagrams and choreography for the plays I worked on, during the four years that I was basically the only stage combat person at Harvard with anything resembling training — early stratigraphy for Writing Fight Scenes.

There are also a few habits that are still with me now. The first is my tendency to randomly start writing in cursive, in a never-ending and perpetually doomed attempt to regain the ability to make it look good. Sketches periodically fill the margins; I’m not much of a visual artist, at least not outside of photography, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying. And every so often — more, when there’s a good reason — I’ll write bits of my notes in Japanese, again in an attempt to keep up my skill. Mostly what it means in practice is that I remember how to write dates, and my hiragana comprehension has stayed good, because I can spell out things I don’t remember/never knew the kanji for, and kanji (at least the way I write them) are often too slow for note-taking purposes. This was useful in the part of the notebook where I was studying Japanese history, because I could and did write about how しょとく promoted Buddhism in やまと during the 六の century, but a few scattered habits stayed with me overall; I suspect later notebooks will show me writing 人 for “person” or “people,” because that’s one of the few cases where the kanji is genuinely faster to write.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/789758.html. Comment here or there.

Jan. 22nd, 2017

12:44 am - Taking part

My dojo’s New Year’s party was today*, conflicting with the Women’s March up in San Francisco. So instead I went to the Answer Coalition protest last night.

(*Japanese New Year’s parties happen in the new year. I’m told that as long as you get it done before the end of, oh, February, it still counts.)

I don’t think I’ve ever really been to that kind of event before. I can’t recall anything like it, anyway. It was grey and raining and rather cold when I arrived at UN Plaza, but I worked my way slowly to the front-ish part of the crowd and listened to people give speeches, including one delivered in both Spanish and English. Every so often the sky decided to drool on us for a bit; people were good about opening their umbrellas safely above head height, and indiscriminately sheltering not only themselves but whoever happened to be standing nearby. I couldn’t help but see a metaphor in that. Out of an abundance of caution I’d taken a Sharpie to my arm and written out an emergency contact, drug allergies, and the fact that my ophthalmologist had dilated my eyes a couple of hours earlier (so any hypothetical EMT would know why my pupils were blown), but it wasn’t at all necessary; everything was good, all the energy channeled in the right directions.

I hadn’t looked very closely at the details of the protest. Answer Coalition, okay, 5-7 p.m. in UN Plaza. I missed the part where it said there was going to be a march. When they said we were heading to the Castro (nearly two miles away), I thought about returning to BART and calling it an evening. But hey, it won’t hurt to go at least a little way, right?

Next thing I know, I’m in the Castro.

I thought about splitting after a few blocks. But there was a cadre of six or seven people who had brought side-slung marching drums, a guy with a snare, somebody with a cowbell, and one brave guy with a trumpet (I’ve played brass in cold weather before; it sucks). Everything is better with drums. There’s a reason armies use them, and it isn’t just to keep everybody in step. I went along with those people for a while, enjoying the beat, but eventually outpaced them and caught up with another group that was doing lots of chants: anti-Trump things, “Black Lives Matter/Native Lives Matter/Trans Lives Matter,” socialist worker chants, chants in Spanish. Somewhere in there I noticed that our progress down the westbound lanes of Market was being facilitated by cops, and I started thanking them as I passed. One of them grinned and said that if he hadn’t been on duty, he probably would have been there anyway. Another said it was easy with a group like ours. Cars headed eastbound on Market, or waiting at the cross-streets, honked in support as we went by. And then I could see the giant rainbow flag up ahead, and, well, who could quit before reaching it?

Only we weren’t done there. We hung a left down Castro Street itself, then hooked back east on 18th. Where was our stopping point? I began to form a suspicion that we didn’t really have one. I asked one of the cops, and he just shrugged: he didn’t know, either. I checked my phone and discovered that if I got ahead of the march, I could hit Borderlands before it closed; we were headed that direction, but not fast enough. So I peeled off at last, stopped by to sign some things and stuff a pastry in my face, got back on the nearest bit of BART, and went home utterly exhausted.

But very, very glad I went. I wish I could have joined the Women’s March today, but that one was good, too. And today I get to see the pictures, which made me just a touch verklempt. I knew there were marches in a lot of major U.S. cities, but I had no idea there would be marches in so many not major cities, too. And in other countries. And on other continents. (I wondered out loud if that’s every woman in Antarctica right now, and possibly every human in Antarctica. Turns out that the staff of McMurdo Station is much larger than that, plus there are other stations down there, so no — but still. Every. Single. Continent.)

Donald Trump has insulted and threatened well over half the population of this country. (Women alone make up 50.8%. Add in all the black, Latino, Muslim, Jewish, queer, or otherwise targeted men, not to mention all the men who don’t see those groups as the enemy, and who knows what the number really is.) We have mobilized, in our hundreds of thousands, to show what we think of that.

It’s a beginning. Now let’s keep going.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/789266.html. Comment here or there.

Jan. 20th, 2017

11:15 am - I Do Not Accept

Yes, by the laws of this country Donald Trump is legitimately our president.

By any measure other than the letter of the law, I do not accept him.

He did not receive a majority of the votes, and is not supported by a majority of the American people. He benefited from some unknown quantity of illegal foreign interference. He is supposed to defend the Constitution of the United States; he has shown repeatedly that he has no understanding of that document, much less concern for what it says. He has demonstrated a degree of cronyism and corruption unprecedented in my lifetime, before he even took office. He makes the United States less safe. He represents everything that is worst about this country, from bigotry to crass materialism, and none of what is best.

I do not accept him as my leader in any sense other than that forced upon me by law. And I will work by any legal means available to oppose the damage he is going to inflict on my nation.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/789093.html. Comment here or there.

Jan. 19th, 2017

01:26 pm - Anybody have an old ARC of COLD-FORGED FLAME?

I have a tradition of keeping one copy of every version of my books: paperback, hardcover, audio, translation, etc. And that includes ARCs . . . but I never got one of Cold-Forged Flame (an oversight on my part). If you happen to have one of those lying around that you’d be willing to sell me, please let me know! My collection is incomplete. 🙂

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/788948.html. Comment here or there.

Jan. 18th, 2017

01:44 am - A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. 4

My fourth notebook dates to my senior year of high school (because there are calculus notes and Latin translations in it) and my freshman year of college (because there are personal notes in it, which I have no compunctions about tearing out before I send this off to be archived).

It is probably fair to say that my writing process has never been so well-documented as it was in this period, simply because of the circumstances of my life. In high school and early college I didn’t really take notes in class, because I mostly didn’t have to. (When the “lecture” consisted of the teacher going over the information that was already in the book, I didn’t see much point.) I just listened . . . sort of . . . and remembered stuff. But I needed to look like an industrious student, so I wrote stuff in my notebook, and sometimes it had to do with the topic at hand but most of the time it didn’t. The result is things like this:

scan of a notebook page featuring a triquetra knot

Right there, documented for posterity, is the moment I had the idea of using the triquetra knot as the symbol of Starfall’s witches. There are countless little tidbits like that scattered through here: Poltergeist activity in Talman? says one page, a four-word query that led to a major scene in Lies and Prophecy. Another page has Five sections of witches. Name? followed by Ray in a different pen, as I worked out the structure of witch society in Doppelganger. There are worldbuilding tidbits that got abandoned, like the modes of address for the Primes; there are worldbuilding tidbits that got kept, like the top margin that has a few scribbled details on the psi-virus. There are two entire pages of me brainstorming setting details for the Nine Lands, evidence of me pursuing my goal of a world whose countries really were culturally distinct from one another — and given its placement in the notebook, after I had arrived at college, also evidence of how anthropology was feeding my brain.

I don’t know exactly when this habit ended, but I know it didn’t last beyond my days of taking classes, because it only happened when I was sitting around with a notebook in front of me for hours each week. These days my ideas sometimes get scribbled down on scraps of paper, but they’re more likely to stay in my head until they go into a story. There’s no record of the moment when I figured out the end of In the Labyrinth of Drakes, because it happened in conversation with Alyc Helms instead of when I was pretending to listen to a teacher. For years I had a tendency to jot down random names, phrases, cultural snippets, plot twists, and anything else that came into my head; eventually I developed a mark to put in the margin so I’d know which parts of any given page were about writing instead of class. It means I can watch myself think through things from back then in a way that just isn’t true of later work.

It reminds me of where certain ideas came from, too. For example, this notebook contains a lot of game notes: for my Vampire character, for my very short-lived Mage character, for Vampire sequel game I thought up and never ran, for the Highlander game I was running online. That latter had a female PC named Miryoko, and I remember that I knew “three syllables ending in -ko” was a common form of Japanese name (didn’t learn until later that it wasn’t that way in the time period the PC lived in), but I looked up “miryo” to see whether it was a legitimate Japanese word, and found it meant “charm or glamour.” Looking at it now, I’m pretty sure it means in the social sense, but it stuck in my head as the magical one, and yep, that’s how one of the protagonists of Doppelganger got named. The Head/Hand/Heart division of the witches comes from the comic book Elfquest, the three trials Cutter and Rayek go through when their rivalry over Leetah annoys her enough to make them fight it out with each other. Old forms of the stories get preserved: the scenes from Lies and Prophecy in here still feature a professor named Shields, because that was a perfectly innocuous name for Grayson until the plot headed off in directions that had a lot to do with shielding and it became a distraction. (And yet for all of that, startling amounts of text in here went almost verbatim into those first two novels.)

This notebook also features extensive evidence of a writing habit I had to kick before I could really make progress. It used to be that I would get an idea for a scene or even just a brief interaction, and I’d write it — out of context. Both Lies and Prophecy and Doppelganger got started that way, me hopscotching around to do the fun bits and then having to stitch them together into a coherent narrative fabric afterward. I didn’t manage to finish a novel, and I’m not sure I could have managed to finish a novel, until I made myself write more linearly, because that was the only way to make sure the stuff in between the fun bits was also good story rather than the bare minimum of connective tissue, and to make sure the key moments were properly grounded in the preceding text. These days I’ll sometimes let myself skip ahead if I’m really stuck and need to remember why I’m excited about the project — but even then, I usually write it in a separate file, to remind myself that any and all of it is subject to change once I get there properly. Non-linear writing works great for other authors, but not me.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/788720.html. Comment here or there.

Jan. 16th, 2017

12:10 pm - Excerpts from MLK’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail

(Jim Hines posted this to his blog earlier today; I’m reposting it because it is timely and well-chosen.)


You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured…

-From Letter From a Birmingham Jail
Written by Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 16, 1963

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/788264.html. Comment here or there.

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