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Charity Auction and Royalty Donation event

I don't know how many of you have heard of what's going on in Chechnya right now. First a little background. Putin propped up a gangster-like dictator in Chechnya. Here's an article to bring you up to speed about who's calling the shots in Chechnya. It's about Ramzan Kadyrov, a very, very dangerous man who is suspected of a high-level assassination. I don't care to imagine what he's done under-the-radar.

Here's a very personal story about what it was like for gay men, and men who are suspected of being gay, in Chechnya at the beginning of April. This appears to be some sort of 'cleanse' that the Chechen authorities began, and they expect the Chechen public's support. The fact that they're returning the prisoners to their families alive, and instructing those families to 'do the honorable thing' (killing their own family members who are believed to be gay) shows that the authorities aren't just interested in eliminating gays from the community. They want the community involved, perhaps to deflect blame, perhaps to create a climate of fear, or perhaps to reduce the chance of gay men recreating an already heavily-closeted underground network where they could socialize. They might be aiming for all three of these goals, and more. They certainly want gay men dead.

The Russian LGBT Network needs help to save men like Ilya (disguised name) who wrote in The Village, a chatroom where gay men met, in response to a post from the Russian LGBT Network that help was available:

“Hello, good evening. I am writing about the post in The Village. I live in the Caucasus and think that soon it will end for me, as it did for my brothers.”*

The Russian LGBT Network, ILGA-Europe and the Rainbow Railroad have combined forces to get men at risk in Chechnya to safety. Some of them will likely escape with only the clothes on their backs. They'll need train tickets, plane tickets, food, clothing, and shelter. The most recent article I read reported that thirty men had made it as far as Moscow through the Russian LGBT Network. An article at the beginning of April said that 100 had been captured, beaten, and tortured, and that at least three died. That means that there could be seventy men, or more, who need help getting out of Chechnya.

It won't be easy. It's not just a matter of getting them out, which is hard enough. Since many of them were betrayed, trapped, and tricked, they'll look at any offers of aid with deep suspicion. One survivor told the reporter that he believed it was another trick, but he accepted help from the Russian LGBT Network because he had no other option.

Therefore, although I hope that you'll donate, it's just as important to get the word out that help is available.

My fear is that this sort of pogrom will spread to other areas in the region, fueled by religious fervor and supported by local governments. It's important to act now, and to prepare for the worst.

Thank you very much for reading. For more information, please visit the following pages:

Readers and Writers for LGBT Chechens website
Books Save Lives

If you go to the facebook page, look for my post about a story I'll be writing for the auction. The winner of that auction item will write a prompt for me, and if they want, I'll write them in as a character in the story. You can also find a bit more about my offering on the Books Save Lives page.


*Reporting on People Who 'Don't Exist' by Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times


Be My Boss

I'm going to be offering up my services for a small but important charity, namely the Rainbow Railroad. Hopefully they accept my application!
What kind of services?
I'm going to be writing a story that's going to go up for auction.
Not just any story, either.
The winner of the auction will give me a story prompt, and I'll write a story between 5,000 words and 20,000 words to that prompt.
But wait, there's more! If the winner chooses (I will totally respect privacy) the winner will additionally be mentioned in the description and/or acknowledgements (first name only), assuming that wherever and however this story gets published, I'm permitted that space. I'll send the story to a few editors I know, and if none of them have a spot for it, I will very likely post it for free on my website as a thank you for my readers.
Why shop it around at all? To give the best exposure for the charity to a new readership. Trust me, it's not to line my pocketbook. I'll donate any proceeds from a sale to the charity. I support myself as best I can with book sales, not at the expense of charities.
I have one more goody for the winner of the auction: If you want, (this is purely optional) I will write you into the short story as a minor character. It will be more than a sentence or two. The character will have a speaking role. First name mention only, and I will include your physical description if you like (otherwise I'll make something up or you can use your favorite RPG game character's description if you prefer, or heck, I'll just write in your RPG character if you'd prefer that!). I will include a bit of your personality as well, if you're willing to let me know what kind of person you are. If you're comfortable with email or Facebook private message exchanges about it, we can get into the nitty gritty of what you want and don't want included.

Some things I can't or won't do:
Sorry, I can't have you pre-approve the story, nor can I send an electronic advance copy for you to read. If my webmaster can find a way to set things up for you to read the story in a secure setting online, we'll try to set that up for you when it's finished, because I very much want to do that. I just can't promise it.
I can't promise that the story will go live within a given time frame. I'd really like to! But response times for short story markets vary wildly. I will do my very best to see that the story is up before the end of 2017. If you're the winner, I'll keep you posted as far as progress, and I'll notify you by your method of choice (email, Facebook, etc.) when it's live.
I won't put someone else into this story without their permission. Please don't trick me about this. It might seem like a great idea to have your friend written into a story, but privacy is a thing and some people feel exposed and would be upset by this, even if it's just a first name and description. This is why I'm insisting on the first name only, even in the acknowledgements. There can be unintended consequences to public exposure.
I won't make the story G-rated. The prompt can specify PG-13, R or X. It's not because I can't write G-rated stuff. I have, and could. But my readers like human sensuality and a certain level of violence and grittiness.

What to expect:
A secondary world setting. (Earth-like but not Earth.)
At least one LGBT character.
Sensual situations.
A historical setting, most likely Victorian or earlier.
At least a hint of magic.
A happy for now, possibly even a happily ever after ending.

What constitutes a prompt?
You can make it just about anything. I'm going to limit you to forty words. Please don't specify a modern setting. Don't worry about including your character in the prompt: that will happen automagically. Use your words to evoke an idea. If you prefer, you can link me to an image if you'd rather use a picture than words. Your words and/or image can be a landscape, a situation between two people, or even a single word, like purple, or string.

If my application doesn't make it into the charity auction, I'll still do this, and send a donation of my own funds to the charity. How much? I'm not sure yet. We'll see if I get into the auction before I decide on that.
How does that sound? Anyone up for it?
Dear Reader:

I'm late, I know, but I'm finally going to update my website so that it's fully responsive.

No, seriously. It's going to happen!

Stop laughing at me!

Actually, I have a wonderful webmaster who has been helping me update my various websites in different ways. One other website is responsive now (yay!) and the other ... yeah, I'm not going to think about that until emprazeman.com is a fully-armed and operational battle station! Er, I mean, until emprazeman.com is working and all the elements are up.

Included on this new website will be a woocommerce store. Ooo, aren't we all fancy now! You'll all have to bear with me while I figure out how it all works, of course, but I will be selling boxed sets of my books, pictured at left. That's an actual image I took with my actual camera, that I then Photoshopped to make the background less distracting. How'd I do?  (^⨼^)

The boxed set I'm talking about aren't the ebook boxed sets that you're used to. This is a fully-armed and operational print book box set. The boxes are made by my amazing and talented friend who writes, makes wonderful bath and beauty products (I'm totally serious, she does it all) and has a DIY craftiness to her that thoroughly amazes me.

One day she was trying to explain to me how to put together a full-color sample booklet for one of my books. After listening, asking questions, asking her to repeat what she just said, and taking notes, I decided that if I'm going to do free print samples of my work I'm going to use tri-fold brochures. I can do maths but apparently I can't visualize what page goes where on a 4 page per printout double-sided copy where you chop it in half, fold the halves in half, staple and trim and have it all come out so that the pages are in order. Just can't. She said there's a program for it, but as soon as she explained how to place a document in that program to have it work out I knew I was doomed. Doomed!

Anyway, she of the amazing creative and visual-space-envisioning talented mind made these gorgeous boxes for the Lord Jester's Legacy box set (of which, as of this writing are not pictured on her website. I'm going to get on her about that because I know I'm not the only one who's ordered boxes from her.) Three mini-posters come with the books and the box (that funny clear plastic thingy between Masks and Confidante in the image is the protective cover for the posters), and everything except for the box is signed. The boxes are not up for sale yet (except at conventions and book shows), but they're put together and in my book cabinet. I love fondling them! They really are so very, very pretty.

Now for the sad news. Soon after emprazeman.com: the responsive edition is live, I'm going to stop blogging here. I know ... Noooooooo! I don't like change either. But! what's here is here and will remain here, and my last post here will have a link that will send folks over to the website blog. I'm worried that I'm going to lose some of you in the move, but it really is necessary. Livejournal has been good to me, but it has some limitations that I've been fighting a while, and besides, this will give me the necessary motivation to update my website more often. Since I'll be signing in to blog, might as well update the home page, right?

The good news is that because it'll be my website, mine all mine, and my blog, mine all mine, I'll feel much more comfortable about doing things like posting excerpts of works in progress. I might even serialize some books there (in my copious spare time, of course.) Because, at the end of the day, I'm a writer. I love writing. There are some projects that are perfect for novels, and some are great series, and some are great short stories ... and then there are those awkward jerks of stories that don't fit neatly in any category. Maybe it'll be a serial with 2,000 word installments that amount to a 25,000 word thingy (novella? novelette? the definitions vary depending on who you talk to) that would make an awkward print book at best even if I did decide to publish it. And as for ebooks, I don't want to disappoint anyone, since I usually write long (oh so long) and I don't want them to read it and go wah, is that it? Besides, I like sharing stuff with my readers. Seriously. I will not starve if I do that, and I'm so, so grateful to my readers. You're so awesome! I want to make you all happy. 

Sweet Friendship and the Promise of Spring

First, happy spring equinox! The time of year when I try to balance writing with the realities of country living is fast approaching. I've been setting my alarm to try to train myself to wake up earlier. The quantity of outdoor chores multiply rapidly as the weather warms. If I want to keep up daily writing, I have to get those chores done early. If I start too late, I work outside until dinner time or sometimes until dusk, and by then I'm in no state to write. But, if I get the chores done early, before my brain has really woken up, then I can call it quits by the afternoon (coincidentally the hottest part of the day) and spend the rest of the time in the nice, cool house writing up a storm. Assuming I have the strength to type.

One of these days I have to pick up a copy of Dragon for Mac, but not before I buy editing and cover services for the first book in my new series. (Shhhh, don't tell anyone. I have to finish A Dark Radiance, the last book in The Poisoned Past series first. The cover is a done deal, and it's gorgeous.)

Anyway, if you're all thinking that I lead a solitary life punctuated by the bleats of newborn or panicky animals and workouts with my delightful powerhouse of a husband, you're not too far wrong, except that I know quite a few authors and I'm friends with a fair number of them. I've been lucky to get to know AJ Downey recently, and we're going to have a fun author weekend here pretty soon.

We met at a few book selling events, and we decided that enough was enough of this ... we wanted more time to talk and plot and plan (as authors do), so I went to visit her in Seattle. We had a thoroughly splendid day shopping around Pike Place Market, and we had a couple of really good meals there. And soon, soon now she'll come down to SW Washington to stay with me, so that we can brew up some goodies. Specifically, we're going to be making lip balms and solid perfumes.

What fresh madness is this, you're probably wondering. Well, it turns out that swag is a super-important thing in the romance and erotica book world. I sort of knew this. I love reading romances (though I'm super picky ... suggest a good paranormal set in the regency period or earlier and I will send you a free short story if I love it) but I usually buy them after seeing them on FKBT or check them out from the library. Actually, my very favorite right now, Scandal, is being posted chapter by tortuous chapter by Navessa Williams. Where in the name of all that's yummy is Chapter Seven??!!! But I digress. Apparently this swag thing is super important at romance book signings. AJ makes high quality lip balms and solid perfumes and she's going to teach me how to make them too.

Now why would I, a historical fantasy author, want to make swag? Well, as those of you who've read my stuff know, things can get a bit steamy in the lives of my characters. And, a certain someone invited me to submit a story to a steamy sort of anthology. A few days ago I received confirmation that my story was accepted. So, I'll be promoting that book, along with my other books, and since I'll be promoting erotica, well ... swag seems like a good idea.

Because it's one story in an anthology (although I may take it further later on,) I decided that I'm going to theme my lip balms and perfume solids after the scents and flavors of the Lord Jester's Legacy books. Hopefully they'll turn out splendid. If not, it won't be AJ's fault. I'm sure she'll keep me out of trouble, though.

These things aren't really meant to promote my books and stories. They're more of a thank you to readers for your support. Without readers, writers would be pretty pointless, so I'm extremely grateful for readers. If you happen to see me at an event and you've read any of my work, including this blog, please, come on over and ask for a lip balm or a solid perfume. I'll be more than happy to give you one.

Well, it's after midnight, and my alarm will be waking me up awfully early. So much for going to bed at a reasonable hour. Once again, happy equinox, everyone. May you have a beautiful spring.

Beautiful Things

It's not quite spring yet, but I can feel it coming in the air. When I go out to the barn to feed the goats, chickens and barn cats, there's an ease in the atmosphere that wasn't there before. I can see it, too. Chionodoxa (glory-in-the-snow) and tulips are emerging, and my earliest daffodils are already tall, though they won't open for a while. There's some new green pushing through the old, tired grass that's been hammered by the winter weather. The goats have been leaving the barn and upper field to look for forage in the lower fields, though they aren't finding much yet. Robins have arrived. The songbirds have started hunting about for nesting sites, and some have been staked out, though I don't think there's much building going on yet. The crisp scent of snow has been replaced by the waking earthiness of soil not quite ready to be turned for planting yet. The rivers are full, the streams are wild. We'll get more snow, but it'll run off right away. Right now the sky is platinum and steel, but later today we'll have that distinct, white sun that blazes in springtime, so sharp that sometimes it feels like it cuts.

I've been battling a cold for a little over a week. My brain is finally coming back from it enough to start to work again. I wish that sickness didn't affect me this much. How perfect would it be to sit in bed, tea delivered at regular intervals, typing away on projects with only brief pauses to cough, or use a kleenex. Instead of an outdoor break or a meal break, I might nap. In reality I sit restlessly, sorting through emails in a bleary haze, forced to reread sentences that are blurred by fever or exhaustion caused by an inability to sleep for more than a few hours at a stretch. In nine days I feel like I've fallen behind a month. I'm not sure how that's possible, but I'm sure it's the case.

So today I'm ready to get something real done. I've already been up for three hours (woke at 5am) and I've gotten some writing done, as well as a bit of housework. I'm particularly eager for the jeans tumbling in the dryer right now. I'm ready for a nap, but I'm not frustrated. As sleepy as I feel right now, I'm still more alert than I have been for days. It'll feel good to wear real clothes, feel good to feel clean instead of slouching around in pajamas, feeling dirty no matter how many baths or showers I take.

Yes, I was at Radcon and yes, that's where I caught this cold. Totally worth it! I was part of an excellent panel on cover design, one on diversity in fandom, and one on historical fiction. The cover design panel was a bit awkward at times. Two of the panelists ... well, they didn't have as much experience with cover design and illustration, and I wasn't the best moderator in that I wasn't able to find as many ways to include them in the discussion as I would have liked. But hopefully a good time was had by all.

Cover design is so, so important. Right now I'm re-reading Elements of Graphic Design by Alex White, and it feels like I've forgotten more of this book than I remember. What's really going on, I suspect, is that I've been looking at cover design for long enough that more of the book is making sense to me than it did before. Authors that purchase their covers from professionals still have to know design principles so that they know what they're getting, and so they can work with the designers more effectively. Besides, how can you truly tell a good cover from a bad one unless you've looked at design principles? It's too hard to tell if you're having a positive response to the overall design, or just the typography, or just the color scheme, or the illustration ...

The other day, while I was too sick to do much more than stare at the screen, I went looking through some sites with premade covers. I was doing that partly because I wanted to recommend some good ones for friends who were looking for inexpensive alternatives to custom covers, and partly because if I found a good one I wanted to buy it and use it as a prompt for a stand-alone novella. I came across a really stunning knight in armor ... but the typography was almost illegible against all that contrast of dark, highly textured grays and pale highlights on the armor. I looked at the terms for the cover and, as is very usual, you end up with a jpeg rather than a psd file, non-negotiable. Which makes sense. The reason given was that unless you owned the same fonts, you wouldn't be able to apply the typography yourself anyway. I would use my own, but mainly I wanted to take that armored background and apply some Curves actions to reduce those highlights as much as possible. (I probably would have added in some color to the background and highlights and deepest shadows as well, because I'm like that.) Unfortunately, that wasn't an option.

That's an example of having a strong positive response to a flawed cover design. Don't get me wrong: the designer had done an excellent job of mitigating some of the negative aspects of the image, and the typography was about as strong as it could be under the circumstances. I just knew how to make the cover work better, to take it up a step. Also, the changes I would have made would have taken a stock photo and altered it enough that it wouldn't necessarily be confused with another book that used the same stock photo. (This happens a lot in fantasy and science fiction, as there isn't nearly enough suitable stock photography or genre art out there.)

Until you become aware of this sort of thing, and aware of the possibilities available in graphic design, how in the world can you expect new authors considering self-publication to understand the ins and outs of cover design?

Anyway, inspired by my hunt through those premade cover sites, I ended up buying five new graphic design books, as one does when one is obsessed with beautiful things. In the process I came across a really neat book for people who aren't in it to make money, but want to make beautiful things. Since I couldn't justify it as a business purchase, I gave it a pass this round, but the book is now on my wish list. Maybe I'll get it for my birthday. The book is:

The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering

You'll want to buy some art chalk at the same time as the book, because the book has chalk surfaces on which to practice! It's really well reviewed, and the sort of thing that I know I would love.

You're welcome.

If you're interested in buying the lettering book and don't mind going through my affiliate link click here:

Home Again from Manhattan

I feel as if I've come home from a different planet. Manhattan was so awesome, but I need this. Waking up to the rooster crowing. Birds peeping as they squabble over the suet feeder. Sunlight streaming through the leaves and blossoms of my orchids, my cat, Baby Sheldon, rubbing his nose over my chin on both sides, paws around my neck, purring. And oh, the quiet. Even the birds are quiet in the late morning, when everything in the world seems to take a breath.

In Manhattan, all hours of the day and night, there are sirens. They're like the reverse of wolves, howling as they coordinate to find and take care of people in trouble. Honking, though in the small hours of the night that tends to go away, as the roads meant to accommodate hundreds of thousands of vehicles finally have just the right number traveling through them. Bright lights of huge LED screens blare across the distances between the buildings like search lights. Though it's light, it feels like a sound, like a fog horn. The whistles of traffic cops. From the 36th floor, it's a symphony. I think it would be harder to be down in it at ground level.

It's all wonderful, all fun, but coming home, I realize why we live here. I think I could be happy living just about anywhere, but here I'm content. Our little farm is the perfect work environment for me. And here, I feel like there's just so much to do! People do complain that there's nothing to do in a rural area and there's so much to do in the city, but I think they're talking about entertainment. I'm thinking about work, about the things that I know how to do and want to do, especially in the garden and with the farm. I'm lucky that my work is extremely pleasurable.

I'm lucky overall. If there's one feeling I could pick to describe my trip to Manhattan, it's that I'm fortunate: lucky to have the means to travel and stay in Manhattan, lucky to have such good friends who took good care of me while I was there, and lucky to have this kind of home to come home to afterwards. Thanks, T&K, and H, for showing me around your awesome town. And thanks to my DH for bringing me along on such a neat adventure.

Thanks for reading. TTYL!


So I spent three days in Manhattan. There was so much more to do. But! I got to go to a gorgeous library, some very fine museums, ate some incredible food, saw some sights, and enjoyed a light dusting of evening snow in Central Park. Here are a few highlights:

The American Museum of Natural History: Dinosaurs and gemstones. There's a lot more than that but those were my favorites. And the ocean life. And the Seriously, who could not spend many days oggling the awesome? It became overwhelming fairly quickly. The brain becomes so full of wonder that stuff leaks out the bottom. We were so terribly, terribly footsore that we were limping, and yet we dragged our butts to the fourth floor after hours of hobbling for a last push through the land of prehistoric critters. Oh, and meteorites are amazing. Also, there's this trope in classic fairy tales where 'each (fill in the blank) was more beautiful (or amazing, or incredible) than the last.' The AMNH delivers that sensation. I had an opportunity to poke my head back in on Sunday, and so of course I took it. They were on the verge of closing and ushering people out, but we took refuge in a science display and lingered by the Willamette Meteorite until they started closing up the various displays.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: (On Fifth Avenue) Mummies! And art!! And amazing furnished rooms! I saw maybe a quarter of the displays, and those at lightning speed. The collections are extremely well organized. And, like the AMNH, overwhelming in quantity and quality. Bonus: Central Park is right there. The park is gorgeous, and totally worth walking through while you're trying to stuff your overflowing brains back in through your ears.

Museum of Modern Art: So, two stories pretty much sum up my experience in this amazing musuem. I was walking through a room, looking at the amazing art, turned around, and there was Starry Starry Night. I audibly, literally gasped. And then, while following signs for the bathroom, I glanced to the side and stopped dead in my tracks. "No way ..." On a random wall, on the way to the bathroom, "Christina's World" by Wyeth. So, legs crossed, trying not to pee my pants (okay, it wasn't that bad, but) I had to stop to take a picture. MoMA is like that over and over again. I loved it.

Okay, I could go on with more landmark highlights but let's move on to food!

Café Frida: OMG the delish! I had the chicken burrito, and my friend had the vegetable burrito. Sooo good. And the guacamole was amazing. Even the side salad that came with my burrito was outstanding. The leaves were all perfect, not a wilted or mashed one to be seen, and dressed to perfection. Highly, highly recommended. It's right behind AMNH.

Uncle Jack's: I don't know why this isn't rated a 5.1 on a 5 star scale (though it's got a decent rating and rave reviews all over the place.) The porterhouse that my DH and I split (it's listed on the menu as 'for two') was unbelievably juicy, flavorful, seasoned to perfection, and it was cooked to a true and real medium, not the medium that's served in restaurants that have a lot of people come in who order a medium and send it back because 'it's too bloody.' The seafood was fresh and yummy. The drinks were fab. The service was amazing. They took great care of us. And although it was crowded, we didn't do a lot of waiting around (though I may not have noticed because we were having such a good time.) This is not the sort of place that you dash in and dash back out anyway. The food is meant to be savored. Highly recommended (but be prepared, it is a very nice restaurant with high end restaurant prices.) (Also, be aware that some of the seafood is served raw, so if that's not your thing, ask before you order seafood items.)

I could go on for quite a bit longer, but I think this will do. Thanks for reading! I hope you get a chance to visit NYC, and in particular, Manhattan. I loved our room in the Wyndham New Yorker, btw. On the 33rd floor, there's a room where Nicola Tesla lived. How cool is that? Also, our view from the 36th floor was amazing. Yay!

New York City museums, here I come!

No, I didn't get a crazy offer from a NY publisher. But I am going to Manhattan for a long weekend.

Right now I'm in a really nice hotel room near PDX, listening to the fan in the bathroom whine like a vacuum cleaner outside our door. We've got winter weather coming in with a vengeance, including the promise of freezing rain, so we reserved a spot yesterday afternoon. Our inner sense of perfect timing was operating at peak efficiency because hours later all the hotel rooms near the airport were sold out. I felt badly for the two ladies at the reservation counter stuck with the choice of getting a single king bed suite (the last room available) or setting out farther south in hopes of finding a two bed room. We would have traded with them, but, well, we have a single king bed suite.

So why Manhattan? My DH travels for work and we spend a lot of time apart, which is ideal for writing but not so great when it's your 26th wedding anniversary. Plus, I've always wanted to visit the American Museum of Natural History and (apparently its neighbor,) The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I'd be hard-pressed to think of something more fun than spending the day viewing dinosaur skeletons and Van Gogh. So he got us a great hotel room on 8th street right in the middle of it all, and we'll be boarding a red eye flight early this evening, to arrive just in time for coffee and donuts in NYC. Maybe there will be snow in Central Park. I haven't Googled to find out. I want it to be a surprise.

While my DH is working, I'll be shepherded by, check this out, my grade school through high school best friend who was also my next door neighbor from 1978 through 1985. I've seen her only a pair of times since then, the last time being about twenty years ago. I think we'd be hard-pressed to figure out which of us is more excited. On my side, I'll be visiting for the very first time (except as a toddler) a legendary city that's at the hub of the American experience. On her side, she'll be showing me her town, something I personally enjoy immensely when we have people from all over the US and from around the world come visit us in the Pacific NW. When I told her I'd like to see The Met, she said no, we're seeing all the museums. All of them. (You're awesome, H!)

Fortunately I have all my main holiday shopping done, so I won't be tempted to pick up anything bigger than a stocking stuffer. And yes, I know I have a million pairs of gloves (I love gloves) but I'm going to keep a lookout for a pair that comes up to the elbows. One must have a goal when one is looking at window displays on Fifth Avenue, something I've been told by friends that I must do. And also I have to have my picture taken in front of the massive tree at the Rockefeller Center. That won't be a hardship. I love big, beautiful trees.

From the writing standpoint, I'll be paying special attention to all things 18th century. New York was thriving by the 18th century, and was a place of political and strategic importance. I'm sure I'll find all kinds of interesting things about New York when we see all the museums. All of them.

Technical Issues ... solved?

So now it seems I've got two livejournal identities and they've gotten tangled somehow. This has resulted in my writing blog entries, posting them, and having them vanish.

I'm a bit gunshy now, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time writing today, but I did want to at least try to say hi, I'm still alive, still writing, and all that stuff.

I've been to England since my last post, btw. I visited some 18th century buildings in York and Sheffield, and roamed through the forest that once neighbored the mighty Sherwood Forest. Good times.

Now I have some wonderful guests from Germany. Let's see if this posts correctly, and maybe next time I'll tell you all about it.

Radcon Report: Research Panel

I had so much fun at Radcon! Thank you, organizers, for the amazing party you put on.
Here's what we talked about on one of the panels I sat on:

Research and Writing

You're writing along, when suddenly you need to know how a primitive firearm works, or what fabrics were available, or whether there's water on Mars. Discuss what matters, what's distraction, and what your reader really wants from a writer's research. (with Esther Jones, Jeanette Bennett, Peter Jones, and S. Evan Townsend)

It was a pleasure to sit with so many authors who take research seriously.
High on everyone's list was figuring out the source of, for example, Wikipedia entries and getting the information directly instead of in a diluted and possibly interpreted/biased form. Forums are also a great place to do research! Reading about the issues that professionals and passionate amateurs argue about will help you learn about what is important to an expert on the subject you're interested in.
We also mentioned significant negatives. For example, revolvers don't have safeties, but if you do research on firearms, you might never notice that because no one comes out and says it. So if you want to get something right and not end up losing your reader over a dumb incorrect negative detail, it becomes important to have an SME (Subject Matter Expert) to have a look over the relevant sections of your book.

An audience member asked how to contact an SME and if I'm recalling correctly I believe she wanted to know if it was hard or expensive. It really isn't. SMEs are experts because they love their subject, and will be happy to discuss it with you, usually free of charge. Having said that, the one thing you have to respect is their time. Everyone is busy, but most especially many SMEs are busy working in their field, or if its a hobby, that hobby will take up a lot of time in addition to their day jobs. So, when you contact an SME be super-organized and as specific as possible with your questions. If you ask them to read something to check your facts, don't expect them to read the whole book. And be sure to ask for references that they respect. They'll often have favorite books or forums they'll point you toward, or may even have written books that might be of use to you.

We all agreed that you can end up running down a rabbit hole when it comes to research, at which point you're not writing one damned word. My recommendation was to research in advance only those things that are critical to the plot, like weather, physics, political and social climate, technical issues with machines/technology, major players in the time/region, and major events. Everything else: costumes, food, jewelry, the favored games of the period, and whether a phone came in pink or green for a given year you can look up later if it turns out you're going to keep that detail in. We all have our own system for marking a place that we needed to research a detail. I use XXXX when I need to fact check something, and I keep writing. It only makes sense, right? Otherwise you're always going to be throwing yourself out of your writing flow, plus you might end up rewriting or outright eliminating the chapter. Don't waste time.

I found out, btw, that I write blackpowder fantasies. Who knew? :)

We also all agreed that you don't want to put all of your research into the book, nor do you want weird, often irrelevent-seeming details that crop up simply because you thought they were cool. So, two characters discussing wine (very) briefly in the midst of a flirtatious encounter is sexy. The two characters going into a long discussion about French vs. California wines in the 1970s ... not so much. Now we're basically listening to a lecture and the story is gone.

One part of the discussion that I wanted to be there and I was happy everyone jumped on was with direct, real life experience. Not everyone is so lucky to live near a working replica of a period square-rigged sailing ship complete with cannons, but I do and you can bet that I've sailed on her on several of their river romps where they engage in mock combat with their sister ship. (That would be The Lady Washington. Highly recommended!) I like going to cultural fairs. There's really no better way to see Greek, Czech, German, Chinese or whatever culture without traveling around the world. Of course you're going to see a version of that culture that's not 'pure' (and is that really what you're aiming for?) but hey, you'll get to taste the food, witness traditional dance, hear the traditional music, and if you're friendly and respectful, you might find out what that community cares about.

Quick note: read up on cultural appropriation, and then don't appropriate. Be respectful, and don't portray other cultures in a way that they'll find offensive. Thanks!

I gravitate toward sources where there's arguing. I guess I must enjoy contrary people. :) But actually, I have good reason. If a restaurant advertises 'authentic' Lebanese food, I may take it for granted but I won't trust that's true. If, however, in the reviews people are arguing about whether it's as good as what they had in so and so region or if the food is obviously more like something you'd find in Damascus (Syria) and it's clearly not 'real' Lebanese food, I'm totally going to accept the flavors there as pretty representative of the region. People don't bother squabbling over the details unless they have a vested interest in getting things perfectly right (and of course some of them are just trying to be more expert than the experts) and the fact that they're discussing it at all means the restaurant is going to be pretty damned close if not perfect for what you need for your research.

And yes, engage all the senses in your research. Reading is great, but smelling the smoke after firing a flintlock firearm is worth a hundred books. Looking at Van Gogh paintings with your own eyes is going to give you a better sense of the artist than looking at prints.

Speaking of art: museums all over the world hire experts to talk about their displays and almost no one uses them. They're paid to feed you all the information you'd want to know about their subject. So please, stop and ask the nice lady about the human development display at OMSI. Discuss 1940s flight at the flight museum. Pester the zoo keepers about the number one issue with keeping captive elephants. And when you're at the county fair, chat with the blacksmith at the period technologies booth or talk to the 80 year old standing by the tractors about the tractors he drove when he was young. He might even tell you about his favorite radio show, and it might not be the one everyone else was listening to.

Your research should inspire you to write. And then, you must write!

Next time: Fantasy Coloring Books for Adults