Category Archives: Writing

Canon vs Fanon, Who Cares?

(I may have harped on this before. It’s still relevant, lol.)

Fanfiction is pretty much older than dirt–I would argue Homer was writing fanfic of the Trojan War since it was a) way before his time, b) he made a Turkish city Greek, and c) he brought in legendary heroes from a bunch of time periods together. But the point is, a lot of people accepted Homer’s stories as fact, without even questioning it.

They had accepted Homer’s story as their new canon, making it now what is commonly referred to as fanon.

For those who have no idea what I am talking about, canon means the information that comes directly from the source material. Now, what counts as source material can vary. Some people narrow their view to one specific source, such as the film series but not the comics or cartoon spin-offs. Others cherry pick, accepting all sources but not all episodes or facts. A lot of people you just have to ask or read their notes to figure out what they are treating as canon for any particular discussion.

Fanon has two separate meanings, depending on context, and I’m going to look to my Homer example again. The first definition is Homer’s work itself. Homer’s particular combination of characters, setting, and events is its own fanon. In his playground, you have both Ajax’s and yet more contemporary heroes, and the Trojans are a traditionally Greek society. Now, when a group of people argue that they are going to adopt Homer’s fanon as their own, that’s another–and the second meaning–of fanon.

Fanon can be over something small, such as one character having a particular hobby. Another fanon can be a lot bigger, such as how one character feels about another or even about themselves. Sometimes a consensus about names for background characters happens, and the rest of us are left confused. (Looking at you, Miraculous Ladybug with the concept-art Quadatic Kids or whatever they are.)

The trouble that fanon seems to run into is when the fans who create it forget to leave their fanon at the door when new material becomes available. Whether that’s the next movie in the franchise, new books set in the same world, or just a new season of the show, it’s hard on the fandom to make their own fanon and the new bits of canon to mesh sometimes. Long hiatuses make this worse, fyi. It’s why whenever I write fanfic for an unfinished series or I’m reading something in a fandom that is always evolving, I try to keep that in mind. It prevents me from being completely disappointed. It also gives me a refuge if the writing jumps a shark or two. (I refuse to acknowledge Season 8 of Game of Thrones unless it is to call out the mess and bad behavior and how nothing has changed. I literally only watched the series for Dany.)

So what can we interpret this all for as writers? Well, for one thing, it’s gonna happen. You just have to accept it, be amused by it when people ask you questions about it, but otherwise avoid participating in it. The other? Know where to have an answer and where to back away, which comes back to my Law of Writing: never lie to your fanbase. If you haven’t thought of a particular aspect of a character, admit to that if asked, and say it hasn’t come up yet and you wouldn’t want to make a decision without all your notes in front of you. Admit if something is a spoiler for later if it comes up. Some fans hate spoilers with a passion and want to see things in context. And too many spoilers, not only does it raise expectations to unrealistic level, but the fanon can work against you and come up with stuff waaaaay better than your own. (Again, looking at you Miraculous Ladybug and Zag.)

Or if it’s a fun detail that hasn’t come up yet in the books and is just extra, or you happen to know it…tell them. Yes, it’ll feed the fanon or maybe contradict it, but like I said, it’s going to be there regardless. The little facts can create whole spin-offs of ideas and thoughts, especially if your series is finished but you are writing in the same world. But J.K. Rowling has made a name for herself as being the worst example of this. Know when to back away and go, “You know, this is inappropriate for the age demo of these books,” or in her case, I swear she’s just making random stuff up as she thinks it up, which is hell on the rest of us since very bit takes away from the magic that we grew up with and makes it…more like the dirty reality we live in.

Anywho, that’s a whole bag of salt to unpack on another day. I just wanted to take a chance to talk about something I’ve been seeing on tumblr in a couple different fandoms. I’ll be back next week with…something, not sure what yet. Maybe review the new Fast and Furious spin off? It has Hobbs, I’m bound to be amused…

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Writing: On Historical Horsemanship…

Odd little mini-rant time. (It came up somewhere else, and honestly I don’t see this compiled anywhere? Writers need resources!) So you have things set in a pre-autonomous vehicle time period, or at least the only one that exists is the train and it don’t go everywhere. Your hero has two options: his own two feet, or buy a horse. What does this mean for your timeline and what sort of details do you need to know?

First things first: please do not go by Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. They don’t know how horses actually work, I swear, and it’s not worth the fight to try and make their mechanics apply to your story. (Seriously had to have a convo with a DM about why a harness isn’t helpful in a riding situation. It wasn’t his fault, the entry was just written very poorly and I was like, “My inner equestrian is offended.”) They also tend to box horses into neat categories, which allow me to laugh uproariously over that. If only it were that simple.

So what do you need to know? Okay, so let’s go into some pretty broad categories and we’ll go from there. You have a general, all purpose horse. A riding horse, something bred specifically for good paces and pretty looks. Your war horses, these are trained for combat situations and usually are some ugly buggers, so be prepared. And then your cart horses, which again come in two sorts depending on how heavy your load is. Yes, there are ponies, no, unless your character is under the age of 13 or so (or has never ridden before, period), they won’t be riding them. Being mounted on an actual horse was a really big thing for the nobility, the younger the better.

(There are multiple official terms I could be floating around here, but I’ll be honest. Most are French thanks to the Norman invasion of England. If you are writing before that invasion or in almost any other country, those terms would just sound weird.)

Your general all-purpose horse is just that. It can be trained to pull a cart or buggy, it can be trained to carry a person on saddle or serve as a pack horse.  Usually a combination of all three. This is what most merchants and lower owned, if they owned one at all. This horse would come up to about the chin of a grown-man, so around 15 hands or 5 feet tall. Unlike our current breed books, medieval horse breeders literally did not give a fig about colors, so they came in everything.

Now for your stupid expensive horses. A rich merchant might have nice riding horses, the nobility definitely would, but the war horses are going to be limited to those who serve in your military, whether that’s nobility or a combination of classes. Riding horses are leggy with good proportions, high spirits, and can turn on a dime. They can be the same height as a general horse, but they can also be taller, up to 18 hands, because of their legs. Warhorses, on the other hand, were stout, with lots of muscle and tended to look short in the waist and kinda awkward to watch outside of specific maneuvers. They were also remarkably calm animals, unless you threatened their rider and then all hell broke loose. Please note, these horses usually topped out at 16 hands. They weren’t tall, just strong.

So what should your horse be wearing? Believe it or not, you’re going to want to check out Western gear, it’s the closest analog we’ve got. A simple bit with headstall (no chin strap) is in line with what they wore as basics (unless you want to get fancy), and a Western saddle without a horn or quite as wide stirrup leg is more in line with what a medieval saddle tree would look like. Note, a jousting saddle would actually have an even higher front and back. They had breast collars, which I think is a very important tool because horses have slick backs. You wouldn’t see much of the fancy barding or cloth coverings outside of a joust, they just did nothing but make the horse hot.

So who is riding these horses and how fast? Having a horse at all was an expensive enterprise, but most families owned at least one because you had to get the produce to market somehow, and horses were faster than oxen (and oxen or mules weren’t always available). Please note, women would ride astride just like men. That’s why you’ll see skirts with riding slits–gaps in the fabric in the front and the back. This would let the fabric part enough to let the women sit comfortably in the saddle. The only type of side saddle that existed was basically a chair on a horse who would be led, as seen here in the Russell Crow version of Robin Hood, being used by an elderly Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Side Saddle

As for speed, well, you have options. The fastest two are the ones you’ll use in a chase scene, because they are literally only good for short bursts. A canter or lope will run you 12-15 miles per hour, and a full-out run will get you anywhere from 20 to 30 miles an hour, it just depends on the horse. But remember, short bursts. I’m talking half a minute at a run, you’d get about two minutes max at a lope, and that’s being probably overly generous. Your best bet is to alternate the slower of the two gates, trotting and walking. A trot runs about 8-12 miles per hour, and a walk is around 4 miles per hour. Some horses have what are called ambling gaits, but they slot in with canter and trot pretty seamlessly in terms of speed, they are mostly about comfort of the rider. Assume you are going to travel about 30 to 40 miles a day.

(As a note, that’s about how often you need a small roadside inn or tavern on a road. Despite what most DnD campaigns tell you, people didn’t camp out on the road very much. Even if it’s a farm that opens its barn up to travelers, there is a place to sleep for a bit of coin somewhere without camping.)

…Hopefully my horse nerd-knowledge is helpful, I just like having it all in one blog post instead of digging through seven different Wiki articles and tumblr.


Writing: What Your Writing Teacher Never Told You About Querying

Alright, buckle in folks, time to pour some tea and make a salt circle that is probably going to get me in loads of trouble later. But there’s some things that current professors don’t know about the querying process, because most of them have had agents for at least the last five to ten years, and thus aren’t aware of some of the new quirks. Let me tell you the myth as I heard it. Be prepared for lots of rejections, insert Stephen King story about the railroad spike here. Feel lucky to get even one agent’s attention, and then you can shop later once you have proven your books sell. Your relationship with your agent should be like finding a spouse, so feel free to be a little choosey and patience.

Let’s tackle this bit by bit. Let’s start with the rejections. I am going to say 60 to 75% of the time, you aren’t going to get a response at all. The silence is meant to be a rejection, but for those with outrageously long wait times, that can be painful as all get out. Sometimes, you’ll at least get an auto-response saying that your query was received and here’s how long you’ll have to wait, but don’t bet on it being accurate. The only part that is accurate is expect lots of either returned or ignored type rejections. There’s even more agents now than ever, so you’ll have a huge field to go through. You definitely need to verify every agent that you run across–there are a lot of predators out there taking advantage of the high numbers of agents.

As for lucky getting an agent… Okay, here’s a weird trend I noticed. Very rarely did anyone I hear squealing on Twitter or QueryTracker say they got one agent. Because the next step after one positive reaction…is tell everyone else that you got an offer. It became clear to me that agents rushed to anything anyone smelled at being decent. All it took was one offer, and you could end up with nine or ten offers because one person took the time to decide your book was worth something. It’s a lot like the pitch events on Twitter, with all the agents flocking to whatever someone else liked. It seems like a lot less investment in one person and a lot more following the pack. But because of this, and publishers only putting out a few new books a year and trusting too much in their best sellers and putting all their money in one basket, it’s a lot harder for good books to get read at all.

As for being choosey and patient, well, I agree with the patient part. I was perhaps overly patient. But choosey? That depends. As part of getting your query letter, synopsis, and first fifty pages prepped, you definitely also need to really boil down what you need from an agent. In my case, I had to have someone who enjoyed some element of fantasy. Everything else, I was a lot more flexible on, but I was aware of the “tags” in case it was on someone’s no list: LGBTA+ friendly, romance could go either way, female protagonist, young adult. Know what an agent absolutely has to have an interest in, and then be aware of the other aspects of your book in case it will turn an agent off. I would also look at other writers’ critique of querying an agent on Twitter or QueryTracker. Writers will usually post warnings, such as people never getting back to you even after you give them a full, or warnings of stuff going on in agent’s personal life so have extra patience. But after that? Keep the field as broad as you can. Once you are out of agents, you are out.

Back to me being too patient. I figured out in my process where my line in the sand was, and that was communication. I would wait and wait and wait, as long as the agent kept in touch with me and told me that they weren’t going to meet the deadline they gave me, but here was the updated one. I would wait for months if not a year if you kept in contact with me. Why? Because I understand that life happens. I’ve had the flu twice this year already, and I lost every pet but one last year. I know it dearly. As long as you are talking to me, I will give you the time you need. But ignoring me when I ask for updates after you’ve missed the deadline is now my newest pet peeve ever. I highly recommend that you figure out where your line is, so you can approach queries without it being a frustrating process. As soon as your line is crossed, withdraw your submission and move on.

I’m not really bitter about the querying process. Do I think it’s antiquated? Yes. Do I think it could be a lot better managed? Yes. Will I do it again for White Dragon, Black Lark? …Eh. It’s going to depend on if it is long enough to actually be considered by agents as a book, since most don’t represent novellas. It stands a better chance than Ten, which is the stepping stone of a series and it appears that agents aren’t playing with series anymore. But I will definitely be approaching querying from a different stand point, now that I know how things have changed. I’ll probably do the pitch events first for an initial interest, and then start combing Query Tracker.

Look, getting published is hard. It’s a constantly evolving game. I’m not mad at my professors for not preparing me–they are out of that game, and have been for a while. They all have agents, and can even play against them if they need to because they have the experience and contacts to do so. But someone starting out in this business doesn’t have that, and everywhere you go digging, you’ll find people looking to charge you hundreds of dollars to prep your book for agents, and that’s just crap. Unless your grammar or plot structure is just awful, it isn’t going to do anything except slap a coat of paint over a barn that your agent (if you do get one) will ask you to rebuild anyway.

So just go in with open eyes, and try to see what is trending or starting to trend for agents. I’m not saying write to trend, that’s near impossible. But it will at least let you know if you need to sit on a manuscript until series are big again (or give up and go self-published with that bit), or if fantasy has gone down a weird path you can’t follow and you need to wait for it to swing around your way again…or maybe the weird path is your way and you need to hurry and finish! Keeping your thumb on how the query game is changing is the biggest piece of advice I can give you. Otherwise, you are going to come in confused from the start like I did.


Writing: Teenage Characters and Aesthetics

Sponsored by last night’s DnD session and poor Jadzia, who gained two items. Now, for beginning reference, Jadzia is a juvenile silver dragon whose favorite form when she’s shape changed is a late-adolescent human with silver dragon bloodline traits. An elegant goth late-adolescent human. She actually hoards gem stones of a very specific series of colors (no yellows, oranges, bright or true greens although super dark or milky and pale greens are fine, or reds, unless they are the deepest, darkest shades of red like her lipstick), and rejects anything with gold metal work. Her primary hoard items feature star sapphires (her favorite) and are a belt of magical gem stones that fit these rules. She dresses in a flowy pretty dress with vest and corset work to add structure all in black and charcoal grey.

Her first newly gained item last night I tweeted about, a lesser ironward diamond. It basically is a different type of magical gem stone, and being a smokey grey diamond, it fits just fine. The problem is that second item, which as a player, I wanted. I wanted badly. It was a rod of Piercing Cold. This lets me ignore or at least help combat with benefits Jadzia herself has so if we’re ever in a fight against her brothers or other family who we haven’t met yet, I’m not screwed with her being specialized in cold/ice themed spells to a high extent.

The staff part was fine–it was ice blue. The topper, though… The topper was deliberately made to rub her the wrong way. It’s an angry snowman with a knife.

Jadzia was balking so bad, ya’ll. I wanted it, but she was going, “SNOWMAN! NO!” and ugh. It was a long few minutes and we had to poke at dragon greed to get her to take it. Thankfully, her trying to change it to match her aesthetic is actually planned into the DM’s goal for the thing, so no hurt feelings. But there was some confusion when I mentioned the twelve year old was THAT attached to her aesthetic. Some of it was fellow players forgetting, which considering how she normally looks and her usual maturity, it’s hard to remember that she’s only 48 and that’s barely entering puberty by dragon standards. But I think a little bit of it is that for male writers, even the best ones, they don’t quite understand it.

I’m not saying aesthetic isn’t important to pre-teens and teenagers in general. I know for some boys, it’s just as important as breathing. But then I also know that there are people like my brother, who can and will wear warm colors with cool in such a way that if he was doing it with super nice clothes, I’d cringe. Even I can get pretty lax when I’m in casual mode. But for some people, it is life, and the truth is, many of those people are preteen and teenage girls.

Some of that is cultural. We have most of our societal pressure about our appearance pushed onto us as girls between the ages of 11 and 19…which is cruel and unusual, because that is when your hormones and body are doing weird things and you have very little control over anything, yet have to start planning for the rest of your life. Fretting over how you dress and what colors you can’t stand anymore is an easy way to re-establish that control. Some of it is personality. I am naturally an extremely fussy person about color because I can tell dye lots apart even with the smallest of differences, and that’s about the age that people really start taking an interest in fashion, and apply themselves to a very specific look.

As a juvenile dragon, Jadzia is not only in that mindset, she is stuck in it for the next several decades…if not centuries, I’ve not looked at the higher dragon age categories. So for me, I really have to keep it in mind that she is very concerned with appearances and how she is perceived. Particularly with her high level of responsibility, since she’s the most powerful of her clutch and the only female on top of it. She has decided for whatever reason that the gothic look is how she wants to be seen–possibly because she wants to be seen as serious and grown-up, overcompensating for her real place in development. To her, this is just as important as any moral or ethical question she could be put in, because at her age, it is just as important.

In case people still don’t get it, let me explain it in terms of an appropriate holiday metaphor. Intellectually, I can acknowledge that a green, gold, and red Christmas tree is pretty and festive. I will compliment it and may even investigate for reference for a character who might like it. I still want it no where in my home. My Christmas colors are silver and blue and I decorate more with snowflakes and plain deer than Santa Claus or snowmen. (An occasional penguin might sneak by, but shhhh.) Am I so set in my ways that I won’t accept a pretty gift? No. But will that gift actually get hung up in the house? I’ll wait and see if I change my mind, but it’s a no promises situation. I’m also double the maturity level of a teenager.

A lot of male writers do a good job of understanding that this is a thing for young girls, including the guys that I play DnD with. Even some girls don’t experience it and can be confused, depending on how they grew up and their personalities, and then have to try and write it correctly. But sometimes I don’t think writers completely understand it, and that’s what I hoped to try and explain better.

Happy holidays, everyone, and I’ll see you on the cusps of the New Year.


Early Close to NaNo ’18

Well, this is not how I intended my try at this year to go.

Admittedly, 2018 has been a hard year for me. Lost my dog, lost my older cat. And while I am going to keep out details for privacy reasons, I have a relative that it is past the point of dreading a call if it will be bad…and knowing that the next could be the call saying it’s over. My mother had surgery around her throat, which is terrifying. I am going through a rather painful part in your late twenties that no one tells you about, where you no longer have the energy to maintain ALL THE THINGS, especially with difficult relationships. Basically the last, oh, six months or so have either been me being an emotional wreck, or me trying to be emotional support. Sometimes within a week of each other!

But despite all of that, I thought that NaNo would actually help me recharge my batteries. My goals for NaNo are never about the word count. For me, it’s about writing everyday, even if it’s just a few words. It’s about focusing on one project primarily over others. It’s basically calibrating my writing habits so for the next year or so, I am in a better place than I was.

Here is where things went wrong this year. For me, writing is emotional work. You have to have something to start with. And I’m running on empty, between all the sheer crap that has happened in the last six months, in addition to work and all my projects in the fire. I just don’t have the energy. I went through what I had in stores…and ran out. Which now leaves me in a problem of not wanting to write at all, and I have too many projects on the burner to let that happen.

So what’s the solution? Well, I’m calling this year early. I’d rather revert back to posting reviews and commentary once a week than leaving you all with no content for another few weeks. (Plus I have a new Amaranthine Saga book burning in my pocket for a review.) I should know what is going on with Sun’s Guard sometime before the end of the New Year (or so I HOPE, jeebus), and can get a plan/timeline set up accordingly–that dragging out as long as it has is not helping with my stress level. And I can start pulling some irons out of the fire so I’m not so exhausted emotionally that I have no stores.

One thing I’m definitely doing is finishing playing the game and getting graphics for the posts built. I’ve hit the point where I really need to start adding my own side-flavor and arcs to the characters, and until I finish the game, I don’t know where to put them. And with the graphics done, that’s less busywork for me to get distracted with. Also, I can return the game I borrowed, because I’ve had it way too long as it is. That’ll aid my ability to succeed at this whole thing I’m doing.

I hate admitting to something like this. I’m your stereotypical Capricorn–perfectionist, wants to succeed, will push and push and push until the job is done. But that isn’t going to work this time. I’ll stop writing for a huge stretch afterwards if I push to work on Evangeline despite not being a place creatively to do so. (Look at that, we’ve learned since grad school!) But as much as I want to put that story out for you all, it isn’t original work, and as a result, the MMO project with Ginny and (more importantly) my books have to take priority.

There is some sort of Camp NaNo, which I think is like NaNo just in April? Oh well, I can make it work like that, or at least dedicate the month to the Nuzlocke if the timing is right. I’ll keep you all informed if it looks like I’m in any condition to continue then. Hopefully before then I’ll have news on Sun’s Guard: Ten, have finished the first draft and possible edit of Sun’s Guard: Page, and have made some decent progress on the MMO. Come back next weekend for a review!


Writing: Thoughts on Love Squares and Other Shapes

Maybe it’s because I was sucked into Miraculous Ladybug Season 1 like the sappy nerd I am, maybe it’s the fact that Caley (through no fault of her own) ends up in a love-shape drama. But I’ve been pondering on this trope, and why it is awesome and yet awful all at once (because it can be both!).

Why are these things so friggin’ popular? Well, some of it is that I believe we (both the writers and the audience) like to see the characters suffer before they get their chance at happiness. Otherwise, there isn’t much investment in what happens in the end. There is also the fact that no matter how well you do your job to convey the characters, they are still moderately malleable to the reader, who may see the protag better with Love Interest A or Love Interest B or the random character in the diner in chapter three–which is how shipping wars are born. It is the reader’s prerogative and can’t really be argued with (George Lucas tried).

The hardest part about writing a love-shape comes in two parts. On one hand, you have to keep the feelings conveyed as being sincere. If the reader/audience stops believing the love interest really cares for and about the protag, the ship is sunk. This can, however, be a useful tool for the second part–resolving all sides of the love-shape-of-choice. No one can be left hanging alone and heartbroken, but it has to be done in a way that makes sense. You also have to either ease the audience into getting in the same OTP boat (fat chance) or use a shocking event to drive a big wedge between participants.

I am very cautious about the shocking event part of the trope. It can be a good plot point, or it can come out of left field entirely. A good example of the latter is the original Star Wars trilogy, thus my digs at Lucas. The shippers weren’t letting Luke/Leia go, so she was turned into his twin sister (and the writer has since tried to retcon this as being his original intent, which makes it worse really). Did it make Han/Leia easier? Yes. Did it make a  lot of sense? No, but it’s Lucas. Lucas can’t keep any of his shit straight.

As much as it kills me to give the series any good press, the sparkle-vampire series actually did a better job of the surprising event. The wedding put a nail in the werewolf-shippers’ coffin, and while its way of resolving all the sides was full of ick, she did resolve them. This doesn’t comment on any of the other numerous problems, but the writer knew how to manage the relationships to milk the drama. I will say her stand alone book (last I checked it was stand alone, anyway), The Host, actually handled the resolving the sides a lot neater, and in a way that was both sad and satisfying.

This gives shows like Miraculous an interesting twist. One of the sides is suddenly two, and makes things so much more complicated. But this can quickly go from humerous and cute to stressful and frustrating for the characters and audience members alike. I think ending the love-shape is a clear sign the series is ending as a whole, because it resolves a plot-line and eases some of the tension. But you could phase it into new drama, depending on the situation, making it more of a season-ender than series as a whole.

Now we get to the worst example of that. Comic books. I don’t care if it’s DC or Marvel, they are notoriously bad about breaking up characters in established relationships on a whim, whether it’s by killing characters for emotional impact, moving the survivor on, and then bringing the victim back to life, or just causing really dumb out of character responses to drama, it’s a vicious cycle. Now, I will say that some of the characters, they make it actually work–Remy and Rogue have never exactly been “easy to handle” in terms of personality, and both are hot-heads. Them going hot-and-cold makes sense. And if the Bartons had divorced much earlier (rather than the shitty timing of it, especially with Bobbi coming off of a form of PTSD and the list is a mile long on the bad set up here), they also would have made sense–they got married within days! Obviously that didn’t happen, but you know, benefit of the doubt here this once.

But others are just flash fiction for no reason. Why? Because some writers just don’t know how to keep the tension going if they are in a long-running series. And that’s fine! If you don’t know how to handle them, you don’t know. But that’s what blogs like this for, and others who are more knowledgeable than me. My biggest advice is this: remember that love squares are tricky to manage, so plan accordingly. Know how it’s resolving, and when and in what way/fallout if you can. If you get an unexpected extension, evaluate what happened previously with your love square. Are there still underlying trust issues? Did someone go from attracted to one person to another, because that’s grounds for serious jealousy problems. Does someone have bad habits or experiences that are coloring the relationship? Falling in love and winning their affections in return isn’t the solution to your problems–it’s only the beginning.


Writing: Unicorns Need a Publicist

…Okay, stay with me on this one.

While I spent the last weekend sick, I had time to do some musing on my novel getting type-casted as being middle-grade, despite knowing my prose is at 9th grade reading level, my main characters are seventeen (if sometimes decidedly immature, but…teenagers), and while the goblins are ridiculous, the hobgoblin is a real threat. I also knew most of the elements I used in my query/first 10 appear in other YA and even adult fiction books, so it couldn’t be them. What did that leave me with?

Unicorns.

Now, I don’t know about all of you, but I grew up watching The Last Unicorn on repeat from the ages of 6 or 7 till…present. I love that movie. I can quote that movie from memory, and I’m due for a rewatch. And I can quote most of the Butterfly’s speech at that. Around 10, I found Bruce Coville’s A Glory of Unicorns and then his Unicorn Chronicles series. (I discovered The Unicorns of Balinor too young for it to click with me, the shortness started driving me nuts.) As a teenager, I kept hoping unicorns would feature more prominently in the Harry Potter series or in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books since they keep getting name-dropped along with the werewolves. I read the Acorna series by McCaffery, but it wasn’t the best thing ever since it was very much sci-fi and that isn’t my cup of cocoa most of the time (plus I got bored about the time the lead got a girl and gave up).

And now as an adult writer who keeps getting told her YA book is too MG in sheer concept, I have to wonder. At one point was it decided that after the age of 12, we no longer like unicorns? That they are meant to be cutsey and wootsey and pretty, but we have to grow up and start liking “serious” books that talk about the world around us, or that if we must do fantasy, shouldn’t we read about dragons, who can be both good or bad or neither and be beasts or companion?*

When I googled unicorns, I didn’t pull up images of Amalthea. I didn’t pull up pictures of fantasy artwork featuring them, like the poster that was in my childhood bedroom up until my mother sold her house four years ago. I didn’t even pull up pictures from old medieval texts, where they were trying to hash together what a unicorn looked like, and boy, were those a mess.

I pulled up My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic characters. I pulled up cute, stout little chibi figures. I pulled up rainbow and glitter silhouettes. I even pull up a couple of collections of Unicornos, a collection of figurines big out of Asia with different crazy designs that reminds me of MLP in a lot of ways. Or I pull up the horn with a smile and big eyelashes underneath, which is the latest fad, particularly for these “unicorn” cakes. Worse, I pull up super cheap figurines and stuffed toys that are fine for those about age 9 and younger, but any older and you will get some funny looks.

This strikes me as odd. Now, I liked the first two seasons of MLP, but let me tell you, I’d have never admitted to that in high school. (Especially since the show got increasingly juvenile after Faust left.) And as for what I did have… Amalthea faced hardship, and had to change the fundamental core of what she was in order to save the others. Lightfoot and his people went to war, so people could continue to be happy, could continue to have art and music and joy to their lives, for without them, humans were a sad, miserable lot. I wasn’t embarrassed about enjoying those characters, because I knew that they could withstand the scrutiny. Yes, I was able to immerse myself in a fantasy about unicorns, about creatures called to young girls mostly, but they weren’t these one-dimensional ideas, they were actually people with personalities and flaws and growth.

So that now leaves me with a question. Has the world changed? Have teenagers decided they are too old for unicorns, that they don’t need the ideals but instead need the dark and the gritty reality of their world, or only knights and dragons? Or have we, the adults, just decided that they don’t need it anymore? That it’s just a security blanket of childhood, and that there is no depth to be found there?

I hope it’s the latter, and that we can change it. Because I don’t know about you all, but I still need unicorns. I still need to believe in something fundamentally good…even if some of them are jerks, like Moonshine, or a little too interested in fighting, like Sunny will grow up to be.


Writing: My Thoughts on Twitter Pitch Events

I am not a huge social media person. If I tweet more than once or twice a day, it’s a weird day, and my Facebook is even worse, both personal and for the blog. I am slowly getting into it, but you know, I also am crazy busy with a crazy level of commitments. Including query, which hasn’t been going well. Lots of, “Not right for my list,” not a lot of feedback, though some have said that my writing is good.

Thankfully, Ginny is much more active than I am trying to engage as she promotes her own books.. She clued me into two different pitch events–#pitmad, which is open to all genres of fiction, and #sffpit, which is specifically for science fiction and fantasy.

What are these? Basically, you including the hashtag in your tweet along with specific tags for your genres and give a short description of your current book that you are trying to get representation for. The book has to be finished and fit in the specified genres. If an agent likes your tweet, they usually previously tweeted special instructions to help jump your query to the front of the slush pile. There are a ton more types, though, but I stuck with what was relevant to Sun’s Guard: Ten.

Now, both are pretty upfront. Mostly this is getting your book out there, and the odds of getting a like by an agent aren’t very high. It’s more of a community exposure sort of thing, and a roll of the dice. But I figured it couldn’t hurt, right? The answer is no, it didn’t hurt, but it did show me how these events tend to run.

Pitch events are very dependent on what agents are showing up, how interested are they, and what events have recently happened in the publishing world. Example, right now the big thing in publishing is “own voices.” They want minority writers, of race or sexuality, telling stories about similar people. This is…awkward for me. Yes, I’m a girl and plus-sized and one form demisexual…but even with Caley being also white and demisexual (all the way down to asexual at the moment), it wouldn’t count as own voices. They are very specific about what they want, and I am not it. Until that rush of wants fades a little in the pitch events, I’m fighting up river.

The other side of it is it’s possible for some people to get forty or thirty likes…and almost everyone else gets nothing. That irks the part of me that considers fairness important. Like, I’d understand being in the teens or twenties, because sometimes, you think you’ll like a book and then you don’t. But it is very hard and discouraging for other people to receive nothing and someone else is just swamped in requests to be queried, especially with how competitive this industry is and how hundreds of writers are shouting to be heard at all.

Which really got me to examine how I felt about these events. I thought about all of the queries I’ve sent out, and how some of them took months for me to get a response on, and I wondered how many times my query had been skipped over because a pitch event query had just come in, and those get priorities. And it just felt weird. On one hand, you want to take every advantage you can in this industry to try and get an agent. But on the other, that feels crappy and doesn’t seem fair to me.

Will I do any more pitch events? I don’t know. I didn’t get much feedback (though hey, my follower count on Twitter doubled and I got a few small publishers reach out to me), and no likes from any agents because I am not currently in the fad. It also rankles against what I consider fair, and I know that there are plenty of agents who don’t even participate in such events. I’m also nearing the end of the agent list on Query Tracker, soooo… I don’t know. I’ll probably play it by ear, decide what I want to do as I go.

Would I recommend it? Again, I don’t know. I haven’t had an intensely positive experience. I haven’t had an intensely awful experience either. I just had very little experience at all, which is the chance you run, and like flipping a coin, it resets with every event, there is no increase of chances of being noticed each time. So I say if you are going to do it, be prepared, have everything set up, and try it. But I also wouldn’t pin your hopes on being one of the few success stories either.


Review: Don’t Buy Star Stable Online

I am actually even deeper in this wagon than Ginny, but I was willing to hold stuff up until I had my Nuzlocke up to replace it. (Also, since there has been a minor site reconstruction as a result, it seemed like a good post to come back with, more on that next week.)

As I’m sure you all are aware of, I have gotten very disenchanted with SSO (Star Stable Online) since I originally started playing. Heck, I was the one who got Ginny involved. I found the game originally in under-grad, and then once I graduated, I found an ad, remembered how much fun it was, and bought the game. Ginny getting involved was an organic part of the process–I’m a casual, story-driven gamer, she is much more involved than I am in gaming mechanics but pretty much the same way, it was something fun we could do together.

The purchase of the game should have been our first red flag. It always took me two or three tries to get any kind of transaction to take, and Ginny had even worse luck. I think part of offering a game on an international level is being able to function in that country for purchases. It was a pain in the ass, to put it mildly, and I had to stay on their tails to get it resolved if I made the purchase during the week. If I made it during the weekend (you know, when most of their specials were going on?), I was on my own.

But we got it purchased, and for a while, we had fun. There were regular story updates, even if some of it was really weird, and Ginny and I had a game we could play together. We even started making the avatar into different personas, and then they turned into characters of their own. We admittedly got a little lost in what quest we had to do to keep going at one point–both of us only had so much time and energy in a day, especially with me working full-time, and the game’s story isn’t exactly laid out in a logical fashion. (Not to mention, it’s front-loaded as all get out. Like way more than any kid’s game should ever be. The crazy insanity of Zelda games is in the middle/end, people, not the beginning!)

Cue the second problem with the game, which I’ve ranted about before (not that it matters now). Nothing matches. Like, even things that belong to the same set don’t match. It’s bizarre and painful. I don’t know if they aren’t keep swabs, or if they don’t have someone on staff who is like me and can tell if colors are more than two or three shades off by hairs. (I’m terrifying.) Just, way to drive me nuts. Not enough to drive me from the game.

The big turning point for me was when the intro to the game changed (which was about when Moorland got its makeover and Josh changed). Suddenly this goal that the character had, as weak as it was, to attend this special academy (I’ve lost the name to time) was gone. And with it, I felt like we lost a lot of drive as a character. Why were we at this camp that was not very camp like? How could we be Aideen reborn when nothing let us actually be a hero? To make matters worse, story updates started dying out. Instead, it was frequently special events and new horses being announced, maybe a new area, but nothing was being resolved.

I thought maybe if we were patient, it would get better. They would dangle something in front of me–like something advancing what happened with Marley and his brothers and the Baroness…only to get something about horsemanship so appallingly wrong that I spent HOURS afterwards ranting at Ginny about it. And that’s with me giving them enough rope to hang themselves with. In addition to that, we discovered that story we had already completed was now changing, with no way for us to replay it. So sometimes when a character seemed out of whack to us, it was because we were playing with the original personality rather than the blandness that exists now.

By this point, I am disillusioned. Like, it had been fun originally to sort of mock the ridiculousness of some of the scenarios, but now I was looking at them from a writer’s stand point. And I was disturbed. As writers, we have a certain level of responsibility. Not a lot, but enough. Keeping the story straight and logical is part of it. So is showing civic responsibility. Giving a young teenager kerosene and a match? Or carrying a torch on horseback across the country side? Not so much. And I can’t even begin to touch on all the plot holes, we’d be here all day.

The game became a giant stress ball of disappointment to me. And that was the exact opposite side of the relaxing activity with Ginny that it was supposed to be. I had to stop playing to prevent myself from bursting into tears on a regular basis as each update, I was only going to be disappointed again. I thought maybe, maybe there was just something going on behind the scenes. Give it five years, and I could come back and it would be my game again. I hoped. If nothing else, it gave me more time to focus on my own stuff, and to start designing a dream-game with Ginny rather than playing a game that wasn’t fun anymore.

But now there’s the latest bomb dropped. See, I was what is referred to as a lifetime Star Rider. It means I shelled out twice (if not three times) as much as what I would ever pay on a video game in order to never have to buy it again, and that’s just for the game, not the extra Star Coin packages I would buy for myself around the holidays. This is versus their subscription rates, which go for varying amounts of time and rates.

Except Lifetime doesn’t mean lifetime, apparently. Instead of deactivating free players who have never paid for the game ever and have had accounts for years, they instead free up server space by deleting accounts that haven’t logged on in two years. Including Lifetime.

Ya’ll, I don’t know how to even explain to you how I feel about this game. I guess because at this point, I am completely apathetic. I found what I thought was a fun, inviting game for a casual player that didn’t require me to have five to six friends who also played. Instead, it turned into a money-grabbing, greedy corporation that I can no longer support in any way.

My SSO Diaries and other reviews will be up until Sunday, when I will be back with another blog post, and I’ll be taking those down. As much as I love the traffic they bring me, and get all nostalgic sometimes, I just can’t continue to offer free publicity for a game that I don’t think is worth the time or money to play.

(But don’t worry if you are super attached to Misty. She has been revamped into a new character that is much more rounded, and has a lot more personality. I’m hoping for Ginny and I to start a new blog for her and the rest of her friends/world in 2019.)


Writing: Thoughts on Querying…

I feel like preemptively labeling this part one, I’m sure I’ll have more as the process continues for me. For those curious, yes, I am still querying. I sent my full draft to an interested agent, but seeing as how staying in contact with her over the last six months became…difficult…I am actively seeking other options. Query Tracker, btw, is a great tool. I was reluctant to use it because I wasn’t sure it was verifying the agents, but nope! It’s safe!

So some funny (or annoying) things that have happened or I’ve seen, and my reactions.

One agent actually had a note on submissions: “No more vampires, sorry.” That made me laugh, and it also made sense? I wish more agents did that. Like rather than giving us broad genres, they specifically said, “I am sick of seeing this, I want to see this.” And no, telling me you want “strong storytelling” and “books I can’t put down” doesn’t tell me anything. That’s super subjective. If you are sick of first person narratives, say so.

I ran into two rather curious things, too, that gave me an amused rant to put on Twitter if no where else. I saw a lot of agents listing interest in LGBT fiction. And my immediate thought is, “Errr, you’re missing a letter?” A is important, especially for my books. In addition, romance tended to run through extremes–either EPIC or don’t bring it to me, it has cooties! Which all of that makes me laugh, since my main character is so far down the gray scale of demi-sexuality she is almost ace. (Which is the A.) It definitely shows room for growth, at least in my opinion.

Another thing I’ve noticed is there’s a mixed situation to the flooding of inboxes that agents get. There’s basically three things going on, and all of them have their pros and cons. Though to be honest, one super annoys me more than any of the others.

One solution is the no response means no. Ugh, that’s harrowing. Because of their work schedules, agents can’t guarantee when they will get to a book outside of a pretty long time frame. I get just wanting to hit the delete button and move on to the next, but I wish they would at least have a form they sent back to end the misery. But again, that takes time, and it’s time they may not even have. Others do have a form response that they send, and they guarantee replies within a certain window. Obviously as a writer, I love that, but I wonder how much it pulls away from the writer’s work.

The third solution is the one that cheeses me off if it’s not handled properly. Having an intern help with the slush pile of new submissions. On one hand, if it’s used as a tool, I feel like it’s the perfect solution here. The agent can go through the queries while giving notes out loud to the intern who is keeping track themselves, and then the intern can go generate the responses while the agent moves on. My issue is when its the intern who is going through the slush pile themselves and determining what the agent even sees. (What I have dubbed “intern-gating.”) I know one agent who does it of the ones I’ve done so far and even stuff that she has requested in a contest or conference to see gets turned back. Thankfully those people email her directly and get told to send it to her, but ugh, what a waste of people’s time.

The amounts of material requested also run the friggin’ gambit. Could we not come to a consensus, particularly one that doesn’t handicap the writers involved? The more pages there are, the more the agents have to read, I get that. I just think five pages isn’t enough. Ten, at a minimum, can at least get you to the action…or if it doesn’t, the writer has bigger problems. (There is a reason Sun’s Guard: Ten went through so many drafts, I was desperately trying to get to Moonshine faster.) I mean, I’d prefer the first three chapters, but I know that’s a lot for some to get through too.

I’m on the fence about a synopsis. On one hand, I think it is a handy tool for agents. On the other, I think it also can be very misleading? I tried to keep mine focused, but that was hard. Ginny had to hold me in from going down some of my subplots, partly to save space and partly to keep agents from getting distracted by seeing what isn’t there. I can’t imagine the trouble that other people went through. My professors weren’t much help, I remembered talking to Chester about not knowing what I was doing, and she said no one does when it comes to synopsis.

So there are my funny stories/observations. If you’ve got anything of your own you’d like to share, give a shout. As it stands now, I’m going to keep poking away at things. Hopefully someone will take the bait…