I watch a lot of true-crime shows on the ID channel. As I was watching one of them–American Monsters–where the wife of a nascent film director is murdered, I noticed the cop describing her on the footage from that day. He said “she was a good woman, a god-fearing woman.”
I’ve heard that a lot before. It’s a compliment, at least in many Christian religions. I don’t know about other religions. I’m guessing yes. Now, one of the first things that struck me about that was that once upon a time, the Puritans believed that God was angry and rather malevolent (read Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, among others). By the Victorian period, that had shifted. God was benevolent. Except then, the world started changing beyond fast and a lot of bad things started happening in the world–wars, disease, economic difficulties, and so on. So the Victorians began to ask questions. They’d always assumed God was benevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient. But if that was so, then how to account for all the horrors in their lives and in the world?
So now they wondered, what if he isn’t one of those things? Was he benevolent, but didn’t know everything? Or maybe he was benevolent and omniscient, but lacked the power to do anything? Not comforting. Or maybe he wasn’t benevolent and he was out to get humanity or punish humanity. Considering the possibilities, none of the options of what god was and wasn’t were at all comforting.
I think most Christians probably continue to think of God as benevolent but tough. I don’t think they consider the Victorian questions so much. So that raises the question for me–are contemporary Christians actually God-fearing? I mean, if you believe your god is benevolent, then why fear him?
Now, I’m not trying to get into a religious discussion here at all. It made me think, though, of fantasy worlds and the various religious systems and notions of gods. Even in our own world, you have pantheons of gods who are not particularly kind to humans. They are often jealous and petty, vicious and vengeful. They don’t necessarily care about truth or the why’s or how’s of something. They don’t seem to think humanity is all that important. More like necessary evils or fun game pieces. They are also often very present in visible ways in the human world. They might visit. They might turn someone into a pig or a hart. They might rape a woman.
When I plan a fantasy religion, I consider these questions:
a) whether the gods actually exist,
b) are they present and involved in the lives of humans,
c) are people afraid of them and why,
d) how did these gods come to exist and how did the people come to worship them,
e) are there other (competing) gods in this world,
f) do the gods get along at all,
g) how does humanity figure in to the strength or health of the gods,
h) can the gods be killed,
i) are they really gods,
j) how are they worshipped,
k) how are they pissed off or made happy,
l) what happens if a person crosses a god,
m) what are the core tenets of the religion surrounding the gods?
There are more questions, but these are the where I start. The answers will color the shape of the cities and towns, how people live from day to day, the economy, the legal system, and so much more. Consider it. Think about how religions have shaped so much of so many cultures. Of course, there might not be any religion at all, which lack also shapes the people and the world and especially the curses.
I think about the God-fearing woman. Did she really fear God? How much did that impinge on her daily life? Was she worried about getting smited if she misbehaved? The concept is open for a lot of interpretation and for someone of a writerly bent, offers possibilities for stories and characters.
I mean, what would you do if a god, or your god, suddenly showed up on your doorstep? What would s/he be like? What would s/he want?
Diana Pharaoh Francis writes books of a fantastical, adventurous, and often romantic nature. Her award-nominated books include The Path series, the Horngate Witches series, the Crosspointe Chronicles, and Diamond City Magic books, and the Mission:Magic series. She’s owned by two corgis, spends much of her time herding children, and likes rocks, geocaching, knotting up yarn, and has a thing for 1800s England, especially the Victorians. For more about her writing, visit www.dianapfrancis.com. She can also be found on twitter as @dianapfrancis.
If fandom is one big geek tribe, then like any extended family, it’s inevitable that sometimes, people disagree. Trekkies vs. Trekkers. Star Trek vs. Star Wars. Iron Man vs. Captain America. Old Skool Vamps vs. Twihards.
When it’s all in fun, a light-hearted debate over whether Batman could kick Superman’s ass (he totally could–I’m sure of it) is entertaining. It’s part of what we sign up for when we buy our con ticket–to be able to get as nerdy as we want to be with other people who have seen all the episodes, read all the books, watched the movies and can finish our geeky quotes.
But can we please remember that while the characters we’re debating are fictional, the people in the audience with us are real? And real people shouldn’t have to put up with invective about why something they love, something that speaks to them, is ‘dumb’ or ‘garbage’. It’s bad enough when fans get overwrought. But it’s even worse when panelists–people who have a relative position of ‘authority’ by virtue of being guests–dump on a fandom.
It’s okay not to like something. It’s okay to say that it doesn’t float your boat, or that you disagree with what it’s saying or how it portrays something. Say all of that in a civil tone, and we’ve got the basis for a discussion that could be fun. But please, don’t bust on an aspect of fandom.
Ragging on a fandom is not polite. It makes the fans who do like that particular book, movie, tv show, anime, comic, subculture feel attacked, unwelcome, and excluded. That’s not right. Not only did they pay their ticket for a good time just like everyone else, it’s not right for anyone to arbitrarily decide which fandoms are more legitimate than others.
So get passionate about your favorites, but remember–everyone has a right to be equally passionate, and while you don’t have to agree, you do need to disagree respectfully, especially if you’re up in front, with the microphone, speaking with the authority of a pro or an expert.
Fandom saved my life, way back when, by giving me a refuge. I don’t think I’m the only one who found sanctuary, or the only one who needs it. And when fandom is on its game, we take care of our own.
Watch for my new book, The Shadowed Path: A Jonmarc Vahanian Collection, now out in ebook and paperback!
And grab your all-in-one summer reading with Modern Magic: Twelve Tales of Urban Fantasy–12 full-length books by 13 authors guaranteed to give you a bloody good time! Just $1.99, only on Kindle and only for a limited time.
I’m finally home after ConCarolinas and the Roaring Writers Retreat, where I taught and led critique sessions for a fun, productive, wonderful week. (Thanks for inviting me, folks — it was fantastic!) My third night home — last night — I attended a meeting of the writer’s group of which I’m a part here in my town. And, of course, I’m posting this to MW, which has been the foundation of my writing family for eight and a half years.
So, I thought today I should post about community and its importance to writers of all levels.
Writing can be a lonely profession. We often work on our own, toiling alone for hours at a time, sending our work into what can feel like a marketplace vacuum, and waiting for feedback that can be hurtful, even brutal. It’s hard, and our solitude makes it harder. Yes, we have loved ones on whom we can lean for support, but there’s no substitute for talking these things out with people who understand the process and the pain, the toil and the isolation. Having a professional community can mitigate these challenges, by providing camaraderie, solace, and support.
I haven’t always had access to so much writerly interaction, and trust me when I tell you that I know how fortunate I am. Meeting Faith and Misty, and creating Magical Words back in January 2008, was a turning point in my professional life, one that led me to friendships and opportunities I never imagined I would have. My writing group here at home is one I started a bit over a year ago with several friends. Before then, I’d never had a writing group and had been a bit envious of those who did. The Roaring Writers teaching gig was something that came my way through a web of connections.
But none of this means you have to wait years and years before you can develop a writing community of your own. The folks who organized the retreat met through Magical Words and drew upon friendships they first established online. Their group is already as large as they would want it to be, but there’s nothing stopping you from forming a group of your own that draws from similar sources. Folks I know up in Calgary, Alberta, hold writing retreats and workshops with friends they’ve met through local events and conventions. Perhaps you can do something similar.
My home writing group consists (mostly) of people I’ve known for years. We’ve often talked casually about our writing, but only recently did we decide to work together in this way. We’re an eclectic collection — a Christian memoirist; a couple of Southern literary fiction writers, one who writes mostly short fiction, and one who is working on a novel; a guy who specializes in non-fiction nature writing; an essayist; a scholarly writer; and me. It’s not the group I might have envisioned for myself, but it works, and I’ve come to see our eclecticism as an advantage. If my fantasy stories can move this audience, I know I’m doing something right.
As I mentioned, my travels began with ConCarolinas. Conventions can be a terrific venue for forming connections with other writers of a similar level in terms of ability and experience. With social media, email, and other online resources, physical proximity is no longer a requirement for a writing community. It may be that you’re one con away from making the same sort of connections I made with Faith and Misty all those years ago.
My point is this: Developing a writing community can make a huge difference in every element of your writing life. I get more from my writing group than feedback on my latest chapters. They offer support when I’m doubting myself, advice when I’m struggling with decisions both creative and market-oriented, and a sounding board for any number of issues. And sometimes it’s just fun to talk and laugh and sip a bit of wine with people who share my passion for the written word.
My friendships with Faith and Misty resulted in more than just the founding of Magical Words. Because of them, I attended ConCarolinas, where I met A.J. Hartley and Stuart Jaffe, Gail Martin and John Hartness, Emily Leverett and Melissa Gilbert, and so many others. Faith introduced me to Catie Murphy; I introduced her to Edmund Schubert. As I said before, the network we’ve built has shaped my career and brought into my life people who are now among my closest friends and most trusted peers.
And I see much the same dynamic in the Roaring Writers group, as well as the writing community in Calgary. If you already have a writing community, great. I hope it brings you comfort and joy, as well as feedback and opportunity. I hope as well that you appreciate what you have. If you don’t have one yet, look for ways in which you might encounter other writers with whom you can work. Attend a convention or a writing workshop. Seek out others in your community who share your passion and aspirations. In short, look beyond the walls of your writing space. You might find friends and colleagues who will help shape the career you’re building.
Before I get to the topic of the day, I just want to say what I am sure all of my cohorts here at MW are feeling. Our hearts go out to all the families and victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting this weekend. I won’t get political here, this isn’t the place, and I won’t get political today, because it’s not the day. But I’ll just say that from all of us here, please accept our condolences, and know that we believe through the power of words we can all work together to make the world a better place. Please be kind to each other and take care of one another.
Now, with ConCarolinas behind us, and my most profitable ConCarolinas ever, for the record, let’s look at two different concepts in improving your chances at making a living as a writer.
There are two ways to live like you’re making more money – either actually make more money, or reduce your overhead. I can only do so much to help with the first one, so today we’re going to focus on the second, and look at some ways to reduce your overhead at conventions, whether they’re your home con or one you travel all the way across a continent for.
1.Get a good Water Bottle – Dead serious. This seems like a no-brainer, but just carrying a good plastic water bottle can save you anywhere from $5-10 per day. I use a nice one I got at a Magic tournament. It has the Star City Games logo on it, and it was free, which is my favorite price. Every time I fill it up, I’m not buying a $2 soda from the drink machine, or a $3 soda at the bar or restaurant. If $10/day doesn’t sound like much, let’s remember that I do as many as 12 three-day conventions each year. That’s $360 per year saved just by carrying around a water bottle, or if you’re like me and are helped by equating dollars to real-life expenses, that’s almost a truck payment saved over the course of a year.
2. VistaPrint sales & volume buys – I’ve printed a lot of postcards this summer. Like 8,000, a lot. Between Modern Magic postcards, Falstaff Books postcards, and postcards for ebook downloads, I’ve done a lot of printing. I’ve also printed about 4,000 business cards and 3,000 bookmarks. I shop the sales pretty religiously, because between VistaPrint and OvernightPrints.com, the two companies I use, one always has a 40-50% off sale. You usually have to buy in bulk to get the best discount, but that’s what I want to do anyway, so as to save on shipping. Remember, two five-pound shipments costs way more than one ten-pound, or even fifteen-pound package, so buy as much product as you can afford in one shot, then you’ll get the lowest price right out of the gate.
3. Split costs – The first couple of years I did conventions, I always took a room at the con hotel and always took a room by myself. I was accustomed to traveling for business on a company card, and I’d gotten pretty comfortable with my own space in a hotel room. You know what? It’s a lot more cost-effective to put two or three people in a hotel room that reasonably accommodates four, and that lets you get the word out more places, because you can afford to do more conventions when you’re paying $50/night instead of $150! It is important to find people you can travel with, though. And if you snore, warn your roommates.
4. Bring your own breakfast (and booze) – This is one I learned at Dragon a few years ago from Misty and Laura Anne Gilman. A box of Pop-Tarts and Mountain Dew gets me through a week’s worth of breakfast, and if you’re staying in a hotel that doesn’t provide a free breakfast, can be a real savings. The same goes for toting a flask of your favorite adult beverage. Just be discreet with that one, hotel bars are where we get our work done, and they sometimes get testy about that sort of thing.
Those are just a few of mine – what have you got? What do you do to lower your overhead for conventions or everyday living that helps you focus on your writing instead of freaking out over bills all the time?
Please remember that submissions are open until Wednesday for the Falstaff Books Anthology #WeAreNotThis – Carolina Writers for Equality. This will be a charity anthology fighting HB3nd supporting Time Out Youth, EqualityNC, and Queen City Theatre Company. For guidelines go to the Falstaff Books website.
There’s a scene in “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings” in which the hobbits are camping on Weathertop, waiting for Aragorn to do some scouting. Frodo falls asleep, but Merry, Pippin and Sam decide to start a little fire and cook some food. When Frodo wakes, his friends offer him “tomatoes, sausages and nice crispy bacon.”
A number of filmgoers became upset with this, because they felt that tomatoes, being a New World food item, didn’t belong in the setting. You read that correctly – the story is about four little humanoids carrying a magical ring to destroy in a volcano, being escorted by a 90 year old ranger who rode and fought as if he was in his thirties, under the direction of a wizard, but somehow tomatoes didn’t make sense.
I read about this in the afterword of a novel* I just finished, and it made me feel so much better. I write fantasy stories, and whether they’re set in the real world with gobs of history all over the place or a completely made-up place whose rules are mine to make, there are still chances for me to mess up. It happens. Tiny mistakes can slip by me and my editor, despite our best efforts to catch them. When I wrote Mad Kestrel, early in the story I let one of my unnamed pirates make a warding gesture against evil spirits, but I wrote it as “he crossed himself.” I didn’t mean it in the Christian sense, and neither I nor my editor noticed that it might be an issue. And it was edited three times, so it’s not for lack of looking. Nevertheless, a reader became unhappy with that wording, because my world did not have Christianity in it. She declared that she didn’t read any further. It broke my heart, because the crossing happened in the first chapter, which meant the reader didn’t give me any more chances to try and win her back. My ‘hobbit tomato’ was too much for her. And because I took it so seriously, my ‘hobbit tomato’ was also too much for me. It left me in a state of terror that anything I wrote would be so very wrong, no reader would ever get past any first chapter I wrote. I’m working on a novel set in pre-statehood Nebraska right now. I carefully drew out a map of the town, even though the character only goes into one building. And suddenly panicked, because I couldn’t easily dig up an answer to the question of whether frontier towns named their streets. If they didn’t, and I named a street in passing, was I instantly outing myself as a lazy writer who didn’t do her research? If they did, and I didn’t mention it, was I playing fast-and-loose with my worldbuilding? I didn’t know what to do next, and I found myself frozen. I couldn’t decide how to move forward for a long while. All because I was afraid of another ‘hobbit tomato.’
Am I saying that we need to keep even more on our toes than we already do? Not really, no We all do our best to make sure our facts are as accurate as we can make them. Ever hear writers talk about how easy it is to fall into the research wormhole? That’s because we start to let our characters ride a horse or shoot an alligator or climb the outside of a metropolitan skyscraper and we remember that we don’t know some aspect of what our character is doing. So we ask Google what sort of ammunition is best when hunting alligators and two hours later, while reading an essay about how a giraffe’s digestive system functions, we realize we’ve been at this forever. We all do our level best. Still, mistakes happen, you end up with a ‘hobbit tomato’, a reader points it out and you spend a week calling yourself names and hating everything you’ve ever done.
What I am saying is that it’s unnecessary to obsess over the ‘hobbit tomatoes’ to the point that you kill your creativity. Try as hard as you can to get it all right, but don’t punish yourself if you can’t find one little factoid. If you made up a world and you want your characters to wear bandanas, well heck, let them. The important thing is to write a story that compels the reader to finish. Create characters who have personalities that rise off the page and grab your reader by the heart. Drive the action with soul and power. There’ll always be someone who’s hunting for mistakes, and if one little boo-boo is enough to ruin the book for them, they weren’t your audience to begin with. Don’t let fear shut you down.
Besides, roasted tomatoes are nice. No reason hobbits can’t enjoy them, too.
*Daughter of the Sword, by Steve Bein. Great book, highly recommended. And Steve, if you happen to see this little post of mine, thanks for the wonderful read and for the term ‘hobbit tomato’. I owe you a drink someday.
It’s a horrible word, is it not? What it stands for is even more so. Especially when it comes to hating oneself. This, in and of itself, is the most damaging in my opinion.
You might wonder what prompts this train of thought. Well, two things. ONE, a panel from the convention this past weekend and TWO, my day yesterday.
First let’s talk about the panel. It was late on Friday night, and John, myself, Darin, and Melissa were behind the table facing anxious folks in the room who were likely wondering what I was: “Where would this panel take us?” It’d never been done before but it was time, or rather, past time that we had one like this.
Prompted by the suicide of a fellow author, Logan Masterson, John Hartness (who writes here on MW) proposed the panel, and it would address the big pink elephant in the room that no one talks about: Depression (and yes, I just colored Depression pink because I can). Many writers and artists deal with some form of depression, be it anxiety, imposter syndrome, bi-polar disorder, manic depression, etc. John wanted to open Pandora’s box, so to speak, and get people talking about it. In fact, we ALL NEED TO BE TALKING ABOUT IT.
Because the longer we ignore it, the more people die, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to loose one more person to this disease because we don’t talk about it. Lately I’ve learned about a lot of people in my life who hate themselves or who have contemplated suicide…the numbers are higher than you might think and it breaks my heart. To loose even one of the folks I’ve spoken to in the past week who are at that point, or have been in the past, has opened my eyes.
What I’m saying is, it wasn’t just those in the audience of the panel that learned things that night, I did too. Sure, I went through a form of depression when Paul was murdered and Keziah (my dog of almost 16 years) died shortly afterwards. But that’s different. That’s grief. Did I feel like I was in a depression that I’d never come out of? YES. Did I hurt? Want to scream and hit things? YES!!! But by talking to a doctor, taking medication, and getting a new puppy I found myself again.
If only it was that easy for these other folks.
But it’s not.
So you see…YOU are not alone in this. If you suffer from any form of depression I’d be willing to bet all the money I have in the bank that 50% of the world is sitting on that ledge with you. Yet, because we don’t say anything, like its some taboo thing (it’s not), people like Logan, Robin Williams, Lee Thompson, and many more leave us way too soon.
Those of you WITHOUT depression: WAKE UP! Pay attention and stop turning a blind eye to it. Look for the signs and do what you can to get them professional help. There are things mentioned on Friday night that I’d never dreamed was part of this…please learn and listen to your friends if they come to you.
Those of you WITH depression: TALK! Talk to people about it. Find a group or a friend or family member…or a doctor…but find someone to talk to. Understand you’re not alone and that no matter how much you hate yourself, someone loves you just as you are.
I myself do not suffer from depression or anxiety, but I have chronic pain, I take meds I don’t want to, and I fight the feeling all the time that I’m unworthy. Be it the feeling that I’m not worthy to be loved by a member of the opposite sex (relationship wise) or to be on a panel with writers at a level I see as WAY past me, I battle things too. I often wonder why anyone cares what this self-published author has to say. What makes my words valuable over anyone else at that con? This is genuinely referred to as Imposter Syndrome and thankfully I don’t struggle with it as heavily as others, but I do struggle with it from time to time.
In closing of my first reason for writing this today, I want to tell you all about one of the things I learned that night from our doctor on the panel. It’s called SIG-E-CAPS. Here’s what it stands for:
|S leep changes: increase during day or decreased sleep at night
|I nterest (loss): of interest in activities that used to interest them
|G uilt (worthless): depressed elderly tend to devalue themselves
|E nergy (lack): common presenting symptom (fatigue)
|C ognition/C oncentration: reduced cognition &/or difficulty concentrating
|A ppetite (wt. loss); usually declined, occasionally increased
|P sychomotor: agitation (anxiety) or retardations (lethargic)
|S uicide/death preocp.
These are signs of depression and a guide that doctors use to diagnose if someone is battling a form of it. I found it very enlightening so I wanted to share.
Now, on to the second reason I’m writing this right now. This one is MUCH shorter. You see, I had a very upsetting day yesterday due to some disappointing news I received that threw a wrench into my life plans. I had a good cry and was feeling scattered, like someone had shoved my emotions into a glass jar and tossed it from a window at my office on the sixth floor to the cement below. I sat at my desk unable to focus and then I remembered that panel and I reevaluated my world…and I realized that things weren’t so bad. Just because I’d not gotten the news I wanted didn’t mean things weren’t okay in my corner of the world.
And you see, that is the difference. I can see that. I can step away from it and find the light…and not everyone can. So I told myself I was allowed to be upset for 24-48 hours and then I had to let it go. Because there are people in this world who can’t find the light at the end of the tunnel. Just the smallest thing in a day can send them into a spiral that could drag them down for days, maybe weeks, or even months. I was suddenly thankful for my simple disappointment.
Right then and there I knew I had to talk about this today. I scrapped my previous plan and just started to type. I know my “help” today hasn’t been about writing, and I apologize for that. But, you know, I think it’s about something more important…it’s about you writers. I love you all. You and those who attend conventions, you are my tribe. I want each and every one of you to stay in it as long as you can.
- Know that you’re not alone.
- Know that those who don’t have your condition care about and love you.
- Know that those who do battle depression need to know you do too…they also need to hear they are not alone.
For if we don’t start to talk about this, there’ll be no one left to talk to about it.
Let’s not let that happen.
Love, acceptance, and hugs,
Tamsin L. Silver
Writer of stuff I hope you’ll read and enjoy…
P.S. When you Google, “Writer commits suicide” there are WAY too many links…way too many. An actual report says that Writers are twice as more likely to commit suicide. Here’s to making that statistic drop!