The Care and Feeding of Your Artist

(Originally posted on Facebook; reposting and expanding here)

One thing I think non-artists1 don’t understand about about artists — and that can be any kind of artist, from painters to fiber artists to writers like me — is how important feedback is to us. Positive and negative, but I’m going to focus on the positive today.

1This is a misnomer, because I truly believe everyone does something that could be called “art.” But certainly some people are more invested in the creative life than others.

We need to know you see us. We need to know you read us, saw us, experienced us.

That choice of word, “us,” is deliberate. The work isn’t us, except it is.

We need to know if you felt something when you read, saw, experienced our work. We need to know if the work lingered in your head. We need to know that we don’t cease to exist when we’re not there.

That “reaching out” part is important. Putting into words that positive feedback is so important to us. A tweet, a comment on a fanfic (likes or kudos don’t quite do it), an email, something that shows effort. That the work moved you to action.

Why? Because, first, we’re control freaks. We want to make people feel and do things. Second, it’s not a lie that we want to achieve immortality with our art. (Though me, I’m also aiming for the “becoming a lich” route).

One of my favorite Millay poems — and you know that’s like choosing my favorite of my four cats — speaks to this:

Stranger, pause and look;
From the dust of ages
Lift this little book,
Turn the tattered pages,
Read me, do not let me die!
Search the fading letters, finding
Steadfast in the broken binding
All that once was I!

Edna St. Vincent Millay, “The Poet and His Book”

“Just because I didn’t comment, doesn’t mean I didn’t read it!”

I hear you. Not everyone is good with words. Not everyone has the emotional energy to do more than hit “like” or “kudos” or retweet when they see something they like. If that’s all you can do, I am grateful.

But over time, that lack of outreach and feedback eats away at an artist. It feels like screaming into the void. I begin to think, “Am I really not succeeding at my goal? My work must not make people feel anything at all, if it doesn’t move them to action.”

My ask for you today

If you have the energy and inclination, of course!

Tell an artist you love their work. Write an email telling them you read their story and it moved you to tears. Write a long comment on a fanfic gushing about every line that evoked excited squeeing noises in you. Tell someone you followed them solely because of a funny tweet they wrote. Tell a character portraitist that you love their art and would like to commission your own. Tell a friend you watched their play and it made you chortle.

(It DEFINITELY does not have to be me, but I assure you, if it IS me, I will remember it forever).

My own artist love ❤️

Lest I be accused of asking and not giving, here are just a few of the artists whose work I fangirl!

First of all, my friend and fellow VP17er John Wiswell, whose short story, “Open House on Haunted Hill,” was just featured on Levar Burton Reads!

Summary: “A sentient house, haunted by its own loneliness, exercises its powers on a skeptic.”

I heard John read this at Readercon in the Beforetimes, and it made me laugh and warmed my heart. What sticks out in my head, nearly three years later, is the little girl rejecting the tyranny of pants, and the secret room with a sewing box and spinning wheel 🙂 (Of course I remember the sewing tools).

I also want to note that John’s life is its own piece of art. He is one of the kindest and friendliest people I know, always making efforts to include folks who might otherwise be excluded. (And this happens a lot in writerly circles; we’re a sensitive lot).

Second of all, there’s my pal Phoebe Roberts, who I know feels that whole “screaming into the void” sensation as acutely as I do. She is an incredibly prolific playwright and fanfic writer (and probably some things I’m forgetting), and I regret I have not experienced as much of her oeuvre as I would like.

But I can’t say enough good things about her Mrs. Hawking series. It will appeal to you if you like the idea of an idea of a female Sherlock Holmes+Batman analog, avenging crimes committed against women and the marginalized in Victorian society. (Oh, and Mrs. Hawking is ace, which of course appeals to me in a personal way).

For something a bit lighter, I also love the “in the same universe” piece Gentlemen Never Tell, which is kind of like if you took a Wodehouse novel and made it delightfully queer. It’s made me giggle riotously, but it’s also sweetly romantic. I had a ton of fun finding all the Wodehouse references, too. (Spot the Glossops!)

And you can watch it all for free on her YouTube channel!

Lastly — for today! — is my friend Melissa Carr, who describes herself as a “Mixed media artist, mythic blogger, and general teller of tales.” She blogs at The River’s Wayward Daughter, and you can support her on Ko-fi.

Melissa is multitalented, but I love her mythopoeic storytelling best of all. Reading one of her short pieces about folklore, the clever reader will realize that –sometimes, but not always — this is folklore she has imagined herself. She can do that because she has a deep understanding of folklore and what makes it sing.

That blurring that line between “real” and “invented” folklore says something really interesting about the value of stories in our lives — things that are true but not accurate.

(Of course it’s about metanarrative to me!)

Also she draws an awesome inkcap mushroom 🍄

Featured image credit: Adam Jang on Unsplash

Words in May, week 4

This was a productive week in terms of writing, but not in terms of tracking my work! I think I missed one or two days, but I worked exclusively on Bright Future, and published a new chapter on… Wednesday?

It’s good to get back to working on this fic, but man, I’ve forgotten SO MUCH. I am fighting a constant battle between “I should include this encounter, for completeness’ sake” and “I actually have no idea how this played out any more; can I just skip to the feels?”

Otherwise? Enjoy a picture of an azalea or rhododendron in my yard.

(Stupid plant fact: “rhododendron” is Greek for “rose tree”).

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future, chapter 13

Read chapter 13 (“Jaluk d’quellar”) here.

Chapter Summary

On the search for the purple worm egg, Mavash and her companions find a troglodyte lair. Jorlan tries to counsel Mavash against trying to save everyone. (Good luck with that).

Chapter End Notes

On my first pass, I honestly didn’t have many end notes for this. I was very tired when I was adding it to AO3, and thus my motivation was low. But then I wrote a little bit about my writing process on Twitter and used this chapter as an example. Lo and behold, I do have stuff to say!

A thread about POV and narrative distance, and how I occasionally remember how to write.

Also worth noting: jaluk d’quellar is a word I cobbled together from the sad excuse for a Drow conlang we have. Jaluk means “male”; qu’ellar means “noble house,” and they’re tied together by the word del, which is “of”, and which is often shortened to de or d’.

I took out the apostrophe in qu’ellar because it seems to be a convention to do so when you stick together multiple words with apostrophes (see: el’lar and qu’ellar. Also just… there is a limit on how many apostrophes I want to stick in a sentence, and jaluk d’qu’ellar hit that limit for me.

(What do apostrophes mean in Drow, anyway? Sometimes they seem to mark a shortening of words, as in English, but other times they’re just… there. Are they a glottal stop? A stress marking? All questions a linguist would have asking in building a consistent conlang, but we don’t have that here. Alas).

Speaking of language conventions, it seems to be a tradition when writing about elves to use “male” and “female” as nouns, instead of “man” or “woman.” Presumably this is because “man” and “woman” have a specifically human connotation. (I think of the Elder Scrolls, with the contrast of “men and mer”).

“Venturing the Uncharted,” a fantastic Baldur’s Gate 2/D&D fanfic I read recently, brought this convention to my attention, and made me think about why I only sometimes follow this convention.

Quite frankly, using “male” and “female” as nouns makes me uncomfortable. It always reminds me of creepy MRA and incel types using “females” as a pejorative; it also equates gender with sex, which I don’t like to do.

Tl;dr, I don’t always do this, and I can’t promise I will start, so please just imagine it’s an infelicity of translation.

By the way, if you haven’t read it yet, I’d like to point you to my essay On making the drow less problematic. I have Opinions on this, as someone who’s been a murder elf fancier since 2e.


In completion of Words in May, day 29.

Words in May, week 3

Not the most productive writing week — but in my defense, this week started with having to put one of my cats to sleep and hit a high point on Wednesday when I came down with a stomach bug. It was, quite literally, a shit week.

What writing I did this week was on fanfic and blog posts.

  1. Began work on my drow headcanon post.
  2. Worked on my drow headcanon post.
  3. Worked on Bright Future.
  4. Nothing
  5. Worked on Bright Future.
  6. Nothing
  7. Nothing

Here’s a sample from my drow headcanon post, for your delectation.

Given this, I believe that drow culture is deeply selfish, and that most individual drow see no harm in shoving another one in front of the metaphorical bus. (Purple worm? Demon prince?) This leads naturally to the belief that anyone you screw over probably brought it on themselves.

That is evil. But it’s not mustache-twirling, “let’s arrange overly complex tortures for our enemies” evil. As I said at one point re: my boy Jorlan: while he’s definitely suffered in drow society, it’s mostly through neglect. No one’s ever gone out of their way to be cacklingly evil to him, because that is simply more fucks than anyone has ever given for him.

And, honestly? I find that utter disregard more evil, more terrifying, than any overly creative torture some teenaged fanboy would come up with.

Words in May, week two

Slightly less productive this week, but it’s not nothing!

  1. Nothing
  2. Worked on Bright Future
  3. Lioness query to Seth Fishman
  4. Nothing
  5. Lioness query to Amanda Rutter
  6. Worked on Bright Future
  7. Worked on Bright Future

Here’s a snippet of Bright Future, for your enjoyment (?)

Gaulir lifted his sword. “Dawnbringer?” he queried.

“Keep it dim,” Jorlan said, “and stand back from the ledge.”

There was a shimmer in the air, and the darkness was rent by an ethereal form — a woman’s shape, glowing blue. She, not it, Dawnbringer informed them, a tartness to her tone even through the psychic link. The figure disappeared just the sword flared with a dim orange light.

It was rare for Dawn to show herself like that; Mavash gathered it took a tremendous amount of energy. Jorlan hadn’t yet seen her manifest, but if he was surprised, it didn’t show on his face.

Lux gave Jorlan a stern look, softened with a half-smile. “Don’t you dare misgender a sword.”

He raised his hands in a placating gesture. “Far be it from me.”

And also please enjoy this picture of a showy dogwood blossom! I just discovered this tree in my yard this week, and I’ve lived here… 15 years? I believe it’s Cornus florida, the flowering dogwood. While native in some parts of New England, this one was probably planted. Until earlier this year, there was an invasive Norway maple overshadowing it, so it’s very possible this is the first year it’s bloomed!

Words in May, day 10

Slow start to the week!

  • I got nothing done on day 8
  • Day 10 I got a Lioness query out to Seth Fishman.

Day 9, I worked more on Bright Future. A snippet from that:

But seriously. She was so… level. Cold. I don’t expect that from teenagers. In my experience they’re nothing but a roiling mass of feelings. And that’s basically what she is, in drow years, right?

If she were in Menzoberranzan, she’d not even be old enough to go to Tier Breche. Beside her, she heard Jorlan make a heavy sigh before continuing, Look, Mavash. You need to stop paying so much attention to her emotions. It’s… rude.

She looked askance at him, frowning her confusion. Rude? I’m only concerned.

Doubtless she thinks she’s already revealed too much of herself, breaking into tears when we met her. Understandable, as she was under a lot of stress–

Stress? She had a broken foot, she’s being hunted by drow scouts, and her mother is missing and presumed dead. What do you expect from a young girl?

He stopped abruptly, his boot scraping rough against the tunnel. A light burned in his red eyes, a fire seen through smoked glass. She’s a woman-child, and drow at that, and I promise you she would not survive her first year– He cut off, sighing under his breath. Why do I even care? And why do I try to explain these things to you? He continued walking, his steps speeding to pass Mavash, his mind suddenly as impenetrable as a steel wall.

That stabbed her, a shard of ice in her throat. I want to understand, she mindspoke, her word-thoughts whispery faint. Unbidden, came the thought, I want to understand you.

And then, of a sudden, she understood: this conversation wasn’t really about Hanne, was it?

(This is a telepathic conversation, where I use italics for word-thoughts. Since block quotes reverse the italicization… you get the weird formatting above).

Words in May, week one

Week one of Words in May has largely been a success, despite it being a shit week in so many ways (sick cat; feeling groggy from COVID vaccine dose 2). Here’s what I got up to on each day:

  1. Finished and posted On making the drow less problematic.
  2. Finished and posted a new chapter of Bright Future.
  3. Started a new chapter of Bright Future.
  4. Nada.
  5. Got back to querying agents for Lioness; queried Paige Terlip.
  6. Queried Nephele Tempest.
  7. Wrote and posted Dumb Plant Facts with Lise: the shit rose Multiflora.

Six out of seven is an acceptable grade, so I will take it!

Today? I dunno, maybe more work on Bright Future?

Words in May, days 4 and 5

I got my second COVID vaccine yesterday, which left me feeling generally groggy and like the field where I sow my fucks was barren. Hence, nothing for day 4.

For day 5, I’m getting back to querying Lioness. (Somewhat spurred onby getting a promising rejection on a full MS on Monday). Today I queried Paige Terlip of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, who seemed the most appropriate choice at that agency.

Since this is a short post, please enjoy some photos from my recent walk in the woods!

Words in May

Lately I haven’t been devoting enough time to my writing — things like:

  • Blog posts
  • Queries to agents for Lioness
  • Fanfic — I still have a ways to go to finish Bright Future, and right now I hella miss Mavash and Jorlan.

I’ve been devoting a lot of time lately to TTRPGs, which is fun, but I also know if I continue to do NOTHING BUT TTRPGS, I will burn out quickly. (Because that is how the Lise do).

So. For accountability’s sake, I’m writing it here:

I will be writing Some Words every day in May — specifically, on the three things above.

I will show my work here. Maybe not daily, depending on how things go, but I’ll let you know. And no, writing daily updates on my progress does not itself count as progress 😉

I will not neglect my TTRPG games entirely — I’ll still go to my Pathfinder and D&D games, I’ll finish the one-shot I’m running for my work colleagues, and I may be picking up my Curse of Strahd game again soon (?) — but I’m not going to take on any new commitments.

Expect to hear from me again soon!

Big paradigm shifts in editing Lioness

Yes, I’m still editing 😉 I received feedback from several of my beta readers, which has given me enough to move ahead. Unfortunately, some of the major problems they’ve reported have caused me to restructure the beginning. Namely, I have been concocting a “mini-mission” to start the book, which partially incorporates existing work, but which is partially new writing.

One of the big problems is: the entire magic system doesn’t get revealed until two-thirds of the way through the book. There are hints long before that, but they don’t make a lot of sense out of context. One reader told me something like, “yeah, I went back, and now I see all these hints that you made, but it still didn’t add up for me at the time.”

So in the “mini-mission,” I’ve been trying to make the magic system clear. I’m using the “rule of three” from larp-writing , which states that if you want your players to know something, you need to put it in at least three places in the game. (Replace “players” with “readers” and “game” with “book”). So Yfre, our protagonist, witnesses one of the characters use this magic at least three times in the mini-mission.

I got to the third time and I was like… that isn’t enough. You can’t believe that this insatisably curious spy would just leave it at that, with nothing answered. So I had her push him; actually ask him what it’s all about. He’s cagey and evasive about it, but he admits the existence of magic: “yeah, that thing you were nearly hanged for? Is real.”

And there we are, in chapter… three? with the first concrete notion that there is magic here.

And for a moment I was like… whoa. Should I really do this? This is a big paradigm shift. Why would I want to reveal that there’s magic right off the bat?

But why wouldn’t I?

And suddenly everything just sorta fell into place. Why not, indeed?

There’s a mystery later on in the book, where someone is assassinated using that magic system. As-is Yfre has no notion that magic exists and is capable of killing someone. It takes her a long time to piece that together. Sixty percent of the book, in fact.

But if she goes into that scene knowing that such a thing is possible — even if she doesn’t know the details — what changes?

Surprisingly little. Because you still don’t know who committed the crime, even knowing that magic is possible.

I’m experiencing a number of big paradigm shifts like this, where something seems impossible, until suddenly you do the calculation and discover, no, actually, that will work. And you can literally feel your thoughts rearranging themselves, something sliiiiiiiiiding into place, like you’re just solved the Rubik’s cube of your story.

Another example happened much earlier. My alpha readers told me they felt Yfre didn’t have enough agency in the climactic final duel. Well, I said, what do I do? She’s not a warrior; I can’t have her participate in the duel.

Or… didn’t she literally just create a bit of magic that makes someone good at swording? I mean, not great, but maybe good enough to do this one thing

And now I can’t imagine that final scene without her taking up a sword.

(Of course, more commonly in editing there are the times when you change ONE LITTLE THING and it alters everything. That stupid red letter. Figuring out the continuity of who had it at what time took up a lot of energy).

So, it’s progressing. If I can cobble this together before July, I may try Pitch Wars again.