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.

Lise Needs a New Writing Project

Day 148: The end of the line

I need a new project to work on. Probably a novel, since last year did a pretty good job of establishing that I’d rather be writing long-form fiction instead of short. I am feeling antsy to put new words on paper. The question is: on what?

“But Lise!” I hear you say. “Aren’t you still working on novel edits/querying Lioness/submitting short stories?”

Yes, but that’s a different sort of creative energy. They are important, and good, but they do not give me that wild exhilaration of creating something out of nothing. Drafting is arguably why writers write; it’s the most enjoyable part of the process, and probably what drew us to the vocation in the first place.

So what are my options for drafting something new?

A sequel to Lioness

I know, roughly, what happens in the sequel to Lioness. It involves sea journeys, and new cultures, and probably new points of view, since our trio of main characters is going to be split up. (If you wanted an Estevien POV, for example, he’s going to be off by himself in the equivalent of the New World).

The problem with this option is… there’s a lot of wisdom against writing a sequel to a novel you haven’t sold. You’re investing a lot in something that may not pan out. This is true for all writing, of course, but if your goal is ultimately to reach readers, then spending a year writing something you can never, ever sell (without selling the first novel) is kind of frustrating.

I guess there’s no harm in outlining the next novel? But outlining doesn’t really scratch the right itch…

Something else in the world of Lioness

On a whim a few months ago, I started writing a romance story in the world of Lioness. (It is the answer to the question, “what exactly does happen when Bizel goes back to Lisieres on the Empress’ orders to reconcile with his estranged wife?”) It’s a lot of fun to write — because Bizel is a lot of fun to write, and I’m discovering his wife is, too — but it’s yet another example of Something I Can’t Do Anything With ™ unless Lioness succeeds.

Revisiting an old project

I’ve toyed with the idea of going back to Gods and Fathers. There’s a lot of good stuff there, though marred by issues of “why am I handling characters at such a remove?” and “is this story really about Mirasa or Serevic?”

(Some day I’d like to get to the bottom of why I find it easier to write compelling male characters than I do female, despite my own gender. I don’t think Lioness has quite the same level of problem as G&F did, but my male characters do tend to be scene stealers, and so many of my edits on Lioness were, “no, seriously, make sure this scene is ACTUALLY ABOUT YFRE GODDAMMIT.” I blame years of narrative training with male protagonists in male-dominated SFF worlds).

This would be a lot of work, of course. If I want to be serious about self-pub I should probably rewrite it from scratch, and then plan out an entire series and marketing pieces for it.

I also have the half-a-novel I wrote in 2009 for NaNoWriMo, Viktory Empire, which is kind of steampunk/weird West with a young woman searching for her mother across a desert landscape. Again I would probably start over from scratch, keeping some scenes that I particularly liked. There’s a lot of filler that was just to make wordcount for NaNo, and of course it is only 50k, and unfinished as a story.

An entirely new novel

This holds the most appeal. And yet… I’m not sure what. Looking at my idea file, a few things stand out:

“Built-up fairyland.” This is intended as a return to Exilian Marquis, the portal fantasy world where I set all of my (seldom written down, usually just narrated to myself while walking circles in my yard) childhood stories. Looking over what I DID write down, a lot of it is rubbish, but there are many things I still love. I loved the arcane bureaucracy of the magical order I created; the race of grey-eyed, black-haired fae who were ever opposed to the main characters; my authorial stand-in, badass spinster sorceress who set the leader of her order on fire (I was anti-authoritarian even then…); the Japanese diaspora I created which was born out of my love for the Samurai Cat books and noodling with language.

I love the idea of reworking that world for my adult sensibilities… especially turning it into this sort of crossroads between different times and places, where technology sorta half-works and half-doesn’t…. oh heck, that’s the premise of the larp Crossover, isn’t it?

Also… I have no real plot for it. I guess I could go back to the plot of one of the novels I did try to write in that world. The last novel I tried to write in that world (I was working on it when I lived in France) is probably the most amenable to that treatment.

Of course, I don’t want to turn into That Guy in Your SFF Writing Workshop ™ who’s been writing the same story since they were in high school. That’s the danger with going back to familiar settings — there’s so much that resonates with you which means nothing to other people.

And then there’s the boringly-named “dark queen” story. Basically I like all those stories like Labyrinth which start with something like “disaffected young woman meets up with seductive dark prince and considers embracing his sort of evil.” But then said woman inevitably makes the choice to turn towards light and goodness and… yawn. That’s where I lose interest. What is even the point of fantasy that tells us, “Get the fuck out of this fantasy world and Be Good?”

There are of course many pitfalls of this idea. What I WANT the story to be is a tale of the slow descent into evil by one banal decision after another; of a woman taking her power from being villainous. But “evil” winning often doesn’t fit with the narrative structures we know and love. There’s also the risk that the relationship between guy and girl will come off disturbingly coercive, when I see it more as him being the catalyst to a voyage of (villainous) self-discovery. And of course, this feels like another place where I am likely to fall into “the most interesting character is a) not the main character, and b) is a dude”-syndrome.

Honestly I just re-read Rosamund Hodge’s “A Guide For Young Ladies Entering the Service of the Fairies” and it strikes me I want to hit a lot of the same notes as that story.

Finish Yo’ Shit 2018

There’s a certain appeal to this, too. I have a lot of unfinished projects that I cared enough to start, but haven’t bothered to finish. This is true even if I just count stuff I wrote in the last decade, what I consider to be my “adult” writing. There are the ones I mentioned above — the Lioness romance story, the half-novel — plus a couple of stories in the world of Gods & Fathers, a few standalone shorts, etc.

This feels good and responsible, and it involves putting new words on paper — but will it give me that “new novel energy” I seem to be seeking?

So what do I do?

I’ve talked before about how I use tarot as a sort of narrative therapy, using my interpretation of the cards to tell stories about my life. Since I was stymied by this question, I decided to use this method. I drew one card — the Magician, a card that is all about agency, master, and personal power.

… well, then. That seemed to very much point to the “built-up fairyland” story, where one of the main characters is, as I said, a badass spinster sorceress. I was especially drawn to one of the themes suggested by this card — “prodigy at the cost of normalcy” — which seemed to fit very well with how I envisioned the character, and the importance she played in my meaning-making and storytelling at that age. In the original tales, she was more like a mentor character, one POV out of way too many, but I think if I am going to write this, she needs to be front and center. I am Done with writing main characters who are not the protagonist.

I actually did a free write on this this morning, trying to get a feel for the character, the world, what the heck I’m doing. This is usually my first step, before I even write an outline; it’s not intended to be part of the finished story, although sometimes it is. I’m trying first-person POV for now; I may try third-person another day. I do like the immediacy of first person, even if these days its use seems to scream young adult. I mean, I guess this could be YA? I don’t know enough to say for sure yet.

So that’s, I think, what’s next for me.

Unless I decide to change my mind tomorrow. Which is entirely possible.