Adventuring into My Prime!

Adventuring into My Prime / Casey Prime!

Here we are: another year passed, a new decade launched, and I am in my prime.

(I’m now 31 years old and clearly still a huge nerd.)

Last year I talked about taking a step back and figuring out how to get what I want out of life without killing myself. I was ready to fully embrace embarking on and furthering the kind of adventures that matter to me.

I, uh. Went a little fuller out than I anticipated?

I started listing out the things I’ve done in the last year that might merit mentioning in my annual birthday round-up post, and. I mean, I’m always busy, because I am very bad at not doing. But I’ve apparently gotten much better very quickly at doing meaningful work, because there are way more exciting life happenings I want to talk about here.

The big thing this year that I can’t possibly not start with, given its scope and how much of my life it took this year in sheer energy not to mention time, is that I successfully planned a fantasy wedding full of dragons and achieved marriage. It was such a project, and while I’m delighted it is done with forever—hard to overstate this, truly, I am Very Done—I’m happy with the work I did and given all the same information would make those choices again.

Casey in her wedding dress.Picture from behind of Casey in her backless dress and Django in his cape walking hand-in-hand away from ceremony.

On the story front, which I’m thrilled to be able to effectively prioritize again (honestly can’t recommend planning a wedding on your own and also trying to write books and do dayjobbery, it is a suboptimal combination of time commitments), I think this may be the first time in at least five years I haven’t finished drafting a book since my last birthday writing?

That said, I’ve still written upwards of 100,000 words on two different books*—for my non-writer friends: this is a significant number of words; pertinently, it’s well more than a book’s worth—and that DESPITE PLANNING A DANG INTRICATE WEDDING, so. I’m cutting myself a bit of slack for once in my life. The writing is occurring, I’m growing as a writer, and I’m happy with the work I’m doing: that’s what matters.

(*Passed 80k on one and 50k on the other! I’ve learned in an ideal world I shouldn’t try to write two books at the same time, but I am nevertheless writing two books at the same time in a substantial way.)

I did have a book launch, my very first! I have a short story in an anthology of fantasy chase scenes called Swift the Chase, which is particularly exciting for me because I’ve read work by literally all the other authors and honestly loved them all. (If you haven’t checked it out, it is designed to be friendly to people new to everyone’s work!)

As for the work that supports my continued ability to work on stories, the very recent adventure is that I left the traditional workforce and launched my freelance career! Since that was, uh, last week, I have little to definitively report other than that I’m excited about this as a substantial life change for myself. This falls firmly in the category of adventures that set myself up for the future I want, and I’m looking forward to exploring where this takes me.

Business logo enclosed by teal circle, with leaf design and text "Casey Blair Virtual Assistant"

A theme for this year all around has been my improving at both prioritizing and setting—and enforcing—boundaries. The difference that has made is in my being able to live my life attending to what I care about, to put my time and energy into what matters most to me.

There are so many other projects I’ve touched this year that are firmly trending toward that future. My final project at the bookstore was a culminating event on so much of what I’d worked toward during my time there, an inclusive panel with romance writers talking about reclaiming history that our community loved and that even got a write-up in the newspaper.

Because outside of all that, I’ve done work I’m proud of, and care about. Earlier this year my essay “Women Are Already Powerful: The Problem of Privileging Masculine Modes of Power in Fantasy” was published, and getting to dive into analyzing the relationship between gender, power, fantasy, and storytelling in a big way is, like. A Lot of what I’m passionate about, so that’s me maximally #backonmybullshit and loving it.

It’s always validating when other people also think I have important insights to contribute, and Sirens Conference, which I have so much respect for, is bringing me on as faculty next year to do just that. I’ve done programming there before—including this year!—and got a taste of running a workshop stepping up this year at the last-minute to fill in after a cancellation, but it’s different to craft a long-form program in advance, and to be confident I’m delivering an experience that will fundamentally change people’s understanding. Teaching in this field has always been an aspiration of mine, and I could not have been more thrilled by this invitation. I’m already plotting.

Bringing my ideas to bear to craft experiences has been something of a theme this year. At 4th Street Fantasy, I’ve officially taken over programming. This was the first year I was largely responsible for that core of the conference even though I wasn’t in charge, and I’m excited to buckle in and work on shaping ways for us to explore ideas pushing genre and writing boundaries in exciting ways. I learned a lot this year, and there’s only, always, more to come.

And of course, there’s the annual birthday adventure! Last year I thought I was going to switch from flying to travel adventures, but I decided to do this a differently. There are always things—activities, experiences—I’ve been meaning to try that are just never enough of a priority for me to get around to. That’s part of how I got started with skydiving!

So instead for my birthday every year I’m going to give this gift to myself: trying something new, something that I’m excited about. A regular reminder, no matter what else is or isn’t happening in my life, to make my life adventurous; that life can always be an adventure.

This year? I tried out a capoeira class.

Somewhat to my surprise—I thought it might be a good fit for me, that’s part of why I’d wanted to try!—I really loved it, way more than I anticipated. Even starting from nothing, it felt fundamentally right from the start. So suddenly now I’m working on making this particular adventure a regular part of my life. (No picture this year, sorry. I have some videos, but I’m not sharing. =P)

Adventure abounds, and this decade has opened with them all around! My life this past year has been more fulfilling than at any time I can remember: both more focused but also filling into all the areas of my life I want to spend more time in: essays and teaching, building inclusive communities, seeing and valuing the people in my life and myself included, writing the stories that matter to me, and always learning and growing and becoming more myself.

I’m spending my life doing the work I care about, be it professional or personal or somewhere in between. And that will always be its own adventure.

I’m flying inexorably toward the future I want for myself, and I can’t wait to see what route I take next year.

New Job: Virtual Assistant!

So, here’s a new and exciting thing!

After much research, thinking, and planning, I’m starting a new day job career as a Virtual Assistant and Author Assistant.

Business logo enclosed by teal circle, with leaf design and text "Casey Blair Virtual Assistant"

Casey, what in the world is a virtual assistant? Is that even a real job?

It is indeed! I had a lot of questions myself and have been fielding them since I broached this idea, so here’s the basics of what this means.

Essentially, I’ll be handling a lot of the tasks that people really wish they could delegate—the things they don’t really personally need to attend to except that someone does, and well: like booking flights, or organizing email, or updating a website. The little tasks that bury everyone on a daily basis. A virtual assistant lightens the load, whether it’s an hour of work a week or twenty.

It’s actually almost more surprising it’s taken me so long to land on this idea, because this is so much of what I’ve done at my last several jobs. I always go in, rapidly figure out the holes where necessary tasks are getting dropped, and end up taking loads of work off my bosses’ plates to make them happen and setting up processes to make everything easier to manage. So now I’m just going to, you know, do that.

But remotely.

Not going to lie, I am somewhat nervous about freelancing as career! But ultimately I think this is going to be the best way to have a sustainable job that supports my writing career and long-term health while actually affording me enough money to live on.

So here we go! This promises to be an adventure, and I’m ready to meet it.

If you want to know more about what this looks like, my business website is up! And I’d be much obliged if you’d pass that on to anyone you think might benefit from a little virtual help. ❤

Sabrina

I’ll have more to say about this year’s Sirens Conference another time, but I have to start with this. Sirens will understand why.

I’ve spent most of today unpacking all the signs of a wonderful conference. The heroine capes and inevitable books, the glitter and ideas and memories.

Then the card Sabrina signed to me.

The shirts that match hers.

The sweater she laughed when I purchased; remembering how easily she laughed.

The conference was wonderful. The conference was devastating.

These statements are both true.

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Sabrina Chin was the Huffliest puff to ever puff. She would have been deeply touched, I think—and possibly surprised, because she took “unassuming” to extremes—by the outpouring of tears and tributes on her behalf over the last week, after she suddenly passed away in her sleep mid-conference. She certainly would have hated being the focus of all our attentions, which almost makes me laugh.

In the memorial journal, I wasn’t sure how to convey what Sabrina was to all of us at Sirens. Ultimately I wrote that Sabrina was our heart.

This is a statement which is true and yet entirely inadequate. I can only hope that on some level, she knew. I hope that collectively we were anywhere near as good to her as she was to all of us; that she knew that we saw her, and loved her, and will always.

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We were together in our grief last week, which I’m grateful for. Now I’m grateful to be home, to take a breath; to slow down. She would have wanted that for us, I think.

I’m home, and that means I have the space and time to think and feel, and in those moments when I hold still I can’t help but focus on what I otherwise might wish to distract myself from, except that her memory deserves my attention.

I’m home, and my skin holds together. But when I clench my fists although the skin holds, you can see the bone underneath, showing white against glaring red. My fingers are cracked.

I open my hands, and it’s no longer visible, but I know the truth underneath. Some metaphors are too obvious to avoid.

Sabrina was our heart.

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Sabrina loved Sirens, and she loved the community. She put so much of herself in that we will never be able to replicate or replace, but that will echo in our futures.

For those who would otherwise have sent flowers, in lieu of that her family has asked that “a donation be made to the conference that she poured her heart and soul into.”

They knew what Sirens was to her. We know what she was to us.

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My love to everyone who is also grieving; it is an odd comfort to know how many of us are united in this. Take care of yourselves while you do. You know she would have wanted that.

We’ll take this breath together, and then we’ll pick up and move again and carry the light of her spirit forward, together.

She was proud of us. We will continue to be worthy of that.

These statements are both true.

Sirens Schedule

Hi friends! I have a busy schedule this week at Sirens Conference, so for those of you here in Denver, here are some times you can find me.

Tonight I’ll be introducing Sirens Studio guest of honor Roshani Chokshi, talking a little about women and power and myth-making.

Then tomorrow (Wednesday 10/23) gets exciting: surprise I’m running a two-hour workshop with Nivair Gabriel on women’s leadership in fantasy! Stop by for what we’ve titled “Who Run the Fantasy Worlds: Girls.” This has come together last minute as we’re filling in due to an emergency, so here’s what you can expect us to talk about.

On Thursday I’ll be helping get the much anticipated Sirens Bookstore set up! Throughout the remainder of the conference I’ll be stopping in to yell about books at you, so you have a good chance of seeing me there.

Friday starts bright and early with a panel I’m moderating at 9am on building inclusive bookish communities with Faye Bi, Shaista Fenwick, Traci-Anne Canada, and Cass Morris.

At 2pm I’ll be helping Amy Tenbrink tell you about all the new women-in-fantasy books released since last Sirens, and at 5pm you can find me at Book Speed Dating, where I will rapidly try to convince you to give a few of my favorite fantasy books a try.

(It’s very exciting that I am *scheduled* to spend so much of this conference shoving books at people.)

Saturday at noon I’ll be presenting my paper: “The Extraordinary Power of Heroines: Examining Women’s Heroism in Fantasy.”

And that’ it! You can DEFINITELY find me at the Sirens ball, but in general, I’ll be around and happy to visit old friends and make new ones. =)

Swift the Chase – Available now!

It’s release day!! Swift the Chase is now available for *free* at your preferred ebook retailer.

All the samples in this collection are hopeful, thoughtful, and action-packed. If you love Tea Princess Chronicles, it’s a great way to check out other authors whose work is likely up your alley! I’ve personally read and would recommend stories by every one of them.

My short story is a Tea Princess Chronicles bonus scene designed to work as entry point for new readers, so don’t worry if you’re not all caught up! But if you do know what’s been going on, it’ll be extra special. =)

Told from the perspective of Miyara’s best friend, the brilliant and prickly witch Lorwyn, this scene also features Miyara’s former bodyguard from Book 1 (A Coup of Tea), the assassin Entero, whom Lorwyn is Definitely Not dangerously in love with…

Magic—danger—and the thrill of the chase!

Experience the rush of racing across rooftops with thieves—or the desperation of fleeing an assassin who knows you a little too well. From the fish market of a tropical island sultanate, to the monster-filled alleys of a steampunk London, to a land where souls take different forms as they rise or fall through the layers of the world, this collection of chase scenes and vignettes set in nine distinctive worlds will leave you spellbound.

Find unexpected allies, unshakeable enemies, sudden twists and turns, and always the swiftness of the chase—whether you’re on the hunt, or racing for your life.

This sampler includes an exclusive bonus scene set during the events of Tea Set and Match by Casey Blair, available for free online, and a scene from an unpublished novel by Rachel Neumeier not available anywhere else. The excerpts by Intisar Khanani, Raf Morgan, P. Djèlí Clark, Sherwood Smith, Joyce Chng, Melissa McShane and Andrea K. Höst are from longer works that are available for sale at all major retailers.

We’re celebrating the release with a giveaway, and there’s still time to enter the raffle for that!

If you’re interested in learning more about how this came to be, check out organizer Raf Morgan’s post here!

And if you decide to check it out, you can leave a review on Goodreads!

I think that’s it! (Another exclamation point for good measure!) Happy reading!

Casey

 

Cover Reveal – Swift the Chase

I’ve been sitting on this for AGES and am thrilled to finally be able to announce I’m part of an anthology of fantasy chase scenes coming this October! The title is Swift the Chase, and you can add it on Goodreads.

Today is the cover reveal (my very first cover reveal!! =D!), and I could not be more excited about this. The cover by Seedlings Design is gorgeous, and seeing my name listed along with these authors (!!!) is amazing.

The book is releasing October 8th, and we’re hosting a Facebook party to celebrate and give away free books! I’ll be on deck from 3:30-4:00pm PST to answer any questions and dole out Tea Princess Chronicles trivia.

Mark your calendars, check out the cover here, and read on for more about the anthology and my story!

Magic—danger—and the thrill of the chase!

Experience the rush of racing across rooftops with thieves—or the desperation of fleeing an assassin who knows you a little too well. From the fish market of a tropical island sultanate, to the monster-filled alleys of a steampunk London, to a land where souls take different forms as they rise or fall through the layers of the world, this collection of chase scenes and vignettes set in nine distinctive worlds will leave you spellbound.

Find unexpected allies, unshakeable enemies, sudden twists and turns, and always the swiftness of the chase—whether you’re on the hunt, or racing for your life.

This sampler includes an exclusive bonus scene set during the events of Tea Set and Match by Casey Blair, available for free online, and a scene from an unpublished novel by Rachel Neumeier not available anywhere else. The excerpts by Intisar Khanani, Raf Morgan, P. Djèlí Clark, Sherwood Smith, Joyce Chng, Melissa McShane and Andrea K. Höst are from longer works that are available for sale at all major retailers.

The Tea Princess Chronicles exclusive bonus scene stands alone but is set midway through Book 2 (Tea Set and Match), told from the perspective of Miyara’s best friend, the brilliant and prickly witch Lorwyn—and also features Miyara’s former bodyguard from Book 1 (A Coup of Tea), the assassin Entero, whom Lorwyn is Definitely Not dangerously in love with…

Using Character to Generate Story

Entry points into creating stories differ for everyone. I’ve mentioned before that I come at stories from the characters, and that I write character-driven books. What this means is that, rather than “what if this cool idea” or “what if this cool magic,” I start with “what if this character premise.”

My novels are high concept, but my entry point to those ideas begins from a character and spirals out from there—and with every piece of the story I craft, I always go back to character.

Looking at some of my finished books, say with Tea Princess Chronicles, I started with the idea of a princess who quits and ends up managing a magical tea shop. For Afterstorms, I started with a woman who is both a badass sorceress while actively doing the work of mothering and also gets to have a romance. For my YA space opera, I basically asked, what if Gundam actually had a girl as the protagonist who gets to pilot the super awesome space mech?

And so on. The types of stories those became, the world-building, the themes borne out in them (things like what it means to do something in the world that matters and incremental activism, how societies try to make women lesser, and embracing the power that comes with upending people’s expectations and not walking a proscribed path, respectively)—they all started from those premises .

But how do I translate an idea for a character into a story?

Broadly, to know how the story arc works, I need to know who the character is at the beginning, which tells me who they are at the end—or vice versa. If they’ve come into their power at the end, then at the beginning they believe themselves powerless. They’re insecure about their place in the world at the beginning; they’re confident at the end.

And then I figure out what choices, and what actions to hang them on, would bring them from that beginning point to the ending. But that still takes a few leaps; albeit ones I can make these days out of longstanding practice, because figuring out character is really easy for me. It’s what I read for and what I write for. That said, being very into character development is not the same as being able to plot, so let’s talk about how you get from one to the other.

Here’s one of my favorite tactics.

Back when I was doing a lot of theater, one of the techniques I learned for how to dig into character was Uta Hagen’s questions. With some additions, these can be useful not just for understanding character, but understanding the relationship between character, world-building, plot, and story. These are the questions I focus on, with my adaptations.

What does your character think they want? (Let’s say, to be a hero.)

What do they actually want? (Hmm. How about security? They want to be a hero because they think the respect of masses will make people value them and protect them.)

What are the given circumstances? (Our character is alone, because war has destroyed the political and physical infrastructure of their world.)

What is preventing them from getting what they want? (An occupying force.)

What will they do—and what can they do—to get what they want? (Gather a ragtag crew to take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them.)

My parentheticals there aren’t the most original—they are in fact deliberately tropey as shit; can you tell I’m an epic fantasy reader and shounen anime fan?—because that’s not the point at this stage. The point is highlighting the fundamentals that make up the core of the story, and the logic of the story, to flesh out with what makes it yours.

Answering these questions doesn’t create an entire story on its own, but it does give me the basis for the subsequent questions I need to answer to make a story happen.

Like, okay, the protagonist is going to need a team—how do they assemble it? What unique skills does our protagonist have that would actually be useful in overthrowing an army, or attract people to be willing to work with them, and how do they acquire those skills? If they haven’t taken up arms before the start of the plot, why now? What changed, and why did it change?

Let’s take the starter questions in order.

The first two questions (What does your character think they want, and what do they actually want?) are key for interesting character development, because this is how you change expectations for not entirely predictable plots. What your protagonist thinks they want changes, and they get what they actually want (or need, which is an important distinction somewhat tangential to this post) in a way they could not have dreamed of at the beginning but that their actions throughout the plot nevertheless make inevitable.

Given my hypothetical parentheticals there, let’s say your protagonist discovers sacrificing themselves for the sake of a corrupt government might make them a hero in the public eye given the levels of propaganda management, but it would be empty and wouldn’t actually make them safe. But they make friends along the way who will protect them for who they are at whatever cost, so they choose to save their imperfect friends rather than the figureheads of society. They don’t become a hero at large but to the only people that matter, and they get their security in the way that’s meaningful to them. That sort of thing. (If you’re looking for practical published examples, Brandon Sanderson excels at this.)

The important part of “the given circumstances” question is that they have to be personal to the character. It’s not just “war has torn apart a country” but “war has left the character alone, and the character desperately wants to not be alone.”

Firstly, because if the stakes aren’t personal, nobody cares. Secondly, this is how your world-building and your point-of-view character are inextricably linked.

Characters don’t exist in a vacuum (or a white room >_>); they are born in their environments, and those environments shape and affect them even if they don’t define them. If they don’t, then the character won’t feel compelling but vague. If you think your character could exist exactly the same born into an entirely different fantasy world, they’re probably not sufficiently defined. (See also a unique challenge inherent to AU fanfic: how to make the characters still make sense to the reader when the setting they were created with is entirely substituted.)

Asking what actions the character can take, and the reasons they need to take them (what prevents them from getting what they want), are where we come to plot.

What are the tools your protagonist has to change their situation?

If your character’s a sorceress, maybe she’s solving problems using magic—in which case the readers may need to understand more about how magic works, be it the system’s rules that they’re breaking or that numinous magic is fickle so having to rely on it working is A Problem—for your stakes to work. If they’re a political operator, readers probably need to know how the politics work, so we can feel satisfied when they’ve managed something tricky without needing an explanation that slows pacing in the moment of why what they did was so clever.

Tea Princess Chronicles was my first time writing about a protagonist who isn’t some kind of magical martial arts action heroine. Her strength, established in chapter one, is listening, which I physically manifest through how I depict the fantasy tea ceremony.

For another example, I love Rachel Aaron’s Heartstriker series for being stories of action and adventure and all kinds of magical battle shenanigans where the plots ultimately always hinge on the “nice” protagonist meaningfully exercising compassion.

As for the question of what actions a protagonist will take—that’s where the story is.

This answer doesn’t have to be, “what would drive them to kill the person oppressing them,” as is so common in epic fantasy; it can just as easily be, “they will focus their time and energy on building relationships.” See Mirage by Somaiya Daud for a great example of this one: her protagonist could easily become a violent rebel or a pawn of the oppressive regime, yet what she chooses is neither of those—she makes another path that is ultimately the only one that makes sense for her character.

Given a person in a particular situation who can do certain things, what will they choose to do, and why, and what does that mean? That’s the core of it all.

orange cat and black cat lying on different parts of me and looking incredibly smug
disparate elements working in tandem toward a narratively coherent goal aka trapping me

Agency Failures in Plotting

Raymond Chandler once wrote of plotting, “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.”

Like most writing advice, this is useful to a point. When someone gives the writing advice of “kill your darlings,” the point is not to cut all the things you like about your story; it’s to cut the things you’re hanging onto because you like them but that don’t actually fit coherently in this particular story. When they advise, “write every day,” the point is (or should be, sigh, that’s another blog) to commit to making structural changes in your life that enable you to write consistently, not that if you don’t work on stories every day that you’re not a Real Writer.

But every time NaNoWriMo rolls around, I see upticks of people who have interpreted Chandler’s Law as a mandate to just keep throwing exciting things at the page until you have enough words to call it a story, or until you get through the part where you didn’t know what happened and then you’ll find yourself at the real story, which is… generally not how stories work.

A Twitter discussion last week about plotting (PS Elizabeth Bear is very smart about stories and has a substack newsletter you can follow) got me wanting to expand on how I think misunderstandings of this axiom can create problems in the plot rather than solving them.

The most common failure mode of plotting I read in fantasy is actually a failure of character agency.

(Requisite caveats before I get going here that I am coming at this from the perspective of someone who vastly prefers character-driven to plot-driven stories, an axis which is in some sense an arbitrary and nonsensical distinction but one that can nevertheless be useful for analysis. YMMV. As with all writing commentary, if my approach on this subject isn’t useful to you, discard it; no advice is universal. Onwards!)

Here’s why plotting can actually indicate an agency problem: a plot is not just “things that happen.” A quick Google search gives the definition of plot as “the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.”

There are two key phrases here. The first is “the main events,” which seems self-explanatory. The more important one is “an interrelated sequence.”

Random events are not a plot. If the things that happen don’t have story resonance, the story is unsatisfying: nothing feels like it matters, because nothing does matter when it’s not meaningfully related to everything else.

The most common way I see this failure mode of Chandler’s Law play out in stories is when characters are just reacting. An explosion comes through the window, so then they have to escape! But then the escape to a place where a monster is waiting for them, so they have to run again! Then the nearest hideaway just happens to be the villain’s lair, where they have to perform Some Filler Caper to get inside but then conveniently stumble upon a villainous intent monologue?? And so on.

There are ways to make this work—almost anything can work in the right circumstances—but the question the author has to be able to answer is why. Why did the villain cause an explosion, if lacking that explosion the main character wouldn’t have acted? Why did they choose to go to the place with the monster? Now that they know the villain’s raison d’etre, what are they going to do about it besides wait for the next explosion?

So, there are two principles at play here. The first is that, protagonist or antagonist or side character, characters should do things for reasons that make sense given the knowledge they have.

If the villain had reason to believe the protagonist was already working against them and so was trying to take them out, this may be a good reason for the explosion. But just having an explosion because the author needs to get the character moving doesn’t work without narrative reasoning. (Nothing wrong with writing the explosion first to facilitate making words happen and then coming up with the reasoning afterward! But the reasoning still has to exist and make sense.)

Corollary: the narrative should make us aware of that reasoning.

If our main character is like, oh shit the villain probably believes I’m working against them even though I want nothing to do with this because of that thing they saw in my office!, cool. It can even work retroactively (protagonist: I wouldn’t even be here if you hadn’t exploded my house! antagonist: I didn’t know you were innocent then, but you certainly aren’t now!).

What doesn’t work: Our protagonist going, gosh, I wonder what we should do now? Hmm. Hmmmmm. Oh hey look, the plot has exploded through my window, even though this would not make any sense given what we eventually learn of the villain’s goals!

Which brings me to the second principle, which is: reacting isn’t enough if it doesn’t eventually result in action.

There is a separate but related discussion to be had about what agency even is in storytelling. There are ways to write passive protagonists, or protagonists whose choices are so circumscribed by their environments that so is their ability to act (for an excellent example of the latter, read Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri).

But if the plot is always having to come through the window explosively at the protagonist to get them to do something, and once that impetus is done they’re always idly waiting for the next impetus, it’s not the character driving the story.

It’s easy for me to get bored by this kind of narrative, because it’s not the point-of-view characters making it happen. That level of disconnection from choices creating effects with narrative relevance leaves me wondering why this story matters. Why are we reading this version of events, from this perspective?

An example I love to hold up when talking about with how agency works is The Goblin Emperor by Katharine Addison aka Sarah Monette. This is in part because the protagonist doesn’t for the most part take the physical actions people often associate with fantasy—he’s not a fighter or a wizard. So what actions does he take? Being entirely trapped within a political framework, it’s the conversations and how he manages them, the people he chooses to reach out to—or reject—and why, that make this story go. The people he uplifts, that he focuses on building bridges (literally and figuratively!)—this is what makes the story work. He does react to events that come at him from outside, but he doesn’t just react: even while reacting, he is always making choices toward being the person he wants to be, figuring out whether it is possible and how to accomplish his goals.

Here’s another way to look at it: Chandler’s Law is fine as far as it goes. There is nothing wrong with an explosion coming through the window and the characters having to escape. But how they escape should matter. It should tell us something about who the character is, and not just what they can do, but they will and won’t do. That explosion should also affect what they decide to do next—and begin doing!—rather than just waiting for another explosion to show up.

It’s not enough to have a man come through the door with a gun to make your plot happen. The man has to be relevant, and so does what the protagonist does about the situation.

Relevant to what? How do you make the plot matter? That’s where we get back to basics.

What’s the core of the story you’re trying to tell?

Is it an action-adventure coming-of-age story, where our protagonist learns their own power? Or is it an action-adventure where our protagonist ultimately learns they’re “powerless to amend a broken world” (many thanks to GGK for that phrase) and becomes an antihero? Or a spy caper full of daring adventures where the real friends are the ones we make along the way, including our enemy-to-ally who came through the door with a gun? Or is it a political romance, and the enemy with a gun becomes enemy-to-lover?

You’ve got options. My choice always comes back to character, because the character development I want my protagonist to have dictates how the story goes. But you can equally well make these decisions based on what actions thematically serve the world-building idea you’re exploring or that develop the cool magic you want to explode at the end. The man coming through the door with a gun isn’t what makes the story; it’s how that fits.

So it behooves you to ask, why this thing, and not something else? “Because it’s cool” is a good starting reason, but only if it can be made to matter to the story you’re trying to tell.

Why is your protagonist the protagonist, and not someone else?

(Someday I would like to read an orphan farmboy protagonist who gets to be the main character because his unique skill at cultivating rare turnip varieties is critical to saving the world and not because he is The Chosen One. But I digress.)

What can the protagonist do, and what will they do, that no one else will?

If your protagonist is reluctant to do protagonist things, why did you choose them? What would make them actually take action—by which I mean, make choices that affect the narrative—on their own initiative? Because they’ll need to, for the story to be satisfying.

A plot is not just events that occur; it’s a sequence of interrelated events. And a story with point-of-view characters who only react to events without making choices that affect them is a story with agency problems. Because while character and plot may be two different things, if they’re not working together, the story may not be working as intended, either.

For more on how I actually use character to create plot that does tie in, continue on to the next post!

black cat and orange cat curled on opposite sides of a coffee table which divides a sunbeam
protagonist and antagonist making interrelated choices

Planning with Intent

At and after our wedding, we of course received many well wishes and comments about the event, but I couldn’t help noticing a huge percentage of what people noted specifically was that our wedding was “creative” and “very us.”

The former was possibly inevitable, both of us being fantasy writers. The latter was extremely intentional.

A lot of people probably assume Django and I are both imaginative people, which is true. What is possibly less obvious is that we are both epic planners. We will research possibilities, craft logistics and backup scenarios, and do the work to actually make our dreams into reality.

I want to share some wedding pictures (I don’t have them all yet, but our photographer Rose Lily posted highlights on Facebook!) in part I admit to brag, because I think we did a great job of pulling off a wedding. But I also want to talk about, rather than the spreadsheets and the budgets and that side, intentionality in planning. Not just because of how it mattered with our wedding, but because it’s also something I think about and apply to my life—and my writing career in particular. All the spreadsheets in the world of wedding timelines or word count trackers won’t serve you if they aren’t set up bearing in mind what you actually want to accomplish.

There are so many ways to be a writer, after all. There are so many stories you can write, so many side opportunities you can pursue to supplement or complement, so many sides of yourself you can share publicly in different ways. We only have so much time in this world, and I choose to spend it deliberately.

Casey with veil flying in midair, trees behind her.

When it came to the subject of weddings, it got to be something of a joke between Django and I how, given the many weddings we’ve been called upon to attend in recent years, both of us would end up analyzing logistics and vision afterward. So when it came time to plan our own, we put a lot of thought into what it was we were trying to accomplish.

Casey and Django leaning together, their image reflected in the pond next to them.

Which begins with a very basic but also critical question, which is: why have a wedding ceremony and reception at all, given the cost in time, energy, and funds? What’s the point of it all?

For us, we wanted to bring together our communities of families and friends made throughout the years, to share with them who we are together. To share with them the foundation of our home, which is each other and the life we’re building here, for them to join us as we joined forces in making our home together. And that goal paved the way for most of our structural decisions.

Casey and Django holding hands and posing together.

What is our home? It’s our literal house, for one thing—and so the day after the wedding, we invited people there for brunch!

More broadly, it’s the Pacific Northwest, the place where we live on purpose because it resonates with us. It’s the forests we adventure through, and so it was a forest where we held our wedding, chosen and decorated to evoke an elven forest vibe, and it was the Pacific Northwest cuisine we catered there. It’s the place where Django and I have celebrated our anniversary and made memories many times, where we held our rehearsal dinner, combining both.

And less physically, it’s books, and it’s stories. We held our welcome reception at the bookstore where I work, with displays of our favorite fantasy books and our favorite local desserts. And specifically it’s fantasy: it’s our shared interest in anime and Japanese culture, which we brought in with our ceremony music choices of songs with epic fantasy moods and the food prepared for brunch. It’s dragons and swords and dashing capes, and the magic we feel with each other and in this place and that we build it, together.

wedding party posed as Ginyu Force.
GINYU FORCE ASSEMBLED.

It’s that we approach this not as the start of our story nor as the end of it, which would render whatever comes before or after less meaningful; it’s marking a change in the continuing adventure we’re on together. And in the spirit of what we wanted to accomplish, we wanted the whole event to feel cohesive. So we chose the physical locations and the kinds of events that would suit us, to be ourselves and share that with our guests, and everything was designed around combining these elements: fantasy and stories, forest and adventure, home, and us.

Beyond that, we talked and established our top three goals for the wedding itself (which, given our fortunate but nevertheless limited budget, affected a lot of decisions, in terms of how much we could afford to spend overall and how we chose to allocate that money).

  1. We wanted to look awesome in pictures.
  2. We wanted to love the food at our wedding.
  3. I wanted to dance. (And Django wanted to not spend the entire reception dancing.)

picture from behind of Casey and Django walking away from ceremony.

In a way it’s hard to talk about our decisions in brief, because everything overlaps, but it all comes back to these same starting points. That last goal affected venue choice: we needed a place that would have separate spaces for dancing and people not dancing, so Django would be able to carry on conversations and actually be able to hear—but also not have walls between us, so he could dance with me at all. Then to take advantage of the forest setting, I wanted an outdoor wedding, and given that we didn’t get to start planning this until October, we had to rush to look for venues that weren’t already booked and then get the save-the-dates out as quickly as possible since so many folks would be traveling from out-of-town and needed to be able to prepare. And to get the save-the-dates out and give people the information they needed to start planning, we had to make a series of other decisions to have that information available on a wedding website, the URL of which would be provided on the save-the-date.

Our plates full of food, including tri-tip, lemon salmon, pesto pasta, spinach watermelon salad, roasted vegetables, and bread. selection of appetizers, including berry goat cheese tarts, maple pork belly bites, and a mushroom goat cheese tart.

display of a bazillion mini cupcakes in assorted flavors.
some of the food from the wedding!

Many decisions later, I had the wedding website up (chosen for which website had the functionality and appearance options we needed) to set the tone, as the hub where people could go for information about us and this event. On the home page there’s a picture of me and Django in a forest location at an important moment for us; there’s an introduction (“Adventure!”) that begins giving an impression of who we are individually and together, crafted to also introduce the mood for the wedding and what people could expect if they chose to attend; there’s a brief description of each event that echoes it; and all that ripples throughout information throughout the website and every other logistical and aesthetic choice.

Our stationery for the save-the-dates and the wedding invitations themselves was customized to reflect this as well. We chose dark purple (which, among other things, connotes magic) for the wedding color, and then used it for both the storybook format of the save-the-date with dragon stamps and the magical forest vibe of the invitation.

storybook style save-the-date pictured next to purple night forest wedding invitation.

Django commissioned artwork for a wedding crest for House Wexlair, which resulted in a perfect image of two dragons entwined, in flight separately and together. Our initial idea was to get custom seals and send our wedding invitations sealed with our house crest in (purple) wax, which we did, and it was awesome. (Let it be known we were Extremely Clear at every step of this process that we were inviting people to a nerd wedding =).) But then we had this custom artwork, right?  So we put it on everything.

piles of wax-sealed envelopes lined up.

We had an actual crest, which we used as the idea basis for our guestbook. (As an aside, let me just say that this wedding was largely accomplished by Etsy rather than DIY—unless you count all the planning, which we did ourselves and not with a coordinator—and most were not expensive.) We also put it on the sword we used to cut the cake! (The sword, FYI, is now known as Wexcaliblair and is getting a sign noting it as such for our wall.)

wooden shield engraved with crest and "House Wexlair"; smaller blank versions of same sit in front with instructions to decorate them for the guestbook.

sword engraved with crest and our names.
Close up of sword courtesy of Graham.

 

We put it on bookmarks, which we chose as our wedding favors. They’re made of wood and decorated with leaves, evoking the forest vibe, they’re engraved with a woodland fairy kind of font that would read clearly on wood (I will refrain from delineating all my font choices for the various signs and stationery and websites and all for this event, so this is just to say I they were all chosen very deliberately and I had a lot of fun and the ampersand in the bookmark font is a magic wand!!), they have purple tassels to match the wedding, they mention adventure, and they’re used for books.

bookmark: crest on top, followed by text "Casey and Django Starting New Adventures" with engraved leaves.

We put it on the ring box for our wedding rings. The wedding rings themselves were another series of choices for us. The rings are both custom-designed for each of our different aesthetic preferences that nevertheless coordinate in terms of finishes and feature dragons in flight. Mine also has leaf details as a callback to my engagement ring, also chosen to evoke an elven vibe. It’s fantasy and dragons and stories and us, all combined in rings. Because if we’re going to wear symbols of our love for each other every day, shouldn’t they reflect who we are as individuals and together? Shouldn’t they be special, and should they not look awesome? Obviously they should. (And if you’re in the Seattle area I recommend Green Lake Jewelry Works and our designer Benjamin Marchant highly.)

dragon rings sitting atop ring box, which looks like a small log engraved with the crest.described dragon rings and engagement ring on stone tile.

There were so many other pieces. Django and I don’t drink alcohol, but since I used to work at a root beer store, we had a root beer tasting instead of a cocktail hour.

selection of root beer, including Boylan, Frostie Vanilla, Sprecher, and Cicero Salted Caramel.

Our centerpieces? Crafted around dragon eggs. The eggs were DIY, but by my superhero maid of honor Dodo. And Django handled the rest, incorporating leaves for the forest and more.

centerpiece: circular glass vase filled with sand; dragon egg sits in the middle surrounded by tea lights. sprigs of leaves surround the vase.

We didn’t want advice on how to be happily married together, but I came across the idea of a bucket list card, where people suggest adventures you should go on together, and that seemed entirely appropriate.

card that reads "bucket list: help us plan our lifetime of adventures"

Rather than tossing rice as we processed out from the ceremony, we discovered we could get custom magic wands—with tinkling bells and ribbons in purple and silver for our magic wedding colors, and the effect as people waved them was incredibly cool. (In related news, ping me if you need a cat toy? XD)

Casey and Django beginning the walk toward the audience after the ceremony, as everyone lifts wands to wave.

It’s the women in our families who most enjoy dancing, and my mother and I in particular have a history of dancing together. So rather than separate parent dances we had the mothers—who gave speeches at the wedding whereas the fathers who helped sponsor the rehearsal dinner and welcome reception spoke the night before—open the floor with me for dancing.

Casey dancing with her mother and mother-in-law on either side. Casey dancing with friends once the floor has been opened.

Casey dancing back into Django as he tries to concentrate on signing the wedding license.
Wedding cleanup had begun by the time we got to sign the wedding licenses. I’m still dancing, obviously. With thanks to Dodo for capturing this. =)

And there’s a customary wedding thing we didn’t have in our ceremony or anywhere else: flowers. I don’t care about them. I didn’t want to have to deal with them. Florists are exorbitantly expensive, and for something I don’t care about, I wasn’t going to spend money on it or exhaustively figure out how to do it cheaper or even have a substitute for bouquets. That time, effort, and money was better allocated to what I actually cared about. Like: more dragons!

purple glass goblets with metallic dragon stems that link to form a heart.

Or our unity candle! We lit this together during the ceremony (because we are planners, we had a backup plan of lighters already on hand when it was too windy to get the classier tapers to light XD), and the candle was a dragon egg in our wedding colors (there’s purple under the silver coat), that, when melted, would reveal a tiny metal dragon figurine inside. (I do not kid. Etsy is truly a dangerous place.)

close up of Casey and Django lighting the dragon egg.wedding party under ceremony arch.

One of the aspects people kept pointing out to us was how perfect our ceremony was, and I have to say it does help to have the best officiant. We were delighted when our friend Amy agreed to be our officiant. And at one point in the planning process when I was like, “AMY I have a bad?? idea WHAT IF we structured the ceremony like a story!” her response was that this was a great idea, and then she singlehandedly figured out how to make it work and it was amazing. It was a fantasy story structure that then included references to how stories work and excerpts from some of our favorite fantasy stories, and through it all she perfectly reflected who we are, separately and together.

Casey putting ring on Django's finger.

The other specific piece of the ceremony people were especially impressed with was our vows. This is in part because Django and I are both writers, and evidently they could tell. But I think it’s also worth noting that we wrote these vows together. We decided what was important for us, to say and to hear, and we crafted them accordingly. So they were meaningful to us, and the audience got a window into that, too.

Casey and Django holding hands while making vows.

 

It also helps, and I cannot overstate this, to have the best people, as we took to referring to our collective group of best man-type positions and crew. They were critical support for us in the preparation for the wedding and downright heroic during the wedding events themselves. We armed them for battle accordingly.

wedding party all wielding daggers and swords. close up of one dagger, engraved with the phrase "friends who slay together stay together"

And of course, there were the clothes. There were some fraught times involved on that axis to put it mildly—in particular, because problems with my dress threatened the primary goals of looking awesome AND dancing, it was a failure point that despite very intentional effort had the potential to make me unhappy—but ultimately we made it work. I wore a dress and accessories that reminded me of an elven princess, and Dodo wore a purple dress that made her look fae in the best way. The best man complemented the fantasy space emperor vibe we worked out for Django, with non-Western style shirts and fantasy details. And Superhero Seamstress Friend Marissa didn’t just contribute tailoring: she was entirely responsible for creating everyone’s capes.

Casey and Django posing with their capes.
The photographer’s highlights album doesn’t have any cape pictures, so this one’s courtesy of Graham.

Why even have a fantasy wedding if you can’t wear capes, I ask you? So we did.

And that’s really what everything boiled down to, ultimately. Why even have a wedding if you can’t be who you are and do what matters to you and celebrate both?

So we did.

Who do you want to be? What do you want to do? What do you think that looks like, and how do you make that happen—on a grand scale, and in the details?

Do you.

Wedding Recovery

I am married!

And would you look at that, I have… not coincidentally, not blogged for several months! Whee!

I am delighted to be married. I admit I am also delighted to be done planning the getting married. (I’ll write about it. Just not this post.) And it was such a whirlwind at the end that I’m finding myself sluggish about remembering how to have a schedule that does not prioritize wedding tasks.

(Not that they’re done. T_T But let me have this moment?)

In a way it reminds me of finishing a novel, in that a wedding is a large scope project that requires consistent effort for a long period of time, but then if I finish the draft in a big push I’m—exhausted, and I get to take a break, but then once the break is over I have to… do other things?? Start editing? Work on a different project? But it’s so different from the schedule that I’ve been chugging away at steadily it takes me a couple weeks to regroup.

So that’s where I’m at. Wedding planning took way more time and energy than I had initially anticipated, let alone the wedding itself, and now the things that got pushed onto the list of ‘this can wait, deal with this after the wedding’ have all come up at once, it being after the wedding all at once. I’m reintroducing all those other things back into my life slowly as I reassemble my schedule.

And I’m getting back to writing—not just Tea Princess Chronicles, but also a new project I’m super excited to be embarking on! I started it before the wedding, but now I get to really pick up steam.

Though I’m not diving in quite as rapidly as I had hoped to, because my brain feels listless, which probably means I’m still introvert-recovering from an extreme exertion of socializing and executive function and body complications (the week leading up to the wedding was super not free of them, alas). So I’m dipping my toe back in this week and hoping by next week I’ll be up and running maybe not at full capacity, but with at least a little more focus.

In the meantime, I’ll be reading, figuring out what on earth has happened in my kitchen and inbox, tending the cats that have been attached to me since we returned from the mini-moon (literally: I have the holes in my leg from Sakaki’s kneading to prove it), and idly planning my next big logistical adventure / writing project of expansive scope, because that’s a thing my brain apparently does when left to its own devices for too long. It is never boring in these parts!

So bear with me, friends? I’m getting back up and running. ❤

the cats, attached