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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.

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Making My Life and Rounding a Decade

This morning I woke up late, was finally coaxed out of bed, and returned to my cats with tea to spend the next couple hours reading a book without any particular urgency or guilt that I really ought to have been doing something else. While this was the first day in several I was able to spend in this excellent fashion, it was possible, which is a remarkable indicator of my success this year: to be able to be happy being.

Strap in, friends; this is a long one.

In past years, my annual year-in-reflection birthday post (yes, I know it’s December, life happens and I’m not fretting about it) has often been a way of discovering for myself the pattern of my efforts and accomplishments. This year, I knew ages ago what I’d be writing about, which is this:

Sustainability.

After an incredibly rough year culminating in a deeply upsetting outcome, this year I decided I needed to adjust my course. I’ve been pushing as hard as I could for years, learning how to prioritize writing for myself, how far I can push myself.

It’s far.

And I crashed and burned out, hard.

Because what I hadn’t established for myself was stability. I didn’t have a job I could foresee myself still working at happily, or sufficiently lucratively, five years down the road if a publishing contract never comes about. I could prioritize writing, but I’d also learned to de-prioritize myself. Financially, emotionally, logistically—I needed to shift my goals for myself to be less dependent on what is ultimately outside of my control.

I made myself take a step back, which was a feat in and of itself. I thought about what kind of life I want, and I worked on building some structures into it and slowly settling into them.

Stories are absolutely part of the life I want, will always be, but taking a step back in terms of writing means that I only fully wrote and edited one novel and one novella this year. That only had me feeling unproductive, even though there are countless professional writers who don’t manage a single book in a year—or perhaps insufficiently ambitious, because I can do another full novel plus revisions on top of that in a year if I choose to. This year I deliberately did not.

And I’m proud of the work I did. I got to work on some secret projects I’m excited about. I love my weird shounen anime-style but with women (tournaments! friendship! magic swords!) novella. Tea Set and Match is the first sequel I’ve ever written, which was its own education and journey, and I’m happy with where I landed. Tea Princess Chronicles resonates more strongly with people than I ever imagined, and readers’ responses to it have heartened me in turn. (I am still not quite over the shock that people want to give me money for my fiction, particularly fiction I give away for free. It flabbergasts me every time.)

(As an aside, if you want to support artists: tell other people about their work, buy their work, and tell the artist their work mattered to you. Those three things get us through.)

Stories are also now part of how I make my living, which has long been a goal, and now it’s taking another form. I’m going to keep writing, and I’m also now a professional indie bookseller, which combines a lot of my project management skills as well as a long history of shouting at people about which books they should buy!

On another axis, bookselling has given me an avenue to build a form of activism into my daily habits, working on change on a local scale. I don’t have the time or money for many other forms of activism that matter, but engaging day by day and face-to-face within my community is something I’m prepared and satisfied to be practicing. I look forward to taking that even farther as I grow into this work.

Working at a bookstore has been a dream of mine for years, and now it’s work not instead of but in addition to writing that I actually care about and can sustain me. That’s huge.

Adventure and friendship are also hugely important to the person I want to be. This year I ventured off to Tibet with a friend, a trip I haven’t written about much because it’s difficult to convey how surreal it was. It truly was an adventure, in both the positive and negative connotations that word can imply—in the sounds and silences, in the visible history, in how we use and are used by our bodies. But it was also an exercise in traveling in a way that still felt like an adventure without going at a pace that made me unhappy, with support in place to address the unexpected—and friendship that is uplifting rather than pressuring.

And after what seems like forever of living where I do, I finally begin to feel like I have a core of close friends. The kind who go out for ice cream when you’re bored or sad or just very enthusiastic about ice cream, answer calls at weird hours and talk about everything, and share otter pictures and watch ridiculous movies; the kind who are there for the fun and the hard.

I also got engaged, which is its own kind of adventure! There’s the adventure of wedding planning, of course, but I really mean the adventure of deciding you want to build a life with another person and actively setting about entwining your lives together structurally, in figuring out the life you envision for yourselves and working to make it reality. This was a step a long time coming, and I am glad to have finally made the choice to go down this path.

I also turned 30, which seems like it ought to have been a bigger deal than it was. I went out of my way to make sure I celebrated thoroughly, but I think the most notable thing about embarking on a new decade is that I don’t feel any stress about it.

I had a great year.

I expect even better to come.

And I’m going to go and make that happen for myself.

For those keeping track of my flying adventures, this year I flew on a hot air balloon, accompanied by my fiancée. A less dangerous flight for me than some—given, in succession, skydiving, flying trapeze, indoor skydiving, ziplining in Thailand, and paragliding (…okay now that I’ve located 5 years’s worth of posts on this website I do feel a little old)—but one I could share with the most important person in my life.

I’m not giving up on flying adventures, but for my 30s I’ve decided to change the annual adventure requirements:

Every year, I want to go somewhere new.

And I started that this year, too: with Tibet, and again on the actual day of my birthday with a tea party to visit friends in Victoria. Sustainable adventure and connections, in concept and action.

So I’m still busy and sometimes overwhelmed. I always will be, because I am too ambitious to ever truly rest, and I will never, ever stop pushing myself to be more. But I’m learning to adjust my goals and expectations, plans and efforts accordingly.

I’m learning to have the life full of stories, adventure, impact, and connection that I want—sustainably, all at once, because I am also too ambitious to settle for less.

Ready for a new year and decade an adventures,
Casey

Thanks, Goku

I am having Actual Feelings about Goku’s appearance in the Macy’s Parade and what it means.

For one, it’s that we now live in a world where Goku can appear in an event of this profile in the US. As a nerd who stereotypically grew up largely isolated among people who disdained anime, I can’t deny there’s an element of vindication in this—but also wonder, that this is now where we are today. It’s not exactly a surprise to me anymore that there are other people who grew up on Dragon Ball Z, but this is a different level of recognition of cultural significance.

But it’s also waking up Thanksgiving morning to all of the reactions (I’m on the west coast) to Goku flying above us. I don’t just mean the many in-jokes, although those are absolutely giving me life today. I mean the unabashed enthusiasm people are publicly expressing, the wonder we’re all sharing, at seeing an actual giant Goku flying through our streets.

Not mockery, but earnest delight. It is, for one, Americans rallying behind a non-white illegal immigrant refugee and alien character literally and figuratively from another world as our hero.

And what’s really getting me in the feelings today is that this is also about who Goku is as a hero specifically: no matter how old he gets, how often he literally has to sacrifice his life, or how often people around him fail, Goku as a hero is not cynical or grizzled.

He always delights in silliness. He is endlessly hopeful. He dares to dream and gather his wishes into reality. He never stops working toward what matters. He never shies away from the impossible but instead takes it as a challenge to make it possible. He enthusiastically welcomes new friends and celebrates their victories, no matter the scale. He always believes in people, and in the power of ordinary people—because to Goku, nothing and no one is ever ordinary.

That’s who we’re celebrating as our hero today, and it’s a reminder I will hold with me. This Thanksgiving, I am 100% Team #ThanksGoku.

And with that, I’m off to prepare enough food for a Saiyan, a tradition I think Goku would heartily approve of.

grateful to these cats who never cede the paw ground

Empowering Ourselves to Change Worlds

For Part Two of my set about making choices to effect change, I want to talk about the power we already have in our daily lives to empower others. I know more people than ever committing and taking steps to changing the political reality we’re all living in, from organizing protests to donating towards important causes. Which is fantastic.

But there are everyday steps I think it’s important to take in our communities, too. Because when enough individuals change, we can change culture. Small changes can grow.

(Tangentially, this is also why I believe creating art is one of the most important kinds of work a person can do, but that’s a post for another day.)

What this looks like in practice is different for everyone, depending on industry, home situation, etc. Some people have to focus on surviving their environments, and that, too, is resistance. But for those of us for whom it’s safe to do more, I believe it’s important to take up the burden of that work in whatever way we can. I don’t just mean confronting oppression when we witness it, though that’s critical as well. I mean building into our own lives sustainable acts that can go a long way.

In my day job as an indie bookseller, I find there are lots of moments day-to-day where I make small choices that can ripple outwards.

When a man makes a joke about being embarrassed to read romance novels, I can push back on the idea that enjoying a genre devoted to centering women’s desires is something to be ashamed of.

When facing out books on the shelves that will draw customer attention, I can make sure the excellent books we face out are not dominantly by straight white men, and I can choose not to promote books by known misogynist and racist writers.

When organizing book clubs, I can make a point of choosing work by women of color, who systemically enjoy far less support and promotion than other demographics in publishing.

When parents ask for children’s book recommendations, I can recommend books by and about girls—especially girls who aren’t white—not just for the girls who need to see themselves represented on the page in stories, but for the boys who need to see them represented, too.

These are all choices I can make easily and regularly, and many of them don’t take much time.

But they do take awareness and deliberation.

As readers, we can make choices that matter just by looking at the kinds of books we read by default. Because the systems are stacked and often opaque, lots of people are startled to find what percentages of stories they’re reading by straight white men in comparison to the demographics of their lived reality.

We can make the choice to actively seek out work by women, people of color, and queer folk. We can recommend those books to our friends and communities, and we can make a point of including authors that aren’t all straight white men in our best-of lists. (Just in the last weekend I’ve had occasions to talk publicly about Mirage by Somaiya Daud, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee, and a diverse list of folklore retellings I put together for Sirens two years ago!)

Boosting those authors and works helps change the publishing industry, and diversifying our reading helps change us.

Empathy is learned. It takes thought to undo societal conditioning. But we can do it if we try, and it doesn’t have to take heroic effort to make choices that matter.

A ripple can grow into a wave.

Let’s start poking our waters.

cats committed to contributing ridiculousness into the world every day

Sirens and Voice

The other night Sirens Conference co-founder Amy Tenbrink called me out on Twitter (my weakness is dance music playlists, the trashier the better, now you all know), and obviously I picked up that gauntlet because of course I did.

For every $50 donated to the Sirens scholarship fund that night, I gave one suggestion for a panel not solely consisting of writers as the panelists (aka interdisciplinary panels), because this is important to me.

One of my favorite parts about Sirens is that any attendee can propose programming, and they have no better shot at getting in than anyone else. The vetting board is independent of the conference staff, and all they care about is your proposal.

(Really. I promise. I did my first programming back in 2011 without a credential to my name, and the first time I wanted to do a panel the programming staff helped me figure it out. If you want to participate in Sirens programming but need some backup, EMAIL THEM.)

And that matters. It matters that there is no box anyone has to check to be allowed a platform to speak and share their thoughts.

Because one of my other favorite parts of Sirens is that it’s not a writers conference.

Once more, because it’s super important: SIRENS IS NOT A WRITERS CONFERENCE.

Yes, there are writers there, and that’s great. But what’s also great is that there are readers, academics, publicists, librarians, editors, booksellers, and, oh, did I mention readers? Because the one thing we ALL have in common is that we read fantasy, and we’re passionate about the remarkable work of women in the genre.

One of the ways Sirens demonstrates its commitment to lifting up everyone’s voices, to making sure Sirens is a place where anyone can participate in practice and not just in theory, is by offering several scholarships. Right now, they’re down to the wire to finish meeting this year’s goal.

I think somehow people have gotten the sense that only writers can be on panels, and nothing could be further from the truth. But to have non-writers on panels, attendees need to submit proposals for those panels–and they need to be able to attend.

If you can donate to the scholarship fund, I hope you’ll consider it.

And if you’re going to Sirens this year, I hope you’ll consider submitting programming, which opens soon. To help get you going, here are my panel suggestions from the other night, and all of them are free for the taking.

(Sorry friends I am The Worst at snappy titles.)

 

  1. The Role of Reviews

What are reviews for? What are readers looking for in a review–help choosing a book, or critique to consider it more thoughtfully? How can reviews help or hurt marginalized communities? How does the publishing side use reviews? Are there right/wrong approaches?

I think the Sirens community could have a field day unpacking the challenges/opportunities of reviews. A panel like this could easily include readers, reviewers, librarians/booksellers, publicists, editors, writers, etc.

 

  1. Female Friendships in Fantasy

Let’s talk not just about our favorite female friendships, but what makes them work, and why women having non-toxic and complex relationships on the page, being excellent separate from men, is important.

Why does it matter to see female friendships in fantasy–for readers in today’s world, and in the context of the fantasy genre? What kinds of friendships do you want to see, and have there been shifts? What are common pitfalls? WHERE ARE THE GIRL GANGS. Come on, Sirens! =D

 

  1. Women’s Clothing in Fantasy

First off, there had BETTER be cosplayers on this panel, and also historians, AND I KNOW SIRENS HAS A PLETHORA OF BOTH AMONG ITS ATTENDEES I SEE YOU.

How is clothing in fantasy used to restrain or free female characters? Are dresses and corsets really swordplay prevention (SPOILERS THEY ARE NOT–so what else does fantasy commonly miss?). How does it reinforce values of femininity or its rejection (can we talk about transformation sequences?!)?

 

  1. Plot-bearing women over the age of 30 in fantasy novels: where are they?

And by that I mean, not just side characters, but women well into adulthood who actually shape the course of the story.

Where are the mothers? Where the successful career women? The badass old ladies who aren’t just generic stock crones (though I do love a cantankerous witch)? (None of these are mutually exclusive!) Why is it so important to have them on the page (and not just as villains!)?

And I’d LOVE to see some of our older readers at Sirens on this one. I want to hear their perspectives on these characters–what’s done well, what’s missing–as well as on how the fantasy genre has evolved on this point, if at all.

 

  1. Women’s Work in Fantasy

I want to see historians on this panel, but also knitters and bakers and seamstresses, programmers and chemists and engineers.

How does fantasy privilege traditionally masculine-coded disciplines (like physical combat) over feminine-coded ones (homemaking, textile work, gardening, etc.), and why does this matter? What stories are we missing? How can this work tie into magic, tech, economics, intrigue?

 

Let’s do this, Sirens. ❤

The Choice to Fly

I love flying. And this year, I went paragliding.

 

photo by Drew McNabb from Acroparagliding

Starting my annual birthday flying adventures is the best tradition I’ve established for myself. It’s a chance for me to step outside my day-to-day, to reflect on what I’ve accomplished and who I want to be and whether I’m on that path.

This year was hard, for a lot of reasons, and I have been pushing hard. On the writing front, I wrote another book’s worth of words in the course of revisions, and I have revised more–both in thoroughness and in quantity of time spent–this year than I’ve revised in my life. And amidst everything else, I wrote a new book (which you can read for free!), which was a new kind of challenge and adventure. But I’ve gotten so caught up in the minutiae of that daily work that I was desperately ready to fly.

For my birthday flying adventures, I’ve been skydiving, flown on trapezes, sped through the air on ziplines. There are spectacular views to be seen this way, but it’s ultimately not the external perspective I value. It’s the act of flying itself that I love, that I can never get enough of.

When I’m in the air, I don’t feel adrenaline rushes from fear or even thrill. It’s a quieter feeling, but it centers me: flying, I know who I am. I know what I can do, and what I will do.

Every time, I wonder if it will be hard to jump. This year, I wondered if I’d feel nervous running off the hill with so much air below me. I’m familiar with that feeling, standing at the edge of a cliff and making myself jump, and I was prepared to do it, to prove to myself that I could. But there was no doubt, no fear; just launching into the sky.

This year, though, something else struck me. Throughout the trip–doing the paperwork, riding the van up the mountain, strapping in amidst endless jokes to test whether I was going to panic (they, clearly, had not met me)–people kept asking, with some confusion, some disbelief, “you’re here alone?”

Like it was so rare not to need people to come along for moral support, or to witness me. Like I really was there just to fly.

And when I responded affirmatively, they just said, “Good for you.”

Good for me, for taking steps to pursue my own path. Good for me, for knowing when I am enough, for being enough, by myself.

But even though I came alone, I came to a community. People who joked, knew each other’s hopes and struggles, looked out for each other, expected the best. A community of people who have learned to carve a regular space for adventure into their everyday lives, as though flying above mountains is a normal part of everyday lives.

Because it can be.

And the other consistent refrain throughout the trip was when people asked me what I did, and I said I was a writer, and they all marveled.

At first I thought they were impressed by my ability to make ends meet as a writer, but after a couple interactions I realized they hadn’t considered that the challenging part. It was the fact that I write, and I write novels, and multiple, and fantasy, facts I always take as a matter of course, that was what wowed them.

Writing has become such an integral part of my everyday that I sometimes forget what an adventure it is, to pour my time and energy and thoughts and passion into creating stories with words, to throw myself off the cliff over and over and trust that I will fly.

When I fly, I remember I’m an adventurer.

photo by Jenny Scott

Critique and Target Audiences

I spent last weekend at Cascade Writers Workshop and had a blast. Thank you again to my critique group for being awesome and insightful. I have a solid idea of where to start editing not just in this section, but the broad strokes to keep in mind all through the novel and in other projects.

I love critiquing and reviewing, though the one should not be confused with the other. In critiquing, my goal is to help the author identify how they can edit to match their writing with the story they want to tell. Note, that is not the same as telling the author what they should or must do, nor is it fixing the story for them, nor is it recommending ways to change the story to one that I would like better.

In reviewing, my goal (and this differs greatly among reviewers) is to help readers find books they will like by promoting the novels, the particular aspects that worked for me or didn’t, and why. This is also not the same as writing what I think the author should have done or be doing with their story: it’s what works for me, and why.

That why is the critical bit. That’s what tells me what needs to change and how, if at all. For instance, if you don’t like the protagonist because they’re clearly a bad person, well, if that’s what the story needs I’m not going to change it. If you don’t like the protagonist because you don’t understand their motivations or stakes and thus don’t care about their character arc, that’s something I need to address.

In receiving feedback, it’s important for me to get multiple points of view, because often two people will totally disagree with each other’s assessments. If multiple people are pointing out problems in the same area, even if their “why”s are different, I know where to look for the bit that isn’t working properly.

For me, the very best kind of critique is when the reader is able to understand what I’m trying to do (without any direction from me outside of the text) and can tell me whether it worked. If they say, I see what you’re going for, but it’s not quite there, because of x reason, that is THE MOST HELPFUL THING. This is why I usually request feedback from fellow writers, to help me identify the “why”s when something is off with the craft.

My second-favorite kind of critique is from people who are not my target audience.

I get the impression that’s not common? And I understand that there are some forms of feedback that I’ll take with grains of salt from, for instance, non-genre readers, because it may be a trope or tone issue throwing them out that’s totally fine. But it might also be something that I haven’t explained sufficiently. It might be a world-building issue or plot hole that a genre reader will gloss over but that causes the non-genre reader to cease suspension of disbelief.

Target audience, though, can be complicated, because it goes beyond subgenre. In fact, writing with a group of other reviewers at Fantasy Book Critic has been an object lesson in target audiences for me. My reading tastes overlap with several of our reviewers: a few of us will often read the same epic and high fantasy, or the same urban fantasy, or the same YA books, even if our thoughts aren’t all posted on the site.

And yet the three of us can read the same book, write a joint review, and have COMPLETELY different opinions on why it worked or didn’t.

(This has actually come to be a recommendation marker for me: if two of us actually agree on a book, I tend to trust that assessment, because it’s very much not the default. Mihir and Liviu’s joint review got me to pick up The Thousand Names, for instance.)

Just because we’re readers of the same subgenre doesn’t mean we’re looking for the same things in our stories. Target audience is more complicated than whether someone wants or hates vampires in their stories. It’s about the kind of story and how it’s told.

It’s also why I think it’s important in reviewing to isolate that I’m talking about “why”s, because even within the genre reader tastes vary. Huge amounts of expository detail, for instance, are not my thing. There are only so many trees and hills you can describe before my eyes glaze over (I’m looking at you, Tolkien).

Some readers LIVE for that sort of detail, and that’s fabulous for them! But when I write my review, I will mention that for me it slowed pacing down, but I won’t call it a bad book, or say that the author doesn’t know how to write exposition. I don’t think my role is to judge; it’s to analyze and isolate parts that will help readers decide whether a book is a good fit.

And in critique, I will point out concerns, issues to consider, places that don’t work for me, and why, so the author can judge for themselves how much weight to assign to any piece of feedback. Awareness, for me, is the key. Maybe the author is dead, but their stories are alive in the hearts and minds of readers.

They’re different animals, reviewing and critiquing, but I love them both and I hope people find my feedback helpful. It makes me appreciate even more when people are willing to take the time to consider artistic work carefully and thoroughly, because I think it helps us all as a community to push ourselves to be better, to expect better. And especially, thank you again to all who have critiqued or given me beta feedback. You’re the best =).