Headstrong is Code

In my last episode I mentioned that he use of “headstrong” to describe a female character is almost as bad as calling her “beautiful”.

Headstrong. I suppose I should explain why I find that appellation awful, even as it is widely regarded as a strongly positive trait for female main characters. We can add to the list ‘rebellious’ and ‘independent’. In a man, the exact same traits would be spun positively as ‘confident’.

Why is confident considered a separating characteristic for women? Why is independence a trait worthy of a fantasy hero?

Independent and whatnot are all traits that, applied to a fictional role model, imply that she is somehow special. But hold on there, Sparky! None of those things should be regarded as special. “She a woman… but.. she’s also independent? MADNESS!” Let’s just stop right there.

All those descriptions are code for “hasn’t met the right man yet.”

Seriously, I wish I was wrong. While there are a couple of notable exceptions, there exists shit-tons of novels and series of novels based on the simple premise that an otherwise-powerful woman must somehow care about the merits of her multiple asshole suitors, and when she chooses the best asshole-suitor prosperity ensues. Each asshole is almost-perfect, and fans can form teams around the assholes. But that misses the point.

Our girl doesn’t need any of those assholes.

So let’s get to the real headstrong. She’s got her opinions, and she’s ready to defend them, but she will also listen gracefully and accept when she’s wrong. She’s strong that way. She loves hard, and when her best friend says, “that woman is using you,” she says, “hope you’re wrong,” because she’d not going to stop loving. She’s not one to let go easily.

But she’s headstrong, and change isn’t so easy. It’s a curse she lives with every day, the inability to let go of the little battles to win the war. Her lover whispers in her ear every night, little nothings that add up to something, but nothing will erase the big picture, even for a moment. You can never stop being a hero.

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The Creche

The children sat in a semi-circle in the grass, seventeen of them, aged three to nine in traditional years, their eyes fixed on Evie the storyteller, who sat cross-legged at the focus of the children, the Holy Book in her hand. The petite brown woman smiled, a little wistfully, and opened the Book. “Today I would like to tell you about Earth.”

Willi had to smile as he watched the younger kids sit forward eagerly while the older kids rolled their eyes. Will relaxed on his bench, partially concealed by the lush vegetation of the creche, but not actually hiding.

“Earth was a beautiful place,” Evie said. “It was like this,” she said, waving at the vegetation as it flourished under the lights of the creche, “but the air was sweet — and above,” she glanced at the gray metal over their heads, “above was the sky. It was like a ceiling, but far, far, above. And sometimes, water would fall out of the sky, and the people would dance with joy.”

Willi watched as one of the older children leaned over to the boy sitting next to her. With a thought and a gesture Willi tapped into her audio. “And then we fucked it up, because we are greedy mammal bastards.”

Willi groaned but he was watching today for precisely this event. He stood and cleared his throat softly. “Malika, would you come with me, please?”

The girl swung around and looked at him, her brown eyes wide in her pale face. “I didn’t…”

“Come with me.”

She stood and pulled at her jumpsuit, which didn’t fit her very well. Too small. They grow like weeds at that age, Willi thought. But there was no place for weeds here. Not in this garden.

Tears were escaping her eyes as she walked away from the other children. They watched her go with stony faces, internalizing the most important lesson of the day: There are some things you never say out loud.

Malika stood in front of Willi, her eyes fixed on his feet. He reached out and put his hand on her skinny shoulder and felt her shaking. “Am I compost?” she asked.

Willi let out a slow breath. He used his hand on Malika’s shoulder to steer her toward the exit. “We are all compost. But before we are fed to the grinder, we must justify the resources we consume.” To make his point he touched a control and the heavy door cycled open, revealing the stark passageways of the starship. Even outside the creche, the air in the sections used by the mammals was heavy with moisture and fizzing with oxygen. Expensive air.

“It is delicate,” Willi said, knowing that all his words might be heard, the same way he had eavesdropped on Malika.

She was crying now. “Please,” she said, as fluid ran out of her eyes and her nose. No matter how efficient the recycling was on the ship, the crew would never be able to condone such waste.

Willi leaned in close and whispered, “They resent us.” Her eyes widened and Willi gave her a tight smile. “For any one of us, the ship could support ten of them. Ten of them awake.” The lizards would hear those words, but that was all right. This was just part of the curriculum. Every kid got this lecture eventually, in one form or another.

“They hate us? Why do they keep us?”

Behind them the door to the creche closed, and they walked down the sterile gray passage, with no particular destination.

“No, they don’t hate us. They don’t — they aren’t capable of hatred. Which, indirectly, is why they keep us. But without them, we are lost,” Willi said. “Earth is gone, just a radioactive cinder orbiting an ordinary star. Our ancestors did that to themselves. This is our home now, and we have to earn our way.”

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Basking in my Own…

A long time ago I published a Chapter One here on this blog called Gravity. It was a little bit that I thought had legs. Eventually I devoted a NaNoWriMo to exploring the character, and today I read much of it. It has some pretty sweet moments, if I do say so myself.

A Jane Doe awakens in a hospital, and feels gravity for the first time. Everything is wrong, even though everything is empirically perfectly normal.

At the core is a battle between Liberty on one side, and Justice for All on the other (that’s how one side frames it, anyway). But it’s really a story of soldiers. Bitter rivals sharing a room, one crippled. Were she not crippled, Benji would have killed her and bragged about it later. But it was Jane’s own side that crippled her, that tore her down. They took her wings. And that is the only thing, the ONLY thing, Benji would never do. She was beautiful when she flew.

Though it would be irresponsible not to consider that Jane volunteered for this mission, confident that her own compass would never waver, even if her memory were erased.

Note: Benji and Jane never become a love interest. Seriously. You can discover respect without wanting to bone someone.

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Buck Rodgers Cosmology

There is a certain class of Space Opera that has what I call “Buck Rodgers Cosmology.” In these stories it is never quite certain what a planet is. You see sentences like “It was still morning on [planet].” Or perhaps “It’s summer on [planet], so dress accordingly.”

And of course we’re all familiar with the “jungle planet”, the “tropical paradise planet”, and the “snow planet”, all of which are entire planets with only one climate zone, and that climate is easily recognized as one of the many on our own rock. So even though we live and interact with a shining counterexample our entire lives, we all too often are presented with a planet that apparently has no poles. Or perhaps it’s in a multi-star system that somehow warms all parts of the globe evenly.

I call it Buck Rodgers Cosmology because early Buck Rodgers adventures joyfully embraced a vague idea of planets that didn’t even seem to be related to stars.

Recently I read some not-very-good-but-for-some-reason-I-read-it-anyway-so-maybe-it-had-a-certain-charm Space Opera, and while the author seemed to have a certain grasp of stars, planets, and whatnot, it seemed that most of the time the planets managed to avoid any of the consequences of being spherical.

While I was reading this thing, I rolled my eyes and moved on. I wonder if the writer knowingly embraced Buck Rodgers Cosmology. I wonder if he made a conscious decision to make planets so easily characterized in order to make destinations more like those in Earth-bound adventure stories. One planet is Hawaii, another planet is Switzerland, and another is Arizona. In fact, these stories are actually set on Earth, an Earth in disguise, at a time when it takes many days to reach Hawaii, and where the inhabitants of Hawaii have blue skin. They’re not space stories at all.

In the end, I decided Buck Rodgers Cosmology was no less valid than the whole Faster-Than-Light-Without-Relativity conceit. It’s a storytelling device, and if the reader is willing to embrace it, then we can all get along.

The story I mentioned above also had big space battles that led to giant spaceships “listing to port” when they were badly damaged. I am far less forgiving of that phrase. The writer is drawing a parallel with modern sailing ships, but sinking boats list because of gravity. There’s too much water coming in on one side, and gravity tips the boat to that side. No gravity in space. No listing. No “port” even, though that could be defined in some sort of ridiculous three-dimensional fleet coordinate system.

I have read a great deal of space opera where opposing fleets of spaceships are all in the same plane.

The thing is, there’s another phrase for a stricken ship that’s more accurate and just as poignant. Stricken naval ships list, stricken spaceships tumble. It’s that simple. And tumbling makes rescue all the more difficult.

So I’ll give you the Buck Rodgers Cosmology, but I won’t give you stupid fleet mechanics. The former provides a storytelling shorthand, the latter is just wrong.

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Knives Episode 26 Published!

With the Big Splash at the end of the last episode, it was time for Martin to take stock and do some planning. But not before contemplating just leaving everything and going back to his normal life as thief and assassin. But, well, there’s Elena.

On the patron front, it looks like my attempt to release more backstory was, well, unsuccessful. No worries — tomorrow I will do that first thing after taking down Christmas lights.

Episodes have been a bit slow lately, what with holidays and guests invading the Writing Bunker and whatnot, but episode 27 is forming up nicely and episode 28 is solidifying.

As always, thank you to all my generous patrons. You guys rock!

Read Knives.

Facts? Bah!

I was pretty pleased with myself when I realized it was perfectly logical for my point-of-view character to be claustrophobic. After all, she was born in the ocean (literally) and lived almost her entire life on a raft. Sure they had canvas structures to keep the rain off their heads, but overall, the sky has been her ceiling.

So when she’s on a submarine, that’s got to be pretty awful, right?

I got to that point and realized that I know next to nothing about: a) claustrophobia, and b) submarines. After about two thousand words in this setting, I have finally dug up a cutaway of a typical attack submarine, and, well, the sub in my story has a lot more decks. Maybe that’s why the ceilings seem so low to her; the decks are only four feet apart to fit them in a 33-foot diameter cylinder.

But that’s what rewrites are for, right?

NaNoWriMo 15-day Checkup

November is half-spent, and I’m still pretty far behind on my novel, at 18.5 kilowords. I was even farther behind before this last weekend, but I fell into a good rhythm of 1000-word sprints — write a thousand words, take a little break. I have 32 more sprints to go, but honestly I’m not too worried; I’ve taken some time off work in the coming days to be around for an influx of home repair and new appliances, and I should be able to get in three sprints a day on non-work days pretty easily, and sometimes more.

Meanwhile the story itself has really just been an exploration of the setting, and the cultures of the people in what was once Miami. I’m getting a good feel for the raft culture, though sometimes I wonder if perhaps their traditions are too well developed — after all, there are people who can remember Miami before; has enough time passed for a navajo-inspired system of intermarriage to have evolved? Probably not; but if that’s the thing people pick out to complain about then I’ll feel all right.

Several characters have had “audition chapters”, in which I experiment with whether they would fit in an actual story. A couple of the scenes were pretty fun to write, others fell flat.

Fun idea: if algae blooms suck all the oxygen out of the water and kill off marine life (look up “dead zone Louisiana”), a few vegetarian air-breathing species might flourish. Some sea turtles are strictly vegetarian, for instance, and in the absence of predators (except of course for starving humanity) they might do well. Also, I may introduce manatee farming.

There have of course been some of those crazy first-draft no-time-to-go-back moments. There is a floor in one of the buildings that at first is empty, every sound resonating as a storm rages outside. Then, maybe half an hour later, that same space is crammed to the gills with industrial equipment and supplies. Perhaps that place is a portal to another dimension, but nobody in the story said, “Holy shit! Where did all that stuff come from?”

If things get tight around Nov 28th, that portal may reopen, and who knows what would come out. Just sayin’.

I’ve also managed to find a couple of little touches to communicate the magnitude of the disaster, to go along with the skeletons of fallen high-rise buildings. An Igloo cooler sitting on the seat of a submerged utility truck, with a lunch packed inside that would never be eaten, things like that. Jaqi, who dives into the wreckage and into the past, usually isn’t affected by them; things have been like this her whole life. But when she is separated from her raft/family, those old clues of the humanity of those who died can touch her.

Will I have an interesting yarn at the end of this exercise? Honestly, probably not, though it does have moments. But I think I’ll have a pretty good place to put a yarn, and a few interesting people to play the parts.

Knives Episode 19 Released!

It seems like someone — or something — is trying to prevent our friends from reaching the fortress at Brewer’s Ford. The fort means different things to each of the companions — to Elena it represents safety; Katherine may be walking to a dungeon cell and the gallows. Martin is not a big fan of walls, but considering what’s out here trying to kill them, he’s willing to chance it for a while.

In a way this episode is its own biography, as it has seen its share of resistance as well. Chapter 19 has gone through several metamorphoses as it has moved closer to the big time, with whole sections inserted only to be removed again. Until a very short time ago I had moved much of what I planned to put into chapter 20 into this chapter as well, but this chapter was getting huge and I don’t want to hold back on the descriptions of what happens next. (As I’ve hinted before, episode 20 is a biggie.) So ultimately this episode is a little underweight, but has plenty going on to make it worthwhile. I hope I haven’t overworked the chapter, but it reads pretty well to me.

Thanks once more to all the patrons!

19: The Crossing

All I want for my birthday…

… is patrons.

And macaroni and cheese, but that’s been covered already.

While I’m at it, thanks for all the well-wishes sent my way via various social media and even good old-fashioned email. I now have a pirate song sung by dogs stuck in my head. The song said I was supposed to drink beer; I better get on that.



Knives going live!

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Knives, my serialized fantasy story, is now officially launched! Woo! You can visit over at its swanky new digs. For those of you unfamiliar with the genesis of this story, it started as a fun little project called The Fantasy Novel I Will Likely Never Write, but two things happened: People started clamoring for more (yes, clamoring), and I was having a ton of fun writing it. So those first few chapters of dubious quality gave way to richer, better-written ones, and it began to look like TFNIWLNW was not a very good name for the project.

I have spruced up the first few chapters and put them in a new home, all on their own, so people can enjoy the story without being distracted by all the goings-on over here at Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas. That turned out to be rather more time-consuming than I had banked on, so those who clamored have, ironically, had a long wait.

In fact, the clamorists still have a bit of waiting to do, as I upgrade the first chapters from light first drafts to richer second drafts. But here’s where you can help! You see, there’s a lot of things competing for my time, and the one way to make sure Knives remains a vibrant story is to put beer in my refrigerator. You, my good friends, can become patrons of the arts.

Please go visit the new site, and give a read. If you like it, click that Patreon button and pledge a wee bit per chapter. When certain goals are met, new chapters will come out. Plus, patrons will (eventually) get some modestly cool extras for their eyes only. Still working on setting that up.

Go, read, enjoy. It gets violent, and there’s a teenage girl who is gleeful with her profanity, so Knives is not for everyone. But I’ve got chapter seventeen champing at the bit to rush out and greet the world, but, like a younger daughter, she can’t get married until the elders are all taken care of.

Hm. Not my best metaphor stew. But you get the idea.

And to those already supporting the story, please, spread the word! Help me get to the targets that will free the next chapters!

Using my Photography to Promote my Writing

I’ve got a bold new venture in serial fiction kicking up, and I’m facing the simple reality that pictures sell. I can’t draw worth a lick, but I do take pictures and could possibly even shoot video. The thing is, I’m completely stumped about how to take pictures that support the particular story I’ll be flogging. I suppose I could put friends in costume and head out to the woods for a shoot, and then photoshop the crap out of the results to make it look less photographic, but…

There’s got to be a better way! As someone who claims to be creative, I have to admit I’m totally stumped by this one. Maybe I’ll just put the fish-eye lens on the camera and take close-ups of my little dog. Nothing to do with the story, but people love that stuff.

My Little Clickbait

My Little Clickbait

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Announcing Knives (Beta)

Well, it’s time, I think, to introduce Knives, the serial fiction project formerly known as The Fantasy Novel I’ll Likely Never Write. It has its own place now, knives-the-novel.net, where you can see the first five (improved) episodes.

At this time, I would appreciate a few people checking it out, and letting me know what they think of the organization, the theme, and the experience in general. Please leave your comments here on Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas — finding a good discussion forum for Knives remains stubbornly on the incomplete list.

Also, I would be Super-Duper grateful if a couple of folks who are so inclined could report back on the Patreon Experience. Of course that means pledging support for the story; I sincerely hope some of the regulars here see fit to toss a bit into the tip jar.

Once I work the kinks out of the system, I will be exhorting you all to spread the word about Knives, but for now, let’s keep things modest.

And, once more, faithful readers, thank you!

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Where’s TFNIWLNW?

The Fantasy Novel I Will Likely Never Write is moving to a new home. I’ve got the announcement all set to go, but like many construction projects, getting the new home set up has been way more time-consuming than I bargained for.

Brief aside: WordPress has thousands of widgets for almost every purpose, and most of them suck. I mean, they really suck.

So I’ve been spending time on that, and not on the actual story. Bah. The time I do devote to the prose I’m investing in rewrites of the early chapters, when “IWLN” was still mostly true, so I wasn’t putting as much into the finer points of writing a good yarn. I think you’ll appreciate the difference should you be inclined to go back and read. You know, when the new home is ready.

I guess the message is, faithful fans, please be patient.

And if you, or someone you love, can draw me a couple of pictures, please let me know.

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Turning a Corner — With a little help, maybe?

I had a long episode all ready to go making a big announcement about The Fantasy Novel I’ll Likely Never Write (including the title!), but on more careful consideration I think it is premature. However, if you are an illustrator or a crowdfunding expert, I’d like to grossly underpay you for help giving TFNIWLNW wings. Nothing complex on either front; no people-drawing required (unless you like drawing people), and as for the crowdfunding I mostly need someone to explain what all that shit is and help me figure out what’s right for this project, or maybe it’s just a paypal tip-jar-thermometer thingie.

Any help greatly appreciated! You can hit me up at [email protected] I can’t pay much, but I’ll do my best to get you a walk-on role when the feature film comes out.

For now, I’m going back to making episode fifteen make sense. Expect to see it soon!

TFNIWLNW Reality check

While I remind myself that I am writing for myself and no one else, it’s been a while since the sweet-o-meter has been clicked for an episode of TFNIWLNW, and the comments have dried up, and as far as I can tell no one has shared links to the episodes with anyone else. So at this point I suspect that I’m writing for only me.

Through other channels a couple of folks have said they’re enjoying it, and I am Really Stoked about the upcoming episode (we get to see what the Soul Thieves are capable of), and overall that’s what matters.

But, if you like it, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if you were to let me know. You’d even make my day if you mentioned what parts you like, and even what you don’t. And if someone else says something you don’t agree with, a little brush fire can be fun, too. Doesn’t mean I’ll change (that would imply a better plan than I have anyway), but I’d still like to hear from y’all.

And I’m not going to get that movie deal if people never see it. So pass it around. I’ll be adding previous/next links to the episodes to make the story easier to follow, and I think I’ll be adding more about the process in comments from here out to provide another layer of entertainment. But I’d really like it to be a discussion, rather than me going blah, blah, blah.

I think I may have discouraged discussion with my rather absolute pronouncements about back story and exposition in previous comments. Um… sorry? To make up for it, I think I’ll sneak in a backstory episode for Katherine and another for Martin — or maybe for his dark-bladed knife. That little piece of cutlery has a story to tell for sure.

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