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I admit, I have largely stopped doing volunteer writing. When I first started doing game-writing, I worked for free, or worked for product credit. To me, this was doing time: eventually, by doing enough volunteer work, I'd get some writing gigs. And largely, that process worked. Which meant that I stopped volunteering.

Ah, but Alana, you say. You blog. You write reviews you don't get paid for. You guest blog. You post free fiction from time to time. How does that gel with your aforementioned mercenary disposition?

In truth, it doesn't always gel, and that's why a lot of those free projects get pushed aside for contract work. But while I don't have a great answer to that question, I thought that Ilona Andrews did a fine job describing the free vs. paid conundrum here. She (or, really, they -- Ilona Andrews is a husband/wife team) are currently publishing a free serial (link on the cover image), which eventually they'll turn into an e-book for pay, but in the meantime are doing it for-the-love.



Here's where I think this works in their favor. When I get free stuff from a writer, and I like their stuff, I'm far more likely to shell out for their books, e-books, heck even t-shirts based on their work. I think a lot of free writing (blogs included) creates a sense of community, ownership, and loyalty. This is absolutely true of Web comics -- just look at the Kickstarter success of Rich Burlew's Order of the Stick -- and I think it works for fiction writers, and even publishers (look at Tor.com), as well.

At any rate, the Andrews's thoughts are quite insightful. Clearly the topic has been discussed whenever Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day comes around (link is to James Patrick Kelly's Asimov's article on the debate), but with all the interesting ways of getting content to readers that are growing and changing (crowdfunding, donation-driven, free, traditionally paid), I think it's a conversation that continues to be worth having.
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Seems to me that there was a time, not so long ago, that I used to keep up with dozens of bloggers, who I liked and felt a kinship with. That also used to be the time when I updated my own blog with some regularity. Clearly, that time has passed.

It was a very busy, and fantastic, summer here in Connecticut (and surroundings -- this summer marked my first ever trip to the Bronx Zoo!).

Tiger, Tiger

There has not been a whole lot to report writing-wise. I am currently at work on a project for Choice of Games, featuring a kung fu theme. Considering I am also preparing for my black belt test in kempo (to take place in November), I have a lot of martial arts on the brain. I've been meaning to write about the process of creating a text-based interactive novel game, but I have been spending more time writing than writing-about-writing. (And also learning how to balance my work-from-home time as Bug is deciding that naps are no longer a guaranteed part of the day.)

Here is the news in a nutshell:
Writing
My newest article for Dragon magazine, "Songs of Sorcery," is out in the current issue. As usual, it's myth based, but it's also got a lot of silly lyrics that I wrote to common tunes. Quite a lot of it ended up being cut from my original draft, and some additional fun lyrics got added by the designers (I suspect developer Tanis O'Connor should be credited with some of the new work!), which makes it feel (to me) like a fun collaborative effort. I'm quite pleased with the final result (though I am a little sad that the hero theme song to the tune of "Funiculì, Funiculà" didn't make the cut).

Reading
This summer has included several book birthdays of those blogging writers I used to keep up with. I'm pleased to be entirely caught up on three current urban-fantasy series (instead of the most recent installments sitting on my TBR pile): Ilona Andrews's Kate Daniels series, which had Gunmetal Magic come out in July; Devon Monk's "Age of Steam" series (July's release was second installment Tin Swift; and Kalayna Price's Alex Craft series, which also had a July release (Grave Memory).

I'm also really excited about the launch of three new series:


Since I am at the moment one step ahead of my paid-review pile (I do have several books for unpaid lounging around the office), I'm trying to catch up on both review books and books I just really want to read. I'm currently at 116 books read in 2012 -- three short of last year's total -- but in order to make my specific reading goals I posted on January 1, I've got sixteen non-review titles to choose and read before the end of the year. Four moths to do it in? No problem.

If anyone has a recommendation for a non-SFFH, non-romance, adult fiction book they read this year and would endorse without hesitation, I'm all ears. I made it a goal to read two books outside my genres this year, and while I've picked one, I'm still undecided about the other.
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In a rare change of pace, I'm a guest blogger today! Alex Bledsoe, fellow Haunted writer and the most recent guest blogger here at Myth, the Universe, and Everything, asked me to write a little bit about "Missing Molly" and how it came to be. Since "Missing Molly" is based on a historical gravestone here in Shoreline Connecticut and its very real disappearance in 2009, the post is both about the grave of Mary Fowler and about how the story made its way into the anthology. I hope you'll stop by his blog and check it out!




I think I've mentioned here that I'm also a blogger over at Backstories, the blog of HighBeam Research. They've just posted an entry I wrote about the Pottermore phenomenon and finding deleted scenes on author websites. I also got to talk a little bit about Pixel-stained Technopeasants; I'll have to make sure I have a story to post to celebrate the holiday this April.
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Oh me, oh my, how quickly I abandoned my (earnest at the time) resolution to blog more frequently. I've noticed several writers who have dropped off the blog radar in favor of having more active twitter accounts. Not so here -- I just tend to drop off the Internet circuit and have trouble catching back up.

Don't ask me how many messages are in my inbox. If 30 messages or less is success, well, I've got a long way to go until I'm successful again.

But in the meantime, there's a very complimentary review of Haunted up over at Drive Thru, which makes me quite happy. (If you are a book blogger -- or are willing to post reviews on your Good Reads account or elsewhere on the internet -- and are interested in getting a review copy, comment here and I'll let you know how to do it!)

I also found some things in my writing drawer that I thought it would be fun to share, since I've not done much of that lately. This is from an art book project I did for Empty Room Studios awhile back; a few writers (mainly me and Andrew Schneider, who had a recent adventure appear in Dungeon here) wrote scene snippets for artists in various subgenres of fantasy and science fiction. This one was from a private eye meets interstellar politics mash up. The scenes were a great exercise -- and also a ton of fun to write!

--

Don't get me wrong. There are good things to be said about working for space tyrants. The job may be difficult, but it's always lucrative. They pay in cash (or wire it into your account from an anonymous bank in New Switzerland), and they pay on time. They are nothing if not predictable.

Right away Myrah Deen, Tyrant of Saitoga, some inter-corporation built on the side of a half dead moon, defied my expectations. Where most Tyrants had a paunch straining their well-stretched belts, she had a petite waist surrounded by curves that might have been old-fashioned, but I'd always liked a curvy woman better than the waif that had cycled back into style. She wore her red hair sitting on top of her head, held by two silver pins that I highly suspected doubled as darts, as opposed to the traditional comb over. She also came into my office herself instead of sending some underpaid aide who would be disposed of after the fact if they heard anything too important.

I'd gone through her records. If she'd ever had anyone so much as detained on the edge of legality, her tech-clouds had better cover than even I could break through. When she entered, I stood, watching how the stars outside my window framed the wisps of auburn that fell around her chin.

"Ms. Deen," I said, and she nodded. "Pleasant surprise."

"I'm full of surprises," she said, straight like it was business, without a hint of coyness. Then she smiled and undid the whole effect.

"Gin?" I offered.

She watched me pour. "I don't drink," she said, took the tumbler, and downed it all in one throw.
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I recently started doing some blogging for HighBeam, mostly about book reviewing and different genre communities. It's been tremendous fun thus far, and I'm learning a lot about search engine optimization in the process. (I haven't really started using that here at MtU&E, as usually when I get online here, I just want to write about whatever comes to mind. But knowing how to use it is helpful all the same!)

At any rate, I have two posts up now: How to Write a Book Review and Online Romance Novels and Online Book Reviews Prove to Be Mutually Beneficial. The latter is about the big to-do about the attack on the romance industry on May 31st that had a lot of romance bloggers in a (justified) uproar. I owe a big thanks to Kieran Kramer for mentioning it on facebook, since that's how I found out about the issue!
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On Friday, the students asked me for weird facts that I'd learned about Branford that they might not know. To my surprise, they'd already gotten most of the fun stuff I've been the most excited to learn! But despite how much this group already knew, they were a great audience, and they had a lot of enthusiasm, not just for history, but also for comics and fiction and the other fun stuff that I work on. They also asked me some questions that I'm hoping to cover in upcoming columns!

As a transplanted Midwesterner, I'm still adjusting to the idea that New England has about 150+ years on the type of history I'm used to thinking about -- more in my area, if you count the Dutch settlements. In my history classes growing up, our local history conversations started in 1803. Witch hunts and whipping posts had long gone out of style. And, frankly, the attitude in the nation was a different one. Manifest Destiny wasn't far off as a national policy, and that fear of devils lurking in the woods that Hawthorne's writings made so popular was replaced by that pioneer mentality of being willing to fight off whatever threatened the right to homestead. Or, at least, so I recall it from my own education.

And, of course, those are just the written records of the regions. There's a lot of local history that precedes settlement by Europeans and their descendants. Doing research for an upcoming column on the Quinnipiac, I started reading a book written about the Indians of Connecticut in the 1800s, and the tone of condescension is just incredible. That type of history is extremely hard to read (and I'm glad I was able to get in touch with the folks at the Algonquin Confederacy of the Quinnipiac Tribal Council, who gave me both traditional and documented answers that didn't leave such a bad taste in my mouth).

Now, I've visited the Parthenon, the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and enough other ancient sites to know that the 1600s weren't actually that long ago. And yet, the difference in the way we experienced life between then and now is a profound one -- and it's looking at the differences in world view that I enjoy most about looking at local history. Even when those world views can be hard to swallow.

--

In other news, I know it's been awhile since I had a guest blog or an excerpt posted at the site, and I'm working on improving the occurrences. I'm happy to say that we've got one upcoming that won't even happen on a Friday! Friend of the blog Melanie Nilles ([livejournal.com profile] amsaph) is celebrating the release of Crystal Tomb, the third book in her Dark Angel Chronicles, and Myth, the Universe, and Everything is an official blog tour host. (Starfire Angels, the first book in the series, is currently available as a free ebook at amazon.) Keep an eye out for her to appear here on May 30th!

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Way back in March, awesome urban fantasy writer Laura Bickle very kindly gave me a Stylish Blogger Award. Since I know I don't have any idea about style, unless it's style guidelines from a publishing house, I'm taking that to mean she thinks what we do here at Myth, the Universe, and Everything is pretty nifty. I certainly try for niftiness! And I'm always delighted to be able to enhance my niftiness with guest bloggers, and Laura (as her pseudonym Alayna Williams) counts among the folks who have made the blog better by being here. (You can also find Laura a [livejournal.com profile] lbickle here on livejournal.)

The Award comes with a few requirements: one being thanking the giver (thanks, Laura!). The second is that I must divulge seven things you probably don't know about me. So… here goes!

1) I'm a brown belt in kempo karate. This is a pretty darn recent development (I just received my belt on April 29th), so I figure it's newsworthy! We're getting ready for a kempo demonstration in early June, and for this year's performance, we're actually learning new material (rather than rehearsing stuff we've already mastered). This is a challenge, but I think we're all up to it.

2) The first movie I saw in movie theaters was Disney's Cinderella in its 1981 rerelease. The story goes that, as Bruno the dog is Cinderella's last hope of getting to her prince, little two-year-old me yelled out in the theater: "Go Bruno!" I hope this enhanced everyone's viewing experience.

3) Speaking of movies and rereleases, I was one of a group of college students who, on a school-organized venture, drove through a blizzard to see Star Wars: A New Hope when it hit the theaters. I did my hair in Leia buns, and a friend of mine wore a Stormtrooper mask – so, as we entered the theater, he led me around the side as though I were his prisoner until we found our seats. Years later, while working at a movie theater, I dressed up in my Amidala gear (in company with my sister in a Jedi uniform) for the final showing of The Phantom Menace. My coworkers didn't even recognize me at first, but let me in anyway, because hey, they weren't going to stop someone so clearly into the films as the two of us in costume (or so they said).

4) When I first started working at the same movie theater, a coworker introduced me to another coworker as a princess from Bahrain. We kept the story up for fifteen or twenty minutes, with me elaborating about having fallen in love with an American serviceman, and him explaining that I'd had to flee Bahrain to avoid an arranged marriage. I have no idea how my coworker bought this lie, as we made it more and more outrageous with each detail, but when she finally called us on it, we gave it up right away. My coworker, however, called me Princess for the rest of the time we worked together.

5) Another silly nickname came from a childhood encounter with a ferret at the Mall of America in Minneapolis. We attended a live animal show, complete with snakes and birds, and I was the volunteer to go up and touch the snake. As the hosts often do at these shows, they asked my name. When I said "Alana," a ferret ran across the stage. As it turned out, the keepers tried to give their animals very uncommon names, then used those names as the cue words in their training, so this ferret, whose name was also "Alana," had come out on her normal cue. The nickname didn't stick, but I've had a fondness for ferrets ever since.

6) I have an undeservedly bad reputation as a navigator in my family, in part because I get disoriented in parking lots (yeah, really), and in part because a hike that my sister and I went on when we were on the Isle of Man ended up with us having the ocean on the wrong side. I maintain that it was the footpath that diverged from the map, rather than the map diverging from me, but this argument doesn't get me anywhere with my sister.

7) In other adventures abroad, I once got thrown out of a bookstore. For chatting. No, really.

The final requirement of the Stylish Blogger Award is to pass on the award to other awesome bloggers. I read a lot of great blogs, most of which I'm woefully behind on, but I thought I'd pick two that regularly enhance my experience of the internet:

Max Gladstone, who I've mentioned here numerous times, updates periodically over at Myths for Hire,. Along with posts about language, film, and books, he also talk about what's going on with Three Parts Dead, which is represented by Weronica Janczuk.

Here on livejournal, [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume always has something wonderful on her blog, whether it's gorgeous images or bits of stories about otherworldly denizens. Her insights into everything from fiction that she reads to the magic in the world that surrounds her often make me sit back and say, "Yes. That's the way things are. Or should be."
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Speaking of characters I've fallen in love with lately, there's a great new web series I picked up from a friend* via facebook called The World of Holly Woodlands. Calle, the loveable star, is an out of work actress who doesn't fit the body image Hollywood promotes. But in this world, skinny isn't in: instead, actresses who are "cusha" (or about size 18) are the ideal, which leads to a very different spin on ideas about beauty and body image. There's a two-minute trailer on the site that introduces you to Calle and her blog project; the first ten episodes are also live, which means it's still a good time to catch up without all the back episodes eating your life while you watch. A very cool thing for the series and the actors is that they're finalists in the New Media Film Festival. If you check out the series and like what you see, you can vote for them over at Mingle Media.

I've never been very good at targeting in on the issues behind body image/ideal beauty and the problems these cause to self-esteem. I've tried to write characters with body image issues before and haven't mastered introducing those themes without making them feel like themes. As a reader—and a watcher, I suppose—I usually avoid stories that seem to be about the message rather than about the story. I went to a short play a few years ago that had a very powerful effect on the audience, but it didn't work for me: I felt like I'd been hit over the head with the theme enough that I couldn't care about it. I felt that I'd gotten the point—but had no story to recall as my reward. (Another play by the same playwright, presented at the same performance, didn't have this issue at all—it stemmed from the relationship between two characters, one living and one dead, and the sense of loss and, at the same time, freedom, that came from the one character letting go of the other. So clearly, it wasn't that I just didn't like the writer's style, it was very much about the content of the piece.) So, since I don't like to read "message" stories, I really want to avoid writing them, while at the same time I want to tackle issues that real people struggle with.

I suspect that part of my lack of personal understanding about the body image issue is that, before the past year or so, I felt more or less divorced from my body. My body was a tool, or the thing I lived in, but I didn't much think it related to my understanding of the world, with the exception of self-identifying as short. (Tall people do experience the world differently from us short folk, because size comes with a host of problems for each of us. I can't use our food-processor without a stool, for example, because our counters are too high. A tall friend of mine has to sleep in his bed diagonally, or his feet stick out the bottom end. This is a fundamentally different way of experiencing the world!) In the past two years, however, going through pregnancy and post-partum, I've gained a new appreciation for how much my body impacts my world-view. Maybe this comes from not being in control of what my body was doing—being pregnant was, for me, much like being displaced from my own body, as I had no idea what I could expect from myself on any given day—but I think more of it comes from the fact that I've had to pay more attention to what it has been like to live inside this body. (This is particularly true as I've gotten more involved with women's fitness issues through my training with Dancing thru Pregnancy, since I've been paying close attention to the differences between men's bodies and women's bodies, and how we experience exercise.) My thoughts aren't just out there, floating around my head, they're impacted by a host of factors that I've probably always had to deal with, but never really taken into account. Hunger, tiredness, exercise, diet, hormonal cycle—all of those things have a more noticeable impact on my mood than I'd previously recognized. I was one of those people who'd just forget to eat if she wasn't reminded (not often, but occasionally), because I was too busy thinking about a project I was working on. Now? Forget about it. I don't want to inflict myself on my family when I have the hunger crankies.

Maybe now that I've gained a better idea of living inside my body as an experience, rather than something to be dismissed, I'll be able to look at some of those issues about body image that I've wanted to tackle. In the mean time, I'm comfortable leaving that kind of writing to people like "Calle," who can say a lot by just spinning our current perceptions on their heads.

* My friend is married to the director and creator of the series.
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I've been putting this off for awhile, but I've been getting quite a lot of spam and other anonymous screened comments lately, so I've decided that, since you can log into lj with facebook and twitter as well as a livejournal account, I'm going to no longer take anonymous comments. This is a shame, because I've gotten some really good anonymous comments in the past from users who just don't do the lj thing. I'm hoping with the multiple log-in options, I won't be losing too many opportunities to enhance journal conversations while I'll also be eliminating the spam.

In other news, my Q&A for the week is about the Branford Green in particular, but I'm expanding the answer to explore something of the history of village greens in general. I know there are some history buffs that read this journal -- if you've got information on the tradition of the village green and where the concept started, I'd love to have you post here or over at Patch! I've got some resources waiting for me at the library as well, of course, but the column ends up being a lot about getting history from people as well as books, so I'm always happy to add a personal touch!
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No guest blog today, in honor of my first participation in a huge giveaway contest. I've been talking about Barbara Vey's anniversary bash all week, and today's party, set in a castle, features a give away of a copy of Into the Reach, alongside a number of other amazing prizes (like e-readers!). Please pop by and comment!

I figure it's been a long time since I posted anything from the "Redemption Trilogy" on the blog, so in honor of Into the Reach being a prize, I thought I'd post an excerpt. Enjoy!

--


In his years as a knight, he’d learned that there were two types of people in the world: those who thought that being called on by their superior commander was a good thing, and those who wondered, even when they were not guilty, what they had done wrong. And even though every time he’d been called upon by his superiors it was to be given a greater opportunity to serve his people and his city, he was the second type.

So now, as he, Lydia, Taru, and the Osarian called Nara, waited to be let in to Watchman Johnny Twostep’s office, he felt the same old anxiety return. His shoulders clenched beneath his heavy armor, and trails of nervous sweat added to the dampness his scalp beneath his hair, still sticky from the heat of combat. When they were finally let in, Taru and Lydia practically flowed into the office with the assurance that they were about to be praised for having saved the lives of villagers—though Taru looked more serious than Kennerly had seen him before. He and Nara both hung back, and when he glanced over at her, he saw the guilty expression on her face that he knew he wore himself.

“Well,” he muttered to her, offering his elbow, “shall we face our fates with honor?”

She looked at him in surprise, but put her hand gently on his elbow, and they stepped into the room together.
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Second post of the day -- when was the last time that happened on this blog?

Over the past week or so, I've been e-mailing back and forth with the amazing Shawn Merwin (also known as Super Shawn, but don't let him know I spoiled his secret identity!). He asked me a bunch of questions about writing Into the Reach as a shared-world novel, and I answered them in detail. The result is this interview over at Critical Hits. When you get a chance, check it out!
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I don't know if I've mentioned it here, but I love Castle. I think it's a fun, usually lighthearted mystery show, and (particularly early on), it said a lot about the writing process. There's often this moment where Nathan Fillion's character, the eponymous Richard Castle, is looking at the mystery they're solving and thinking that the details aren't consistent -- or, at least, that they don't make a very good story.

It reminds me a little bit of the Yann Martel quotes (he apparently uses the idea frequently) that he chooses to look at the world (at least in his novels) as though there is a God, because that makes the better story. But I digress.

One of the really fun things about Castle is the novels written by the fictional Castle that appear in our real world: Heat Wave and Naked Heat both hit the bestseller lists when they came out (around #16, I think), which means that the fictional Richard Castle is, in reality, a bestselling author. It boggles the mind. I really think there's a college paper here about postmodernism and the metatextuality of rewriting reality to reflect fiction or some such. In the mean time, I think it's just fun. (Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote also has a number of books published under her name, though I think her success was always more modest, both in the real world and in her own TV show, than Castle's.)

It also makes me think about other fictional writers I've enjoyed in books I've read and consider how much meta-text real-world writers create with fictional writers who then ended up writing, say, short stories or something. For example, celebutante and glamazombie Amanda Feral, who used a "ghost writer" ([livejournal.com profile] mdhenry) for her memoirs but writes smut on her own. There have to be other authors doing this -- I'd love to be reminded of any you can think of. :)

I started thinking about this today because someone brought Richard Castle, the character, to Barbara Vey's blog party today (it's mystery/thriller day!), and rather than assuming the character had been brought along in the prose, my initial thought was that whoever is responsible for the Castle twitter account had, in fact, donated something to the party! Alas, no "official" Castle presence, but the prizes and party are stellar nonetheless.
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There was something I was going to write about today when I first thought about blog entries this morning, but I have apparently forgotten it. It may well have been something about lack of sleep. But the day ended up going well: I finished a deadline and sent out two invoices, and billing my editors always makes my day a little brighter. (Getting positive e-mail back from my editors is actually even better, and I got a nice e-mail from one today that really made me happy.)

But the real reason I wanted to make sure I blogged today was that Barbara Vey's Beyond Her Book blog for PW is four years old! She's having an anniversary bash, and if you visited her parties last year, you know that awesome prizes -- and really funny party favors from the authors who attend -- are in store.

Today's event is an urban fantasy/paranormal/SF/horror/fantasy party at a haunted house. [livejournal.com profile] antonstrout brought some very scary Jell-O shots. I'll try to remember to link to the parties this week to help folks remember to check them out (particularly later on in the week, when I'll be bringing a prize and some cool favors to the e-book day...).
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My mom has said in the past, and I'm sure she'll say it again, that in order to be an expert, you have to get 50 miles away from home. In other words, people don't always appreciate your genius on a local scale: feel free to branch out into the world!

A long time ago, [livejournal.com profile] jeff_duntemann and I had a conversation about how writers are often not experts, but generalists. I tend to think of myself in those terms -- I know a lot of random stuff about several broad subjects, but I'm not expert in any singular area. However, it looks like here at Myth, the Universe, and Everything, someone thinks we know something about mythology. I got a great ego boost of an e-mail from a designer named Lee, who's working on a logo for a storytelling conference. The team would like to use an icon from mythology -- any culture, any age -- as a starting point, and they're short on the type of random knowledge that I (and many of you readers out there) have off the top of our heads (or with a little quick internet research to back us up). I had a ton of fun trying to come up with objects and ideas that fit the list of possibilities that Lee sent me, so I thought I'd share them here (with his permission). If you have brilliant suggestions for any of the topics, please chime in! I'll pass your answers along to Lee as well, and see what kind of juices get flowing on his design team.

Here they are:

1. An object given to a hero to see the future.
2. An object given to a hero that allows him/her to step into a new world/realm.
3. A structure/entrance that acted as a gateway to a new world.
4. An object given to a hero to help him/her find his/her way out of the labyrinth (or a general state of confusion or blindness).
5. An object used in storytelling ceremonies that gives the holder permission to speak to the group.

What do you think?
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Here it is, the post you've been waiting for! I "met" Alayna Williams (who is also the pseudonym for urban fantasy novelist Laura Bickle) over at Pocket After Dark in a discussion about book blogging. She mentioned her plans to do a blog tour this coming March for the release of Rogue Oracle, her second novel in the Delphic Oracle series...

At which point I came to a full stop, went and looked up her books to this point, and send her an e-mail. Delphic Oracle, you say? Magic using tarot cards, you say? (And, as Laura Bickle, you're writing UF in Detroit?) Already convinced that she must be awesome, I shot her an e-mail, and all our interactions have confirmed it. Alayna rocks, and she's got a really fun mythic sensibility.

So instead of waiting 'til March, I've brought her over to the blog now to talk about the Oracle at Delphi and Delphi's Daughters. She's also generously offered to give away a copy of her first novel, Dark Oracle (which came out in June), to a commenter on this post! No sophisticated rules, here, gang: one comment is one entry, and if you leave me a link to where you've posted about this elsewhere, we'll give you another entry. (As usual, if you just want to comment, but not be entered, please mention that. *g*) Contest runs through Wednesday the 29th -- we'll announce the winner on Thursday the 30th.

And without further ado: Alayna!



--

Ancient and Modern Oracles
by Alayna Williams

The Delphic Oracle is probably the most famous oracle of the ancient world. The priestess of the Temple of Apollo, the Pythia, wielded a great deal of political influence over leaders who sought both her advice and the advice of the priestesses who served the temple. The Temple of Apollo was sited over a crevasse in the earth emitting noxious vapors, leading to modern-day speculation that the Pythia’s visions were not sendings from Apollo, but toxic hallucinations. The Delphic Oracle operated from roughly the eight century BC until 393 AD, when all pagan oracles were ordered to be dismantled by the Emperor. After that, no one knows what became of the priestesses.

I was intrigued by the idea of an order of women exerting subtle and powerful influence over the ancient world. I wondered what would happen if that order of priestesses went underground and survived to the modern day. What would their role in world events be? In Dark Oracle, the title of Pythia is handed down through generations of women, all oracles with their own unique talent for foreseeing the future. Delphi’s Daughters are a secret organization, nudging world events and gathering information through vast networks of helpers. Their behavior is sometimes sinister, sometimes pure, but always secretive. No one but the Pythia herself knows how the puzzle of world events fits together, and her priestesses are often left in the dark, guessing at her motives.

In the worlds of Dark Oracle and Rogue Oracle, the current Pythia is a pyromancer. She sees the future in dancing flames. The heroine of the story, Tara Sheridan, is a cartomancer who uses Tarot cards to create criminal profiles. Other characters have abilities with scrying, astronomy, and geomancy. Delphi’s Daughters come from all walks of life: they are physicists, soccer moms, artists, farmers, and dancers. They are women just like women you know and walk past on the street. But they are women with a secret.

Tara's talents were a challenge to create. Use of Tarot cards requires both an intellectual understanding of the ancient symbolism of the cards, as well as the ability to make intuitive leaps from the cards to one's current situation. Using the cards in her work as a profiler, Tara spends a great deal of time in her own head. She's not a brash woman who rushes into situations with guns blazing. She's a thinker, a planner, and it's simply not in her analytical nature to shoot off at the mouth -- or with her guns -- when she can get her mission accomplished using less attention-getting means. She is accustomed to having to hide her talents from the people with whom she works, which makes her very circumspect... and isolated. Especially since she's survived an attack by a serial killer that has left her scarred for life. She's withdrawn from her work as a profiler and as a member of Delphi's Daughters.



In thinking about how such an order might survive into the modern world, I imagined the limitations inherent in being an oracle in a secret organization. It would require secrecy, sacrificing a large part of one’s life, and committing to a larger ideal. I decided that, as time passed, fewer and fewer women would be interested in unquestioningly serving Delphi’s Daughters. In Dark Oracle, the order is dying out. Tara Sheridan has left the order after her mother died, refusing to return. After surviving an attack by a serial killer that left her scarred for life, she is unable to bear children. And there are no young women in Delphi’s Daughters any longer.

The Pythia must try to continue the line, whatever the cost. She is challenged to convince the rebellious Tara to return. Or she must find new blood to move into the future, a new order for a new age. And blood will be spilled in the process.

-Alayna Williams
alanajoli: (Default)


Yesterday was the two week check in for Kaz's Summer Camp, but it's been busy at the Abbott household, with family visiting and writing actually getting done! Here's where I stand so far:

Reasonable goal:
* With my cowriter, finish the draft of our serial novel. (We're at chapter 10 of 20 -- halfway there!)
[livejournal.com profile] lyster has submitted chapter 11, so we're moving right along. It's my turn, and I hope to have that back to him before the next goal check in.

* Complete typesetting on four essays written by other authors (this is contracted, so it's kinda cheating to count it).
Done! All of the typeset essays got turned in to my editor last Friday. There are a couple of paperwork issues to finish up, but otherwise, it's all taken care of.

* Write one short story.
No progress yet on this one.

* Write multiple book reviews (not contracted, but already arranged with the venues in which they'll appear).
One SLJ review got turned in, and I'm working on the mythsoc reading list before diving back into some other reviews.

The only extended goal worth mentioning is:
* Blog at least three times a week.
I obviously haven't gotten on track with this! I'm counting each week as a new week, though, so this will be a weekly goal rather than a summer-long goal.

I'm also adding a new goal:
* Write a joint interview article for Flames Rising.
My questions have already been sent out to various awesome writers, and I'm getting some great responses back (many of them hilarious). Once the article goes over to Flames Rising, I'll talk a little bit more about it here.
alanajoli: (Default)
I've had several thoughts for blog entries lately, but it's not always easy to find the time to sit down and write. Luckily, I have a netbook, which makes it possible for me to type this right now with a sleeping Bug on my arm. Another reason I've been putting off blogging, as I mentioned earlier, is that I don't like to post when I owe [livejournal.com profile] lyster a chapter of Blood and Tumult. If I can sit down to write a blog entry, I think, shouldn't I be writing 1500 to 3000 words of a chapter instead?

Cowriting Blood and Tumult has been a lot of fun thus far. I love playing in Baeg Tobar, as the setting has so much potential. And the way that Max and I are writing -- trading off chapters -- makes the fact that we have an outline less of a detriment to my creative process. Usually, knowing what's coming next doesn't work well for me. Once I write it down, it's no longer the surprise that keeps me excited about the story. But since I'm only writing half of the chapters, the excitement becomes wondering how Max will tell that next part of the story, how he'll flesh out the details, because I probably would have chosen a different way if left to my own devices. That then feeds into what I'll write next, since his interpretation of the outline naturally impacts how I'll see the next part of the story.

(Speaking of Baeg Tobar, did I mention that my second short story, "She's Never Hard to Find," is up? The first story featuring the same characters is "No Matter How You Hide Her.")

It's not quite the same as working on a comic script, but it does share similar qualities. The best part, for me, of working in comics is seeing how the artist interprets the words I've put down on the page. Even when I give a panel by panel script, which is how I tend to write comics, there's a lot of room to interpret every detail. Seeing how the art turns out is a huge adventure!

Speaking of which, Steampunk Musha -- for which I was the co-writer on the original RPG, the editor for the d20 version (which never came out on its own; it's currently being converted to the Pathfinder system, but it will be released eventually!), and the writer for a couple of comic scripts that have yet to become full comics -- is now a Kickstarter project! I'm tremendously excited, as funding will enable creator Rick Hershey to develop a lot of projects that have been sadly languishing in the pipeline, waiting for funds to make them possible. The goal is quite modest ($5000), but will go a long way toward making fiction, games, and comics in the setting a reality. He's also offering up art, products, and even becoming a character in the setting as donation incentives.



If you're interested in seeing more Musha (or you're just interested in seeing me back in comics, which I'd love), please consider a small donation. Or just spread the word! We appreciate it.
alanajoli: (lol deadlines)
My phone has been ringing and not getting answered. My e-mail is building up. I'm falling behind on my facebook games. I haven't blogged in a week.

I'd like to say I've figured out how this happens, but it seems to sneak up on me all at once!

I was out of town last weekend (Saturday through Monday) visiting family in Michigan, and it was really wonderful to see everyone. The cause was sad (my grandmother passed away after a long illness), but the memorial service was really beautiful, reminding me what an amazing woman my grandmother was. I'd forgotten that she used to call her granddaughters in the morning sometimes to let us know if the prisms she had hanging from her windows were making rainbows, or if we'd have to create some rainbows for ourselves that day. I'm thinking about getting a prism for myself to hang in my kitchen and think of her.

The trip sadly meant that we missed most of the Halloween festivities, but I do have a quick photo of me in my airplane-friendly costume to share.


(I'm posing with Anton Strout's books, as part of his Halloween costume contest. That's a bun in the oven on my shirt, in case you can't make it out.)

While on the trip, I read three review books and Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler, which is not only an awesome debut, it's an awesome mythie novel. (You can get a sneak peek here at Nicole's site.) In between catching up on work assignments (two down since I've been home!), I'm trying to get my library pile down a bit, as well as tackling my TBR pile. And also, there's writing to be done. It is November, after all, and I did say I'd write 30,000 words (and while I wrote four essays this week for a freelance assignment, I'm not really counting those toward the full goal).

Anyone read anything good lately that I should have on my TBR pile? Anyone make a writing goal so far this week? Inquiring minds (seen below) want to know!

alanajoli: (Taru)
I've been meaning to update my page for awhile, and it occurred to me today that there wasn't a way to contact me through the site, so all I was going to do was add that page and be done with it. There are galleys to proof, gosh darn it!

A few hours later, and the page is fully up to date. I'm quite pleased with it (despite that not having been on my list of things to do today). The Substrate blog is now linked to the front page, which means we really should get cracking keeping it updated! I hope you'll pop by and check out the site (and tell me if I accidentally broke anything while updating -- I am not an html magician, despite the Taru icon for today's entry).

In additional good news, the FTC announced that they didn't really mean book bloggers when they were talking about their new requirements. I think I'll stick with the safe side (and hey, I don't care if you guys know I got an ARC or won a contest or however I got my books).
alanajoli: (Default)
I posted an entry on Sunday night, announcing the contest winner from last week. (Congratulations, SiNn! Your book went in the mail today!) Unfortunately, LJ ate it. So, no contest this week. You'll have to wait 'til Friday or Saturday (whichever day I wind up posting) to hear about the new fairy book (and additional incentive).

I've been reading a couple of really interesting books lately. One, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, was recommended to me by Locus writer and artist Adam Black, who I met during my active DrunkDuck days. (He was writing the KISS Web comic while I was working on Cowboys and Aliens II; we've had some great discussions about the treatment of female characters in comics.) It's essentially a book about men who learn the necessary social tricks and cues to get women to go home with them. Both fascinating and disturbing (due to the complete objectification of women that, unsurprisingly, results), it's an incredible study of human interaction, much of which, I think, can be applied beyond the very specific sphere covered by the book. To some degree, people all manipulate situations to their best advantage -- or play roles based on their social circle or family position -- and we all learn skills of how to "manage" friends or peers or family. We know which co-worker will react best to blunt criticism, and which friend will have to be coached through any sort of life upheaval with great care and support (rather than the swift kick in the pants they might sometimes deserve). This is that same idea taken to an extreme, for what might be considered a nefarious -- or at least dishonest, selfish, etc. -- purpose. And, of course, the book is set up such that it's clear the situation will crash and burn by the end -- we're just watching the train wreck get set up.

The other title is a book that was recommended to me by Contrapositive Diarist Jeff Duntemann ([livejournal.com profile] jeff_duntemann) when I was talking about crosses and other symbols. Called Outward Signs: The Language of Christian Symbolism by Edward N. West, it's an amazing reference book that includes brilliantly simple line illustrations for symbols of the church, from different crosses to the meanings behind animals to heraldic representations of saints. Perhaps best of all is a lovely introduction by Madeline l'Engle. I'm returning the library copy but have already placed an order through Alibris.com to procure a used copy for my own. (The book, sadly, appears to be out of print.)

I very rarely make my way all the way through nonfiction titles (it's no surprise that I've been picking up Outward Signs in spurts, and is a huge surprise to me how quickly I got wrapped up in The Game), so posting about two together is quite a rarity for me. What are other folks reading these days that they find worth talking about?

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Alana Joli Abbott

July 2017

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