Monday, December 29, 2014

Those pesky pronouns

A little less than a year ago I was reading Anne Leckie's Ancillary Justice (and if you haven't, you should read it immediately, if not sooner. A lot of people say it starts out slow then proceeds into the breakneck tale of revenge that made it the darling of all. But I'm digressing) and I had this nagging sense that I was missing something, I just couldn't put my finger on what it was exactly. It took Breq explicitly pointing out that personal pronouns were hard for her for me to realize that she was using the same pronoun about all the other characters. My native language, Finnish, has only one pronoun "hän" that is used about everyone. Male, female or in-between. So while my command of the English language is better than some native speakers, I keep getting tripped up on the pronouns. Especially whenever I'm tired I either start mixing them up or just dropping one altogether.

A few weeks ago I took to facebook to note about my slight problem and a friend supplied me with this link: Sex-based and Non-sex-based Gender Systems. It's an interactive map on various languages and the pronouns they use categorized on whether or not they're gender-based. The thing that becomes obvious pretty soon once you start playing around with it is that gender-based pronouns are in the minority.

Map illustrating the prevalence of gendered pronouns across world languages. Image via Wikimedia
This makes me slightly sad. So few speculative fiction titles use the possibilities inherent in the variety of human language. For example in Grebo (a language native to West Africa, roughly speaking Ivory Coast and Liberia) there are four different pronouns, split into two groups; humans and other large, important things and everything else. So, for example a spaceship and a human could be referred to by the same pronouns. And that's just one of the possibilities. Pretty much my favorite possibilities but you know, who's counting?

The few pronoun systems used in fiction that I can think of are all gender-based (with the exception of the Imperial Radch series). Which seems to me very much like a wasted opportunity given the strangeness of all the different kinds of aliens we writers have come up with over the years. In A Fire Upon the Deep the Tines become an actual sentient individual only once four to seven dog-like units form into a group. In the book, the Tines speak in a 20th century American accent, which was apparently a conscious move on Vinge's part, to make it easier to relate to the aliens given how strange they were to begin with. How many other fully fictional, but humanoid races, however culturally and biologically different all nonetheless operate under the same gender-based pronoun system as native English speakers? Why is it naturally assumed that however much languages vary based on culture that all of them would still have the same pronouns?

Probably mostly because it's easy. Some of it may also be about our own blindness to the assumptions we make based on the culture we live come from. I am fully aware that I'm mostly blind to this myself. Until a few weeks ago I couldn't imagine there being a pronoun system that wasn't either based off some definition of gender (which is a whole other post) or a "one pronoun to rule them all" type situation. But I also think it's a colossal waste of potential in terms of reader transportation.

So, given the variety humans can come up with, given their different cultures but biological similarities, what is the pronoun system of your alien race?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

This space intentionally left blank

In lieu of my regularly scheduled post, I bring you …

How to wrap a cat.

This cat wins the award for the most patient cat ever. Hilarious!

I hope you had a happy holiday whatever one or ones you celebrate. I hope they involved lots of wrapped cats. xoxo Here's to a happy and productive 2015!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas, with bonus robots!

Hi, all! I hope you are all having an amazing Christmas, or at least a fantastic Thursday. You will all be unsurprised to learn that due to various holiday chaos, I haven't had time to write a proper blog post. And now it's 9:30 pm on Christmas Eve, and I need to go to bed before Santa comes.

But I do want to tell you quickly about Big Hero Six, which my sister and my parents and I saw today. We all totally loved it.

The movie was awesome for a lot of reasons: the setting (a cool Tokyo/SF hybrid named San Fransokyo), and of course Baymax the robot, but I'm going to cover two: women and science.

First, the female characters. All of the main team are college students working in a robotics lab (yes, even Hiro, the kid - he's a prodigy). I was particularly a fan of Honey Lemon, the blonde in the picture above. Take a close look. She's wearing pink, she's wearing high heels - and she's a chemistry whiz who's the equal of everyone on the team. How rare is that these days, that you can be girly AND scientific AND awesome? I also loved the other girl, cranky GoGo, though she seemed a bit more stock.

Second, the way it treated science. I probably only noticed this because I was supremely irritated by the recent Jurassic Park trailer, which features one of my least favorite storylines: the smug, polished female scientist who has invented some scientific monstrosity and then looks supremely shocked when it goes bad. And then the male lead usually shouts something like, "This is what you get for playing God!" And the female scientist is like duh, I somehow didn't consider that creating a monster would go poorly for me (see also the terrible film Deep Blue Sea. Or don't see it, actually. Save yourself the pain).

Well, let me tell you something.

(just change "windmills" to "science").

In this trailer it seems particularly dumb that they would ever breed two random dinosaurs together and make a predator for no reason - and they particularly do not do it on the same island as a bunch of children and other tourists.  I understand this is only the trailer, so I could be missing two hours of context, but still, it irritates me.

Anyway! I'm supposed to be talking about Big Hero Six. What I meant to talk about is how awesome the science and the scientists are in this film. They work together, they share ideas, they act as a family (which is the case in all good college science labs), and their experiments go through many failures before they succeed. Most of all, even though the science is rather unlikely, everyone seems to have a great deal of fun in their processes of discovery, and approach the process (and each others' experiments) with enthusiasm.

In any case, all ranting and nitpicking aside, it's an awesome film, and you should all go see it. Just, you know, as soon as you dig yourself out from mounds of wrapping paper and recover from your sugar comas.

Merry Christmas to all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Merry Christmas!

We're talking villains today!!! (Happy sparkly Christmas cheer!) There are a thousand different ways to do a villain, and I'm of the camp that there's not a wrong or right way to do it, just the wrong or right way for YOUR story. But each way of creating a villain has strengths and pitfalls, so hopefully this can help you, (and me,) avoid them.


EVIL LEVEL HIGH. understanding low.: 

This is the villain Tim Curry will play. This is the villain whose prime motivation for doing the things is because the things are evil. And they are evil. know, they are going to do that thing.

Strength of using this character: Ooh boy does it feel good to see this kind of villain defeated. This type of bad guy was used in 2011's Battle Los Angeles, where the villains were super evil aliens and the heroes, this group of marines, were doing the awesome real life stuff marines do, but without any guilt, or justification or questioning, so there's a clear line between good guys and the villains. You get to have violence and explosions and fun stuff, and no hand ringing. ( I can't be the only one to watch James bond kill extras and wonder if that person had children, can I?)

I was a beta reader for an awesome book with a minor villain who was an evil teenage popular girl, who was just nasty for no reason. I commented that this character didn't feel like a character, she felt more like an obstacle, Real people aren't that nasty, at least without a reason, so I suggested clarifying her motivation. When I read the final version, my friend didn't give the character any empathy or clarity. If anything, she made her worse. This character had no character arc, but we were able to see the hero's character arc because of her. At first the hero was cowed, and then she bristled, and then stood up for herself, and it was so satisfying because you didn't care about the bad girl at all.

Weakness of this character: I also don't remember her name. I also had to google marine fighting aliens because I didn't remember the name to the marine's fighting aliens movie, or a single detail about them. In fact, the more evil the villain is, the more righteous the heroes are, but if you get too perfect a hero can turn into propaganda, or worse, turn boring.

But this... this is so satisfying.

EVIL LEVEL HIGH/ Understanding level medium: 

This is the sweet spot Voldemort level of villains. Super bad guy, killer of children, totally needs to be defeated, possibly killed, but he is who he is for an understandable reason.  He wanted power, since he was powerless as a child, and sold his soul to get there.

Strength of using this character: High satisfaction level at ending, believably of actions and motivations.

Weaknesses of this type: It's been done before. Like a lot. Like so much it's easy to push it into mockable terrain. So you might want to keep searching to find an understandable reason for bad guy to be a bad guy that hasn't been done a thousand times, because again, this can get a tad bit boring. Also these villains have to be gone a lot,( Possibly to a villain conventions) or the reader is going to start understanding them too much. As a writer, you have to walk a line and not have the villain be too understandable, because to understand someone means to have sympathy for them, and defeating a sympathetic villain can lessen the satisfaction.

which leads me to...

Evil level medium/ UNDERSTANDING HIGH: 

This is the Sue Sylvester level of Villain.

Strength of this character: At first it's SO AWESOME. Bad guys get to do stuff that good guys don't get to do, so this character is fascinating, and just understood/good enough that you get why they are doing these awful things you could never get away with doing. They start to grow, because that's what understood characters do, and then they are brave, ballsy, and awesome...but they've left a hole in the story.

Weakness of this character: The awesome doesn't last. Once you understand and like said villain, the story now has no villain. Which means the story has no conflict, so you're left with a choice. One, the villain can go right back to his or her evil ways, but then they are obnoxious, because it's like why don't you just grow, you darn stagnant character. Or else they are replaced with someone who ends up a lesser copycat, because the story has a character based hole, so you need to find a replacement to fill it, but then the awesome character is still there, but without a purpose, or a job to do.

One solution, is to give that awesome character a different job to do. Let them be a love interest, a martyr, or a wisecracking sidekick, and find a COMPLETELY different villain, even if it means breaking the format and location of the story completely.
But also this can happen...
Or you can lessen their level of evil, and increase the understanding and do this...

Evil level low/ UNDERSTANDING HIGH: 

This is actually my favorite level of villain, and it's really rare to find stories like this one. But when they work, they really work.

Take this example. Our hero, a young woman training in magic. Our villain, a Prince, who has been taught his whole life to protect his sister, so when she goes to (THE PLACE) to train in magic, he goes to train to be her protector...Or Warder if you like. The Sister and the Hero meet, become best friends. Hero and Villain meet. They fall in love. Would be HEA, except The White Tower (a.k.a. THE PLACE) splits when the DIFFICULT TO SPELL LEADER is killed. Our hero, we'll call her Egwene, chooses one side and they elect her to become the new DIFFICULT TO SPELL LEADER. But our villain, Gawyn, chooses to side with a different DIFFICULT TO SPELL LEADER, because she was the adviser in his mother's court.

 His decision makes complete sense and is in line with his character, but choosing to support Elaida lead him to killing his mentor, and killing several innocent people. It's the kind of thing that if he had made the wrong choice, meant he was a bad person. So he has to convince himself that his side must be correct. Egwene made sacrifices herself, including risking her entire life, so she is certain that her choice was the correct one. So we have clear battle lines.

Now imagine with me that they go to battle, and Gawyn killed more people until he is standing in front of Egwene with his sword drawn, and he knows that the only way to stay in the right (mentally) would be to kill this impostor DIFFICULT TO SPELL LEADER, but he can't, because LOVE. And then he realizes all of the horrible things he's done weren't actually right, and he collapses under the guilt, and Egwene forgives him, and LOVE saves the day. SATISFACTION LEVEL High!

Strength of choosing this character: Villains don't have to be bad. Their goal just needs to be contrary to the goal of the hero. But when they lose, and they switch sides, it can lend weight to the satisfaction at the end. For justice to be satisfied, though, the hero can't kill a likable villain.

Weakness of this Character:  How much the bad guy needs to be punched in the face is directly correlated to the amount the reader is cheering on the hero to punch the guy in the face. So the more likable a villain is, the more likable the hero has to be, or else maybe the reader will switch sides, and not be satisfied with the hero winning. The hero will have to work twice as hard to win the side of the reader.

 Can you imagine if at the end Egwene decides she can't be a strong hero and let him go, so she has him killed for his crimes?

That's possible too, but then wouldn't that mean she's unjust leader? So then maybe her side wasn't the correct one? That can't happen either. Because they both are technically heroes, they both need to win, and they both need to lose.  Like maybe Egwene would have to lose her right to lead, or her pride, and her anger. There has to be a cost.

Evil level low/understanding level low

This is one of those times where there's isn't a villain. Imagine a story about a guy trying to push a rock up a hill. Or someone trying to get medicine but who has to travel through a storm to do it. Or a contemporary novel where the likable hero is also a teenager who is their own worst enemy.

Strength: When the villain is a storm, or a hill, or teenage hormones/immaturity, there's no soul wringing guilt when you defeat the bad guy. Sometimes it's just a story of grit, or friendship, or learning a real life lesson. It can be very relate-able, and create awesome heroes.

Weakness: It also can leave you feeling unsatisfied, because the ending just kind of happens, and you're left saying, oh so that's the end of the book then?

Evil level Medium/ Understanding level low:

Usually, when a villain is evil level medium/understanding level low, they are a trick villain, or what I like to call a SURPRISE JERKS villain. This is when you think one person is the villain, and then all of a sudden the curtain drops, and a semi-likable minor character is like, "Surprise, jerks! It was me the whole time."

The problem with a character like this, is that readers love to be surprised, but they hate to be tricked. So you need to have some clues as to the why the villain is doing this, otherwise it's going to seem like a mean trick. But if the clues are too obvious, then there will be no surprise.

So it's another fine line. I just read a book like this, The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White (dug it), but I didn't really care about the villain so much, so while it worked, it didn't blow me away. The villain felt one note, because there wasn't really time to play all of the notes, and still be surprised.

However the love story was fantastic. (Melanie add this to your TBR pile.You'd dig it)


The Anti-hero, where the POV character is actually the villain.

Strength: Gives you cool characters. Like amazing, understandable, despicable, broken, fascinating, heartbreaking characters.


No seriously, when done well, this gives you stories like Sweeney Todd or Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog.

 But because they do evil things, you have to let the readers sense of justice be satisfied. so there needs to be consequences to their evil actions, which means yeah they are probably going to die and take people down with them. ( I can't wait for Dr. Horrible 2!)

Which is way better than when it is done poorly.

The Catastrophic History of You and Me didn't work for me for this reason.

The POV character was awful. She kept yelling and fighting with likable people, doing awful horrible what-are-you-doing?-you-are-so-stupid things, and then she got a Happy Ever After ending, and my sense of justice is

There was no consequences. She stole people's souls. She stole a baby's life...Yet she gets to ride of into the sunset with her love? Technically, yes she was dead, but still. The injustice burns, even though it's been a few weeks.

That's the main thing I think, that I hope you get from this post, (other than my strange love for gifs) is that if you break a readers sense of justice, they won't be satisfied, and they might actually get annoyed.

But if you use the sense of justice, then you get a satisfactory AWESOME ending.

Even if it means everyone dies.


Friday, December 19, 2014

The Voice of Prophecy

 The Dual Magics series are exciting high fantasy books. I read The Voice of Prophecy years ago, and can't wait to see what has happened to it after all this time. If you haven't yet read anything from the Dual Magics series, I am excited to introduce you to it. Meredith Mansfield is a talented writer, (and an amazing beta reader). 

Two kinds of magic—each unknown to the users of the other—until they combine in one young man.

The Voice of Prophecy, the second book of the Dual Magics series, releases December 19th.
When the two kinds of magic combine in one person, unexpected things happen.
Sensing the presence of lions is one thing. Any member of the Lion Clan could do that. When Vatar sees the hunt through the eyes of one of the big cats—well, that’s something else altogether. And that’s only the beginning of the unusual manifestations of his magic.
When a mysterious voice only he can hear volunteers ancient wisdom, Vatar knows he’s in trouble. After enduring an Ordeal to prove he isn’t haunted by an Evil Spirit, Vatar thinks he may be possessed after all. Or losing his mind. Or cursed.
He must hide his Talent from his magic-fearing people or face consequences that don’t bear thinking about. But he has to control it in order to keep it secret. And now he’s not sure he can. It’s enough to make him want to give up on magic altogether.
But he’s going to need all his wits—and all the magic he can muster—to defeat those who want to use him and his unique abilities for their own ends.
The first book in the series, The Shaman’s Curse.

Vatar risked his life to try to save his friend--and failed. Now he has an implacable enemy in the vengeful shaman, who blames Vatar for the death of his only son. In his isolation, Vatar finds some comfort in daydreams. He knows the strange girl he sometimes imagines is just that--a dream. She’d better be.
Because, if she’s real things could get even worse for Vatar. The accepted magic of Vatar’s plains tribe wouldn’t enable him to see or communicate with a girl he doesn’t even know--or know where to find. That would be more like the magic passed down in certain, closely-guarded bloodlines among the ruling class of the coastal cities. And that’s bad. Very bad.
Unlike their own, Vatar’s people think the city magic is evil. If the shaman ever found out, it could be the weapon he needs to destroy Vatar. And yet, finding a way to accept the other side of his heritage may be the only way Vatar can ultimately defeat his enemy.

 The two kinds of magic have always been totally separate. Until now.
You can find The Shaman's Curse here, and The Voice of Prophecy here. She's also written a novella from the same series called Becoming Lioness, which is free here.
Good luck Meredith!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Helsinki in 2017

I'm a fairly new con goer. My first ever con of any sort was in 2012. That was Finland's biggest science fiction con or Finncon. The next year I, with two friends, gave a talk in Finncon 2013 and come November I went to World Fantasy for the first time. With that I somehow fell in with con organizers. I'm still not entirely certain how that happened. I'm not officially affiliated with any con but suddenly I have friends on pretty much most of the various con boards I know about. Most important of those being the bid to bring Worldcon to Helsinki.

The Worldcon location gets voted on two years before the actual con happens which means that the Helsinki bid gets voted on at next year's Worldcon in Spokane. And here are a few reasons why I think everyone should vote for Helsinki.

The organizers

Now I am not entirely objective about the bunch of people in charge of organizing this con and the bid associated with it since I consider many of them to be my friends. Having said that these are the people to make stuff happen. I'm fairly certain these people could put a colony on Mars within ten years if they had the budget and the inclination to put their minds to it. And most definitely they are the people to arrange an amazing convention. Pretty much everyone I've met who is officially affiliated with the bid has chaired several conventions and they are not the people for making the same mistake twice. They're well connected, persuasive and fantastic problem solvers. For the past few years they've been managing to get merchandise and Finnish traditional foods and drinks to cons all over the world. Anyone who has seen the overseas mailing fees should be impressed that they've done that and not gone bankrupt in the process. Heck, I know how they've done it and I'm impressed. The people doing the organizing are alone worth voting for the Helsinki in 2017 bid because anything they put their minds into is going to be a great time.

The audience

Last year at Loncon3 I met tons and tons of people for who it was their first Worldcon. The last time Worldcon made it into Europe was in 2005. Living as we do in a global economy any creator would do well to make sure their audience is as wide as possible. One great way to do that is to meet your potential readers face to face. And what better than to connect over your mutual love of all things science fictional/ fantastical? There are other people who would remind you that if Helsinki doesn't win Worldcon would stay in the US for seven out of eight years and while it's a good point, for me personally having a diverse audience is more important as a creator. And having diverse Worldcons is a good start for creators to make that happen.

The potential

Finland is big on the whole culture thing. If Helsinki gets the worldcon, there will be programming in multiple languages. Yes, pretty much everyone in Finland speaks at least a little English. Even both my grandmothers spoke English. They might not have had the vocabulary to have an extensive debate about philosophy but even they knew enough to give directions. There are all kinds of funds the con could get if there is programming in more than one language. And who doesn't want to hear Aliette de Bodard talk science fiction in French - whether they understand French or not.


The biggest reason I think Worldcon should come to Helsinki is Helsinki itself. My city is, in a word, amazing. Big enough to be exciting, small enough to not be unwieldy. Great transportation options and especially good for the Worldcon crowd because the city is offering everyone free public transportation for the duration. There's lots to see, including a historic fortress, a zoo with some unique species of animals, museums, art and culture galore, wonderful food and tasty water. Beyond the con itself, Helsinki is a great city. And worldcon would be a wonderful excuse to take some time to explore the wonderful place I call home.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Holiday Book Recommendations

Looking for a book to pick up this holiday season? Shopping for a young adult/middle grade reader on your list? I've got some recommendations that are both on my to-read and have-read piles.

First, of course there's this great up and coming author of YA and MG Science Fiction that you should TOTALLY read. Her space-set book CONVERGENCE is really fascinating, a great read for kids (ages 10 and up or so.)
(buying link here - available in paperback and ebook. This is my SF novel, just in case you hadn't caught on yet.)

How about a little steampunk train fantasy which feels just a wee bit science fictiony? My kids and I really enjoyed The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson this spring, and it's worth a look for readers of all types.

How about military SF cyberpunky stuff for teen readers? Very appealing to boys? The series that starts with the book INSIGNIA, by SJ Kincaid, is excellent. Another bonus, the series is complete, which means you don't have the long wait for another book in the series. YES, I'm looking at you, STEELHEART! (Steelheart is a great book for teen readers featuring a future Chicago with superheroes, only the superheroes are the bad guys. Excellent story, but the second book is only JUST coming out in January. Firefight's publication date is listed as Jan 5. We've waited so long!)

What else is out there? In fantasy, we adore the Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas, and this fall a fourth book in the series came out, called Magic Thief Home. This one is great for younger readers, too. My kids began reading this series around 2nd grade. There are a few dark bits but not too much, and the books tend to end on a hopeful or upbeat note.

In older kid fiction, I'm really enjoying Blue Lily, Lily Blue, which is the final book in the Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefvater. I recommend it to (older) teen readers and adult readers alike. It's a complex story of magic set in the modern day. I think what I like the most about this series is the complicated relationships the author sets up between the characters. Here in the third (last) book, I find myself just *understanding* the relationships between characters so deeply that their reactions to situations make sense even at the beginning of the book. I love an author who can characterize so deeply. There's also such a dreamy quality to the way the author describes the area, she clearly both knows and loves the environment she set this book in. Due to some strong themes of drug/alcohol use and abuse in the second book in particular, I don't recommend this younger than teenagers.

I'm just finished with a long bout of audiobook listening (a listening jag? Does that even work) of the Lois McMaster Bujold Vorkosigan series. It was an absolutely stunning ride, I'm still smiling. I love these books and as a friend suggested, I'm going to make my wishes known to my family that if ever I'm in a coma and they don't know if I'll recover, I want them to play these audiobooks in case I can hear. You, dear Prosers Readers, are responsible for reinforcing that wish if it ever comes up. I recommend starting with Shards of Honor. I really enjoyed this in audiobook, loved the narrator, but it would work in print as well. It's an older teen and up book, though, not for kids.

No matter what direction you read in this holiday season, I hope you read, read often, read lots, and share books with those you love. I've become "that crazy aunt who gifts books" and…I like it. (Gave my nephew a signed copy of The Mark of the Dragonfly, from above, for the holidays!) Enjoy!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Personality tests - redux

This post was originally supposed to go up on Thanksgiving; I scheduled it to auto-post before I went on vacation. Of course the internet was then like, ha ha, no auto-post for you! Trusting technology? You sucker!

So here it is now, because I'm frantically trying to finish up copyediting. Here's a lingering comic that made more sense in the context of the intro I wrote a few weeks back. But it's still funny.

(credit: xkcd)

Anyway, please enjoy this personality test post from April 2012. Many of you took the test then; here's a link for your results. If you don't want to test yourself, you can test your characters. Juliette is clearly an 8, for example.


I've always been something of a fan of quizzes and personality tests. When I step back and think about it, my fascination isn't entirely logical – I mean, I do spend more time in my own head than anyone else does.

But in any case, its fun to find patterns in my own thoughts that I might not have previously recognized. Of course, most quizzes are pretty silly – like What Color is Your Aura? Or Which Harry Potter Character Are You? (which is pointless, because the multiple choice answers are so obvious that it's not really hard to figure who you're going to get).

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum of usefulness is something called the Enneagram. It's made up of nine main personality types, each of which has a wing, or subtype. It also describes how your personality can change if you're healthy or if you're troubled.

Look, here's a picture. The arrows show the directions of integration and disintegration.

It apparently has some sort of Greek or Babylonian origin, which I'm guessing means that, thousands of years ago, stone tablet quizzes were very popular, with subjects like "Which Greek Philosopher are You?" or "Which Invading Hoard Will Ransack Your Town This Year?"

Anyway, properly explaining the whole thing would take forever. There's also, for example, the triads: thinking, feeling and intuition. Here is the website if you want more detail.

Anyway… I'm kind of in love with the Enneagram. Because the description of my personality type is somewhat alarmingly accurate. I mean, when I first took the quiz, it was like the internet could read my mind.

Here are some descriptors of my personality type, from the book The Wisdom of the Enneagram (p. 179)
-I often feel alone and lonely, even when I'm around people I'm close to (check)
-I can forgive almost everything except bad taste (check - this one made me laugh, because it's silly of me, but so true!)
-I tend to brood over my negative feelings for a long time before getting free of them (check)
-I tend to spend quite a bit of time imagining scenes and conversations that haven't necessarily happened (CHECK CHECK CHECK)

But I didn't bring this up to talk about my own psyche. Another big part of the Enneagram that I like is its insights into other types of personalities. I see it as a tool to explore other ways of thinking and other approaches to the world - for that ever difficult character development.

For example, when I first come up with a character, and I've spent time developing their history and characteristics, I go look at the quiz on the Enneagram site. The quiz, which is used to determine personality type, presents a series of questions and asks you to chose which of two choices fits you best.

There are the obvious ones:

1. I have tended to
a. Take on confrontations
b. avoid confrontations

But then there are ones that are less intuitive:

2. When I have a new experience, I ask if it will be:
a. Useful to me
b. enjoyable

3. I have been more:
a. relationship oriented than goal oriented
b. goal oriented rather than relationship oriented.

4. I've typically been interested in
a. Asking the tough questions and maintaining my independence
b. Maintaining my stability and peace of mind

In relation to character development, my very favorite part about the Enneagram though is their list of basic fears and desires for each personality type. It wasn't something that I really thought about before, and yet these things are at the heart of everyone's personality. So now it's something I ask myself about my characters. What do they really want? What do they fear most in life?

Basic Fears (The Wisdom of the Enneagram , p. 32)
Type 1: fear of being bad, corrupt, evil or defective
Type 2: fear of being unworthy of being loved
Type 3: fear of being worthless or without inherent value
Type 4: fear of being without identity or personal significance
Type 5: fear of being useless, incapable or incompetent
Type 6: fear of being without support or guidance
Type 7: fear of being deprived or trapped in pain
Type 8: fear of being harmed or controlled by others
Type 9: fear of loss of connection, of fragmentation

Basic desires (and their distortions)  (The Wisdom of the Enneagram , p.33)
Type 1: the desire to have integrity (deteriorates into critical perfectionism)
Type 2: the desire to be loved (deteriorates into the need to be needed)
Type 3: the desire to be valuable (deteriorates into chasing after success)
Type 4: the desire to be oneself (deteriorates into self indulgence)
Type 5: the desire to be competent (deteriorates into useless specialization)
Type 6: the desire to be secure (deteriorates into an attachment to beliefs)
Type 7: the desire to be happy (deteriorates into frenetic escapism)
Type 8: the desire to protect oneself (deteriorates into constant fighting)
Type 9: the desire to be at peace (deteriorates into stubborn neglectfulness)

If you're interested in taking the quiz for you, or for your characters, copy and paste this link into your browser (it won't hotlink, not sure why): . If you take it for yourself, you'll know you answered the questions right if you come up with a description that is alarmingly accurate. J If not, try one of your secondary results.

Let me know what you get if you take the quiz, or if not, what basic fears/desires seem to most match you or your characters.

(And if anyone is wondering, I'm a Type Four with a Five wing).

Monday, December 8, 2014


I'm excited to host the Cover Reveal of Prophecy of the Six, Book Two of the Prophecy Breakers series by Sheena Boekweg, Melanie Crouse, and Sabrina West. The cover was designed by Darren Boekweg of Boekweg Books Publishing and Cover Design.

About Prophecy of the Six

We didn't know how much we had to gain by being infected with magic. We found a purpose, we found a destiny, and we found each other.

But California isn’t the new start we were promised. Dr. Child may be gone, but now we must face a military school, dangerous secrets, and a prophecy that has half the country wanting us dead. When the line between enemies and allies blurs, Sam, Juliette, Ana and I need to choose between love and sanity, between magic and survival.

Paradise has a cost. When the authorities are suddenly giving you whatever you want, they’re going to demand everything in return. And that’s a price not all of us are strong enough to pay.
Freedom feels like safety, but it’s not. There are no walls here. No place they won’t be coming for us.

No place we won’t destroy.

About Alchemy

Book 1 in the Prophecy Breakers series
We didn’t know how much we had to lose until we were infected with magic. Sam was in love, Juliette was the main caretaker for her siblings, and Ana and her dad planned the best parties in New York. But we lost it all when we were shipped to Chebeague, an exclusive school for newly infected mages.  
Everyone knows about the mages, those who survive the infection and end up with magical abilities. We’ve seen the power of magic, the high-paying jobs, and the world fame. But we never saw the cost. We didn’t know we’d be forced to give up everything: sanity, family, even the right to talk on the phone. 
We didn’t know mage was just another word for prisoner.

In 2014, Alchemy was named on of the top 50 self-published books worth reading. On December 8,9, and 10th you can buy it for free here. For a limited time, Funny Tragic, Crazy Magic and Hidden Magic are also available for free.

About the Authors

Sheena Boekweg, Melanie Crouse, and Sabrina West met online, (which isn't as weird as it used to be) and blog together at Their first collaborative project, Alchemy (Prophecy Breakers #1), was voted one of the top fifty self published novels worth reading by Indie Authorland.

Sheena Boekweg is the author of Funny Tragic Crazy Magic, and The Waxling (forthcoming). She is a mom of three from Utah and is prepared to survive a zombie apocalypse.

As a mom of four, Melanie Crouse thinks that parenthood is exactly like a zombie apocalypse. Melanie Crouse is the author of excuse notes, thank you cards, and the novel Hidden Magic.

Sabrina West is a writer and wildlife biologist living in San Diego, California. Her short fiction has appeared in markets such as Cover of Darkness; Strange, Weird and Wonderful Magazine; and Kayelle Press’s Night Terrors Anthology.

We love hearing from our readers, so drop us a line at, on facebook, twitter, or Internet stalking Benedict Cumberbatch.

Add it on Goodreads 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, December 1, 2014

Revision time!

So NaNoWriMo is now officially over! Hooray! Beers (or the beverage of your choice) on the house! Hail the conquering heroes! But wait! You're not actually done yet. Here are some tips for getting started on that bane of all writer's existence (well, mine at least) : revision!

Let it go!

The first thing you do after you type "The End" is of course do a little victory dance. Let it all out! You've done something amazing! You've written a novel, something so many dilettantes never manage to do. Maybe have a ginger beer or champagne or some chocolate or something to celebrate the occasion. Mark it down. Then let it be. Resist the urge to take a peek at the magnificence of your words. Hug your partner, walk the dog, talk to your kids, write something else. Whatever it takes, keep away from your manuscript for at least a month after you're done. Forget that it exists. For the purposes of your revision, it doesn't. Not for the next 4-6 weeks. Hands off!

Know what you've got

So you've waited a month. Good writer! Have a cookie! Now it's time for the most painful job in the entire process: reading the first draft. If it's any consolation this really is as bad as it gets - for me at least - and once you're through this particular hurdle, it all gets better in a hurry. While you're doing your first read through it's also a good idea to make copious notes. What I like to do is use different color highlighters to mark things I don't believe, things that bore me, things that confuse me and things that I think are awesome. Then I make notes on general things that I feel should be made a note of. For this I tend to follow Cathy Yardley's Rock Your Revisions for help and inspiration.

Outline that sucker!

Yes, yes, I know. Outlines are Evil! I don't care. Make one anyway. Even if you're an outliner by nature, you should make another one based on the novel you have right now, after your first draft. That way you can assess the structure of your story more easily than by reading through your story several more times. No cheating either. You're going to need it going forward.

Make an action plan!

So now you have an outline and some extensive notes regarding what you've written. It's time to decide what to do about it all. Maybe you've noticed that there's a character that shouldn't be there. Maybe, as happened to me during recent revisions, you've just realized that your ending is so contrived that you're going to have to kill it with fire. For me at least this has been the most exhausting part of the novel writing process. You know what's wrong, now you just have to fix it. It's a good idea to talk to writer friends while planning what to do going forward. You got yourself into this mess so getting a second opinion of how to get out of it would definitely not go amiss.

Take the plunge!

You're ready to jump in feet first! Hooray! Second draft here we go! Gird your loins and jump into the fray! Make it work!

And good luck!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why I Collaborate

I'm an independent person. I need to spend time alone every day. I like to do things my own way, and when it comes to my writing, my first drafts are stories I tell for me. Writing is an incredibly personal thing.

And yet, my favorite writing project to date, is this one of which I'm collaborating.

It's a hard project sometimes, especially when we're stressed, or when we're passionate about an idea that doesn't work for the other two, or when I'm passionate about an idea that doesn't work and then get frustrated because it doesn't work. Darn ideas. Or worse, when I change my mind about something that has major ripples across the course of several books, and Melanie and Sabrina had to adjust their plans, and then I switch my opinion again. It's the kind of thing in my own writing would be just a regular Thursday, but when you collaborate, it's a major catastrophe. I can't even imagine how difficult it must be for Melanie and Sabrina to work with me. 

I'm so grateful that they do though. I've learned so much from the way they work, and from having an audience as I do something as private as writing. And above the work, they have both been amazing friends to me. They've been there when my life went crazy. They've been there to talk with on days I can't get out of bed. They've been there to cheer with me on days I have something to celebrate. And together, we've created something that makes me want to yell from rooftops.

I guess the easiest way to explain why I collaborate is, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." It's not a fast way to write, and it's not a slim book producing way to write. But I hope when you read it, (and I hope you do read it) that you see the love and the growth that we've had while working on these books. I hope the story breaks your heart, as it has broken mine. I hope that it makes you smile and laugh, and then close the book while wondering what happens next. That these characters of ours will keep living on in your imagination. I hope it haunts you, the way it has haunted us.

I do have more books on their way that I've written on my own. And I'm really thrilled to work on them again, to create worlds and stories completely of my own making, and share them with you.

But until then, I'm just grateful for the kismet that happened when we started this project. I'm grateful for my friend's patience and brilliance. I'm grateful for the nos. 

I hope it makes you fist bump the stars and say, "Yes!"

Friday, November 21, 2014

Work In Progress - Melanie

My friend Irene is doing Nanowrimo this year.

I've got lots of friends doing Nanowrimo actually , but unlike the rest of them, I know Irene in real life. We stood in the corridor of the church after an activity on Wednesday, and she told me about the book she's been writing. I hope she doesn't mind if I tell you that it's got a raccoon in it. A cute raccoon who pops out and chitters whenever she's at a loss to know what to have happen next.

We smiled nostalgically as I regaled her with stories about all the times I've used a shovel to kill someone, and how fun it is to try to make the murder so natural that no one says "Ah! The Travelling Shovel of Death." Talk about pulling people out of the story, right?

As we spoke, people regarded us with wide, wide eyes, and stayed as far away as possible. Good times.

But I know you're dying to know the status of my work in progress. I can hardly blame you. Today is our deadline to finish Editing. From here on out, we're calling it Copy Editing.

Sheena, Sabrina and I have got a new title. We've got a gorgeous cover, which we will showcase in early December--I think December 8th. We've got a release date: January 6.  It's all exciting and stressful and not nearly as shiny as writing about chittering raccoons.

Here is an excerpt of one of my favorite scenes from the beginning of the book. It's a little hard to find scenes that don't contain major spoilers, but I did my best. In our book, Juliette, Sam, Ana and Company have been sent from Maine clear across the country to military school in California. In this scene, Ana is making some new friends, and getting a new nickname:

"You've got to use your imagination," Chad said, and I nodded. Two other guys had joined our group, and we were standing on the beach, looking out at the ocean. The sun had burned off the fog, and the day was sunny and bright. Chad gestured to include the whole ocean.
"The first time Suzi brought me here, there was a huge flock of pelicans. How many do you think, Suz?" he called out to her, and she answered his question as though she'd heard every word he'd said.
"Thirty, maybe?"
"No way," Chad said. "At least 50. And some other kind of little bird, hundreds of those. Right, babe?"
"Definitely hundreds," she said, and continued her conversation with the other guys as though she hadn't been interrupted.
"Now close your eyes and imagine those pelicans flapping their wings up, up, up." Chad flapped his arms in demonstration. "And then, when they get to a certain height, they hover for a minute, and then..." He grabbed my arm and pointed out to the sky above the ocean. "They dive. They tuck their wings right in and freefall. Boom." He slapped his hands together and looked at me with wide, impressed eyes. "Over and over again. Like the coolest party ever."
I made the appropriate "Woah" expression, and he continued. "Then they come up out of the water and the little birds attack them."
"Oh. Poor pelicans," I said, and Chad nodded solemnly.
"But then they do it all over again. Dozens of pelicans divebombing the water. Lucky pelicans," he said. "And that's when Suzi had her genius idea. Suzi!" he called, and Suzi jogged up to us, wiping her hands on her legs.
"Are you ready?" she asked me. I stared at her, confused.
"For what?"
"To be a pelican," Chad said, grinning maniacally.

I can't even express how amazing it is to stand on the beach and have a Pusher lift me into the air and out over the ocean. Terrifying? Yes. But it's a great way to take my mind off my problems. And then they let go. I tried to freefall without screaming, but it was physically impossible to contain that much joy and anticipation. Because right before I hit the water, Suzi grabbed me in a cloud of air again, and lifted me back up, squealing with delight and terror. Eventually it was their turn to Push each other into the air, and I lay on my back and listened to the waves and their loud laughter. It was nearly a perfect moment.
I felt a twinge of guilt when I lied to my new friends about my primary power being Prophecy. Suzi smiled and shook her head thoughtfully. "It's always the one you'd never suspect," she said, and Chad laughed and agreed.
"I dare you to land in the water, Daredevil," he said.
"I don't even know how deep it is," I said. "And it's cold."
"But you're the Daredevil," he said. "And we won't let you crash into the bottom. Scouts honor."
I was already striding toward my launching spot. "Divebomb!" Chad shouted as Suzi lifted me into the air. I shivered with anticipation. As I began my freefall, I twisted into a dive. The water wasn't as cold as I'd expected, but that was probably the shock. Suzi slowed my impact at the last moment, which was a good thing, because I think I brushed the ocean floor as I turned and pushed for the surface. At the very least, I hoped I'd just cemented my new nickname. And that maybe they'd let me do it one more time.

Monday, November 17, 2014

America through the eyes of a stranger

Starting from November 30th my partner and I spent two weeks in the states. First a week in New York City and then another in Washington during I basically saw the hotel World Fantasy Convention was held at and Union Station. It was the first time for both of us unless you count the three seconds The Maid of the Mists (the Canadian boat that takes tourists to see Niagara Falls from the bottom) spends going slightly over the US-Canada border. And for some reason most people don't seem to feel it counts. So here are a few things that I noticed on my travels.

The TV is trying to scare you

One day when my feet were killing me especially badly, we went to watch the new Jake Gyllenhaal movie, Nightcrawler. It gave an eerily accurate view of what the TV business looks like from the point of view of someone who has never before experienced the 24-hour news cycle. The first night we were in New York there was a home invasion somewhere in the area, and by area, I mean inside the states of New York and New Jersey, which is kind of a large area, I'll admit. There was nobody home at the time but there was some property damage. While that kind of thing is certainly scary and serious I don't entirely see that it warranted live coverage from the scene hours and hours and hours even the cops left the scene. They kept playing the tape of those poor people coming home to see the damage over and again, using the scariest available language to explain what was happening, even if it was just to say that nothing but press camping out on the lawn of crime victims had happened there for hours. Now granted, I haven't exactly understood everything on the TV's of the various countries I've travelled - Korean was particularly hard - but so far I haven't seen anything like it anywhere else.

Abandoned buildings

In the Helsinki area, where I live, real-estate isn't cheap. Even when you get out of the bigger cities, abandoned buildings are fairly rare to see, partly because most developed land either is lived in or gets plowed into fields. More because paper has been one of our biggest exports for so long, thus making woodland very expensive to just leave a house on. We took the train from New York to Washington and I was amazed to see the number of abandoned houses, buildings and power lines just lying there, decaying into disrepair. I understand and maintenance costs and even tearing things down when they're no longer used is not free. I'm just not used to seeing as many abandoned buildings in places that aren't "third world" (I really hate that term, by the way) countries. It seems very much in the vein of disposable planet thinking that seems to be common among US politicians and talking heads.

People of color

Finland is pretty freaking white. We're mostly known for blonde hair and blue eyes. Until we got to the airport to go back home I could generally pick out my husband out of a crowd by looking for the blonde hair. The thing that struck me though was just how non-white the service industry in the states is. We saw white people all through the city but more or less every time we were served or sold something it was by a person of color. And to tell you the truth, that really weirded me out. I had never understood just how systemic racism in the US is because a lot of time in the movies we see even the service industry is white and the few people of color we see are basically only there to be either thug #3 or Denzel Washington. And that was the entirety of my experience on the matter before this trip. I know, on an intellectual level, that thug #3 and Denzel Washington aren't the entirety of POC existence, I simply had no touchstone into just how... silenced POC are from the general discussion.

People are people everywhere

The biggest thing I notice whenever I travel is that people really are just people everywhere. They tend to be concerned for the same things, trying to find and make other things happen, mostly just trying to get through every day with a little bit of grace and charm. Although I have to admit, there's a lot less worry about leaving appropriate tips going on in Finland. I'm fairly certain I still don't know all the places I was supposed to tip and didn't for which I will eternally be apologizing to everyone I know who has ever worked in the service industry.


I LOVE Halloween! I fully think it should be a month-long celebration of all things scary and terrible. I love costumes and scary stories and partying to the sweet sounds of The Thriller. In Finland, Halloween is starting to become a thing but there are still many who oppose it as a purely American, corporate holiday. It was frankly joyous to see Halloween celebrated so universally. I loved the sense of community it created. Halloween, at least in New York, is a massively social event, bringing together all kinds of people. We went to tour American Museum of Natural History and the Rose Center for Air and Space on Halloween and even there everyone was dressed up. It was so cool to see everyone enjoying such an excellent holiday.

On the whole our trip was amazing and fun and a hugely positive experience but at the end of the day I am very happy I live in Finland. But isn't that always the way with traveling?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Work in Progress - Karen

Oy, have you missed me? I've missed me, have you seen my October and first half of November? Shoot. Me neither. Nor has my nanowrimo project seen me…I'm a few…thousand words behind, alas.

But have no fear, I'm here now, and I have WORDS to SHARE!

And what a week in which to share them! This week, humans have landed a SPACE SHIP on a COMET! Are we awesome or what? I love it when I'm writing science fiction and the scientists go off and make science fact. Best part of this job. The Philae is now sleeping, as it unfortunately bounce-landed into a spot that makes it difficult to charge its batteries, but I predict this isn't the last we'll hear of the little lander, nor its orbiter, Rosetta. Cool stuff.

I'm working on a sequel to my 2009 Nanowrimo project ('09 project is called A Star to Lead Me.) This year's project is called Guide Me Through the Deepspace Night. (Ridiculous side note: This is a trilogy, the three titles make a haiku. I'm a word nerd. I changed the title of this project this month and had to keep it 7 syllables. You'd be surprised at how many 6 and 8 syllable book titles you can come up with when trying to find a 7 syllable one.)

I'm slow this November because I've been overtaken by events (World Fantasy 14 in D.C. last weekend, the kids' school's book fair all last week. Lots of books to sell! Always interesting to be a bookseller for a week and see what people are interested in, what they buy.)

And now I'm trying to get back into the habit. Funny how difficult it can be to get into a writing habit when you're not in a daily routine. I have talked before about how I'm a burst writer versus a daily writer, something that's a little different than what you'll hear many writers spout as the One True Thing About Being A Writer (the whole "write every day" business) -- but yet there is some wisdom to that thing!

I'm really quite certain most of Guide Me is pretty terrible at the moment, but here's a bit from the story as-is. Quick plot recap/summary: Brynne is on a colony spaceship headed for the Gliese 876 system with 6000 of her close personal friends (not.) When her ship enters the solar system orbiting the Gliese star, all the adults and anyone thirteen and over on the spaceship falls into a mysterious sleep. Brynne and the other kids have to figure out how to operate the ship and keep chaos from descending, oh and while they're at it they should probably figure out what that unknown energy signature making a beeline for them is. Aliens? Brynne's going to have to figure it out and soon - her thirteenth birthday is in a couple of days!

In this scene, Brynne has been talking to Hunter and Sampriti, two friends who are spearheading the work on the ship's navigation systems:

“And a pilot?” Brynne asked. 
“Yeah, we’ve got … where is she?” Sampriti said, looking around the room, her eyes finally resting on the girl laying on her back on the table. “Oh, there she is. Halley. Named after a comet and now she’s going to have a chance to pilot us out of this mess. She’ll work the engine burn. We’ve run,” she sent a wry look in Hunter’s direction, “dozens of scenarios and her reflexes are fastest and she’s got most of the equations in her head already.”
Brynne looked back at the girl, still gazing at the ceiling. Upon reflection, Brynne realized that perhaps rather than staring at the shadows of her fingers, perhaps the girl was drawing ship trajectories in the air. But she looked so young. Before she could vocalize the thought, though, Brynne squashed it. The girl doubtless was young, as were all of them. Age ceased to matter when the stakes were life or death. Either burn the ship’s engines in the right manner and sequence to change the Selenium’s trajectory, or meet certain doom in the debris field or planet atmo of the gas giant they were current pointed at.