Coyote Con 2013: Join the Howl!

Coyote Con 2013: Join the Howl!

Are you like me and couldn't afford the trip to Brighton for World Fantasy this year? Well, come join me at Coyote Con! What is Coyote Con, you ask? It's a virtual convention for readers and writers of SFF, horror, and romance in all its flavors. What is a virtual convention? Well, first of all, it's FREE. :D

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Weekend Writing Warriors #1

As I mentioned last week, I came late to the party and managed to miss out on the entire Six Sentence Sunday phenomenon. But luckily for me, a new weekly blog hop began today for Weekend Writing Warriors. And even better, I get to post eight sentences instead of six. Below is another excerpt from the fantasy WIP That Shall Not Be Named, with the same couple (Ume and Cree from my novella The Devil's Garden), who seem to spend an awful lot of time in bed in this book.

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Resolving to resolve

Everyone is all about saying “I don’t make resolutions,” and “I don’t believe in resolutions” these days. Personally, I think that’s a copout. It says, “I can’t accomplish one single thing this year,” and ascribes to some kind of negative magical thinking that if you write it down, you’ll fail. Whatever. (Not trying to be mean to those of you who’ve said it. I’m trying to light a fire under my own derriere.) I haven’t been making resolutions for the past several years, using this same excuse. This year, I’m changing my tune.

First, I’m resolving to blog at least once a week, and to that end, this.

Second, I’m resolving to read at least one book a week. That’s right; I have not been reading even a book a week. I know many writers somehow read books in the triple digits annually. I am in awe of you. (I do wonder if you remember a word of any of them, but I admire your ability to devour literature just the same. And I don’t mean that snarkily. Be quiet, spellcheck. That is too a word.) I, on the other hand, have not even been reading one book a month since I started working on The House of Arkhangel’sk. So yesterday, I read a book: The Restorer, part of the Graveyard Queen series by Amanda Stevens. (I don’t do book reviews, but it was an enjoyable read, and I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads and B&N.)

Third, I’m going to finish three novels this year. This one is a bit of a cheat, because I’m closing in on the end of my Nano book, Prince of Tricks, and I’m planning yet another revision to Anamnesis (aka The Neverending Story), but I will write at least one novel from start to finish, and probably a novella somewhere in the mix. Again, this probably sounds silly to writers who crank out four or five books in a year, but unless you want to see 300 pages of “All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl,” this is all you’re going to get from me. Yesterday, I managed to get in my standard 1,000 words for the day on Prince of Tricks after being sidetracked by edits on The Armies of Heaven for a couple of weeks, so that’s three resolutions whose face I’m all up in already. (In whose face I’m all up…up in whose face…oh, forget it.)

Fourth, I’ve been telling myself for years “I’m going to learn to knit this year”…but I never made it a resolution, and thus let myself off the hook before I’d even begun. (That was a little knitting joke, there. Sort of. Well, a crocheting joke, anyway. Okay, more of a fishing joke, really, but I don’t have any interest in learning to fish.) And to that end, I’ve just purchased my first set of knitting needles and some pretty aubergine yarn, and have picked out a pattern for a scarf. Boom. I have pwned you, Resolution #4. (Which is not to say that I may not crumble under the weight of my January bravado as soon as the needles arrive, but I mean to give this a real go.)

And finally (aka Number Five), I resolve to cook at least one meal a week—in a real oven—that does not come out of a box, a can, or a freezer. I’ve, uh…made and eaten an entire batch of cookies this week; does that count? (No. No, it does not. And I can’t believe I just admitted that publicly. It was a small batch. ~shifty eyes~)

And why did I not just use ordered list tags to number these? Because this blog template refuses to show the numbers. Perhaps Number Six should be "get a better blog template or hire a pro to design a new site."

And as a bonus, I shall throw at you a random half-naked man. You're welcome. (And yes, I purchased this image. He's a potential Belphagor.)


Are you a resolver or a rebel in the great Resolution Revolution?

Terms and conditions

Last week, I was reading a YA novel that was a little dark, but had interesting characters and twists, and seemed to promise some redemption for the troubled MC as his character developed throughout the story. Then a violent sexual assault occurred out of nowhere, in fairly graphic detail, and I felt as if I'd been assaulted myself.

It's been troubling me ever since. I write some particularly graphic scenes in my own books, and I got to worrying that I might be needlessly traumatizing my readers. I'd hate to think that anyone reading my books would end up feeling the way I did last week (and still feel; those kinds of images stay with me for a long time).

While I was ruminating over this, I came across a blog post by a former Harry Potter fan who felt J.K. Rowling had betrayed the reader by killing off characters she liked. The blog author seemed to feel that writers do terrible things to their characters merely out of sadism, and that they enjoy traumatizing their readers for an emotional reaction. For that reader, Harry didn't need to experience the losses he did to become who he was.

That conclusion struck me as rather odd. What would the Harry Potter books be like if Harry never experienced trauma or loss? In my opinion, they'd be pointless.

But how much trauma and loss is enough? What does an author owe her readers in this writer-reader contract? When is trauma too much or unnecessary?

Thinking back over the graphic scenes in my books, I'm still not sure of the answer. But the scene I read last week that blindsided me seemed unmotivated and unrealistic, and I hope that mine are not. If a sudden, violent sexual assault occurred in the middle of the Harry Potter series, for instance, that would be a violation of the contract. It would serve no purpose. Was the scene I read the same? Not entirely; it wasn't completely out of the bounds of what might occur in these characters' lives, but there was no motivation for it, and no reason to go into such detail for a secondary character's point of view.

One of my favorite authors, Jacqueline Carey, does some pretty brutal things to her characters, but those events are what makes those characters who they are. You can't fall hopelessly in love with Imriel de la Courcel in Kushiel's Scion without the unspeakably awful things that shaped his life. (And, boy, did I fall hopelessly in love with him!)

I'm not sure where the balance lies between needless violence and trauma that's true to the story. Maybe it's only in the eye of the beholder. Plenty of people love the Harry Potter series, despite the loss of beloved characters. But at least one reader felt those losses were cruel and unacceptable. There are many positive reviews on Goodreads of the YA novel I was reading (and will not be finishing), but there were a significant number who hated it as well.

Whether people love my books or hate them, I just hope no one ever feels that I'm manipulating them as a reader. Whatever trauma I throw my characters' way, I hope I'm fulfilling my end of the contract.

Coming up for air (and fire)

In the midst of my preparations for harakiri—er, I mean, deep in revision mode, I received today's Shakespeare-a-Day sonnet, and it was just perfect for the section I was revising last night: Sonnet 45

The other two, slight air and purging fire, Are both with thee, wherever I abide; The first my thought, the other my desire, These present-absent with swift motion slide. For when these quicker elements are gone In tender embassy of love to thee, My life, being made of four, with two alone Sinks down to death, oppress'd with melancholy; Until life's composition be recured By those swift messengers return'd from thee, Who even but now come back again, assured Of thy fair health, recounting it to me: This told, I joy; but then no longer glad, I send them back again and straight grow sad.

"Slight air and purging fire"...if you know anything about The House of Arkhangel'sk, does this make you think of anyone? :)

Okay I'll give you a spoiler hint: I was editing the caning scene in The Fallen Queen. And to those of you who aren't my beta readers and have no idea what I'm talking about, just you wait. The caning scene. Sigh. Dreamy. ;)

Hey, what's that in my coffee cup?

I'm guest blogging today on Cup o' Porn, a site run by M/M erotica authors Marie Sexton and Heidi Cullinan that unabashedly celebrates a woman's right to enjoy "men, and coffee, and porn, and sex, and wine, and music, and intelligence, and fun, and women, and really hot photos" and "how all that stuff is absolutely normal and we will no longer apologize for any of it." So have a cuppa and join me as I explain (or don't) how The Devil's in the Details in The Devil's Garden. (And then stick around for the rest of Cup o' Porn's posts for pictures that will steam up your monitor.)

It's a bit lonely over there at the moment.

Confessions of a Closet Monarchist: Book giveaway

Join me over on the Carina Press blog today and find out what Richard E. Grant has to do with my secret love of monarchism and foppish drawls. Oh...and comment to win a copy of The Devil's Garden!

Bending gender with L. A. Witt

Recently, author L.A. Witt and I spoke about our new releases featuring transgender protagonists. L.A.'s latest novel Static is available June 26 from Amber Allure and my debut novella The Devil's Garden will be available from Carina Press on June 27. Static by L. A. WittDamon Bryce is worried sick when he doesn’t hear from his girlfriend after she visits her estranged parents, but when he checks up on her, he’s in for the shock of his life: She’s a shifter, part of a small percentage of the population who can shift genders at will. Thanks to her parents, though, she’s been forcibly given an implant that leaves her static—unable to shift—and male.

Alex Nichols desperately wants the implant removed, but getting it out isn’t nearly as easy as putting it in. The surgery is expensive and dangerous. Left in, the implant carries its own set of risks, with the potential to cripple or even kill him. On top of that, he’s carefully kept his identity a secret from more people in his life than just Damon, and his parents aren’t the only ones appalled by shifters.

Stripped of half his identity and facing serious physical effects and social ramifications, Alex needs Damon more than ever, but he doesn’t see how their relationship can get through this unscathed.

Especially if Alex is a static male permanently.

LAW: First off, give us a little rundown of The Devil’s Garden, your upcoming release.

JK: In The Devil’s Garden, Ume Sky is a prestigious temple courtesan whose patrons are mainly the priests of the temple god in one of the city-states of a vast river delta like the Nile. After the accidental death of a violent patron, Ume is forced to go into hiding, returning to the life she left behind. As a courtesan, Ume is a woman of means; without the status afforded by her position, she is only a seventeen year old boy named Cillian Rede who turns tricks in alleys.

JK: You also have a book coming out that deals with trans issues and gender fluidity. Tell me a little about your new release Static.

LAW: In Static, my two main characters – Alex and Damon – have been in a relationship for a couple of years when Damon learns Alex is a shifter, someone who can change genders at will. To make matters even more complicated, Alex has been forcibly given an implant that renders him static (unable to shift) and male. The story deals with Alex trying to both cope with having the implant and get it removed, but also salvage his relationship with Damon, and Damon’s struggle to help and support Alex while also trying to make sense of what this means for their relationship.

LAW: Did you set out to write a trans/genderfluid character, or did you start with a character who took you in that direction?

JK: Honestly, I don’t remember. The Devil’s Garden is a prequel to a novel in which the main character identifies as genderless and other characters reincarnate as the opposite sex and have to deal with reuniting with partners from their former lives. So there was definitely already a thread of gender fluidity running through the story. I think I had a vague idea of some Shakespearean cross-dressing fun a la Twelfth Night, and then as I began to write Ume, the story of Gwen Araujo was in the news—a seventeen year old trans woman who was beaten to death for being discovered to be biologically male. Somewhere along the line, the two became inextricably entwined in my head. The Ume I see looks very much like Gwen. The novella is dedicated to her.

JK: The transgender element in your book Static is a little different from mine in that your character Alex is born with a genetic predisposition to shift genders. What inspired you to reimagine both gender fluidity and the traditional “shifter” story in such an interesting new way?

LAW: I was playing around with the idea of writing a shapeshifter story, since the concept is a popular one, not to mention an intriguing one. I was trying to think of a different approach to it, and when I thought “what if someone could shift genders?”, then it was just a natural progression to “what if someone lost that ability?” Additionally, in the month or so prior, I’d been getting a very thorough and enlightening education about gender issues, particularly relating to transgender and genderqueer issues, from author M Jules Aedin. I think I’d been subconsciously looking for a way to explore some of that in fiction, and between everything I learned from Jules and the idea of a gender shifter, Static was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

LAW: Tell us about a specific challenge you faced when writing your book.

JK: One thing I worried about while writing it, and still worry about, is that because of the way the story plays out, I had to have certain scenes in which Cillian’s POV was presented as male. When in courtesan dress, the character is fully Ume, and thus I use feminine pronouns for Ume’s scenes. I know this doesn’t accurately reflect how trans people see themselves, and I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to portray all trans people that way. But it seemed right for my character.

JK: I noticed we both have similar phrases in our book blurbs. In Static, Alex is “Stripped of half his identity....” In The Devil’s Garden, Ume has her “elite status stripped away….” For my character Ume, it suggests not only having something taken away that’s intrinsic, but also speaks of her feeling “exposed.” Do you think there’s an element of that for Alex?

LAW: The exposure is definitely a factor for Alex. Some people in his life know him as a shifter, some know him as a static male, and some know her as a static female. When he was given the implant, it meant he had no choice but to come out to people in his life who didn’t know the truth about him: co-workers, his not-very-tolerant boss, and most of all, his boyfriend.

And much like your character, it goes beyond just exposure. Alex is both male and female. Some days, his mind is one hundred percent male. Some days, she’s one hundred percent female. Sometimes, somewhere in the middle. All his life, he’s been able to adjust his body to match his brain, and now he can’t. Another shifter describes being stuck in the wrong body as being like wearing a pair of uncomfortable dress shoes: At first it’s annoying. Then it’s miserable to the point of distraction. Then it’s so maddening you can’t think of anything except taking off those damned shoes. But for a shifter who’s been made static, those shoes won’t come off. Ever.

LAW: You mentioned in a conversation that you see transphobia/trans-hatred and misogyny as being two sides of the same coin. Can you expand on that?

JK: It seems to me that both homo- and trans-hatred stem from an underlying assumption that the only thing worse than being female in this world is being a male who exhibits any kind of perceived femininity. (And women who exhibit perceived masculinity in this paradigm, of course, are simply trying to co-opt male privilege, so they fare no better.) The men who beat Gwen Araujo to death were enraged that they’d been aroused by someone who turned out to be biologically male. By extension, someone might perceive them as less than male, and so she had to be destroyed.

Of course, I’m generalizing a bit here, and I don’t know exactly what went on in her murderer’s heads, but this is how it’s always seemed to me when I see that kind of rage and viciousness: at its heart is a pathological fear and hatred of women.

JK: In your story, you deal with the “coming out” aspect of being transgender as well as transitioning, something that isn’t as much of an issue in mine. What special problems does this present for Alex’s partner Damon?

LAW: Damon struggles a lot with how to reconcile his feelings for Alex with his own sexuality; he’s straight, Alex is physically male, and Damon can’t exactly force a physical attraction. He loves Alex, and he doesn’t want to abandon him, but it’s more than a little challenging to adapt to the fact that his partner is now male. He also has some misgivings about the fact that Alex kept this from him for so long; on one hand, he’s hurt Alex didn’t trust him enough to tell him she was a shifter. On the other, he feels guilty for not being someone Alex could trust with that information. Add in Alex’s long history of depression and alcoholism, plus the fact that the implant itself could kill or cripple him, and I think we can forgive Damon if he can’t quite fit it all into his head.

LAW: The Devil’s Garden takes place in a fantasy setting, of course, but in what ways do the character’s experiences reflect the experiences of people in our own world?

JK: Cillian is thrown out of his home by his father at the age of twelve when he’s caught wearing a virgin’s veil. Forced to make a living for himself on the streets, Cillian uses his femininity to his advantage, discovering that when he’s perceived as a woman, he has power he could never have as a man. Internally, Cillian has always felt female, and so becoming Ume is a fulfillment of Cillian’s inner reality. I think (or at least I hope) that plenty of people in our world will be able to relate to that.

JK: I know we both have a lot of projects on our plate; being a writer can be a bit of a wild ride. ;) What’s next for L.A. Witt fans?

LAW: The short answer? A lot. Fans have been asking for a sequel to The Distance Between Us (Samhain 2010) for a while now, and they’ll be getting one this year: The Closer You Get comes out in November. Cover Me (Carnal Passions 2010) is also getting a sequel, Trust Me, which will be out July 6th, plus the third book, Search Me, which will be out this winter. Out of Focus, a BDSM gay ménage, will be out from Samhain on August 3rd, and I have a few more novellas due out this year – Ex Equals and On The List, both from Amber Allure – and two collaborative steampunk books that will probably be out sometime this winter.

In early 2012, Samhain is releasing the first book in the Tooth & Claw series, The Given & The Taken. This will be my first foray into the world of vampires and werewolves, and could probably be described as a paranormal ménage thriller romance. Or something. It falls under a lot of categories.

Plus I have a few more releases from my hetero pseudonym, Lauren Gallagher. Disengaged is coming from Champagne Books in September, and an additional book in the Light Switch series will be out this fall. I’ve been focusing more on L. A. Witt this year, but I plan to get a few more Lauren books out in 2012.

So, yeah. A lot. It’s been a busy year!

JK: Thanks so much for talking with me about Static and The Devil's Garden. I'm running over to Amber Allure right now to pick up your book!

L.A. WittL. A. Witt is an erotica writer who is said to be living in Okinawa, Japan, with her husband and two incredibly spoiled cats. There is some speculation that she is once again on the run from the Polynesian Mafia in the mountains of Bhutan, but she’s also been sighted recently in the jungles of Brazil, on a beach in Spain, and in a back alley in Detroit with some shifty-eyed toaster salesmen. Though her whereabouts are unknown, it is known that she also writes hetero erotic romance under the pseudonym Lauren Gallagher.

To learn more about L. A. Witt, please visit her website at

Update from Irkalla

...otherwise known as the Land of Revisions. Just thought I'd pop onto the blog to share my favorite line from recent revisions to The Fallen Queen (formerly The House of Arkhangel'sk). Belphagor is half-conscious and being carried on Vasily's back when Vasily has an argument with Belphagor's friend Dmitri. Dmitri:

"And if you want to know the Heavens’ honest truth, Lev and I never really got what he saw in you. You’re sullen and ill-tempered and totally self-absorbed.”

Vasily stared at him, speechless, too stunned to be angry.

“And hot,” Belphagor murmured against his shoulder. “Totally hot.”

Vasily stared at him, speechless, too stunned to be angry. “And hot,” Belphagor murmured against his shoulder. “Totally hot.”

Saturday evening post: Recalcitrant demons and tattooed males

So I've gotten to that point in my latest work in progress where all the pieces have fallen into place, and I know exactly what's going to happen from here to the end...except for One. Little. Thing. It's a fairly crucial thing. My demon character Belphagor is supposed to have a plan that he unveils at the last minute to save the day in a certain situation. And now it's time for me to write that scene. But he won't tell me what it is. And people wonder why writers drink.

In lieu of actual writing getting done, I will now post some random tattooed males. This first one definitely has something young-Belphagorian going on:

Is this a cute boy or a hot dyke? Oh, who cares!

This one's just plain easy on the eyes:

And you may thank me for this one later:


Saturday fortune (because this took me so long I missed Friday): Skill

Skill, as you can clearly see, is not something I have when it comes to photographing tarot cards, but after a search for images turned up nothing, I was forced to make the attempt. ;)

Card of the day: Three of Coins, "Skill"

Today's fortune is one I have pulled many times when asking questions about my writing career, along with the Eight of Coins, "Apprenticeship." Whenever I get these cards, I figure I'm on the right track. Maybe not there yet, but certainly on the way to one of my favorites: the Nine of Coins, "Security." I'd like to be that mature woman depicted on the Nine of Coins, confident in her achievement. (And since "mature" is becoming increasingly an adjective I get to use next to the word "woman" when I describe myself, I think it's time I started moving in the direction of the Nine.)

I like the RToSP's Three of Coins, because it shows a wealthy boyar patron beside the artist. Skill may be something a writer seems to come by naturally, or something she acquires through long practice, or a combination of the two, but it sure helps to have an interested patron to encourage and support you along the way.

What's also different about this deck's Three of Coins is that instead of the usual stonemason, it shows a man playing a balalaika. The stonemason is building his skill brick by brick, which is all well and good, but there's something more freeing and artistic about an image of a musician. A musician's skill, like a writer's, is more individual and less practical, perhaps, than someone who's handy with a trowel. Writing is work, but it is also art, and when work and art come together, it is in a sense the very definition of skill.

There are other artistic touches in this scene, typical of Russian folk art, in the painting and sculpting on the column, and the woven tapestry on the floor. It speaks of the skilled laborers behind the scenes who are also artists in their own right. Perhaps, like these artists, we have not yet reached the Nine of completion, but the Three is something to celebrate all the same. It's a recognition of one's skill, no matter how great or how small, and its contribution to the greater world, as opposed to the personal pleasure in achievement that success brings with the Nine. And that's okay. Maybe "quitting the day job" is no longer a reality in this brave new world of publishing, but being recognized and appreciated is still pretty awesome.

Jane Kindred
Jane Kindred

What's in a name?

I've been kicking around possible titles that might be more...pronounceable...than The House of Arkhangel'sk. While I'm kicking, I thought I'd share some imagery of various places and events that occur in the book. First, the current title: The House of Arkhangel'sk represents both the family name of the celestial Supernal Family and stands for the house in the city of Arkhangel'sk in which an important part of the story takes place. Below is a dacha similar to the one I had in mind for this second "house of Arkhangel'sk," along with some interior views of an Arkhangel'sk dacha.

And here are some possible alternative titles I've come up with:

City of Archangel – the former English name of the city of Arkhangel'sk. At left is a photo of Arkhangel'sk at night.

The Malachite Room – after an infamous room in the Winter Palace in which Russia's provisional government set up its administrative headquarters in 1917 and from which they briefly held off the Bolsheviks who stormed the Winter Palace to overthrow them during the October Revolution. It's also the scene of a bloody massacre and a crucial part of the climax in the celestial version of the Winter Palace.

Flower of the Fern – the mythical tsvetok paporotnika, a fiery flower that blooms only at midnight on the eve of Ivan Kupala (Midsummer Night), and which my heroine stumbles upon. I can't, of course, provide a picture of a fern flower, but at right is an image of one of the Ivan Kupala traditions in which my heroine takes part. Girls wear garlands of flowers in their hair and then float them out to sea with a candle in the center to carry their wishes. (It's after this that young men and women traipse off into the woods to, ahem, "look for the flower.")

And the last option, Prince of Tricks, simply refers to Belphagor's nickname. ;)

Which do you prefer? Have another suggestion?

<a href="">What's in a name?</a><span style="font-size:9px;"><a href="">online surveys</a></span>

Friday fortune: Одиночество

Say what, now? Well, I have this deck, the Osho Zen Tarot...which I bought in St. Petersburg. It was the only Russian-language tarot deck that Dom Knigi carried, and I really wanted a Russian deck, so I bought it. But it's been nearly impossible to use. Not only are the cards different from the traditional tarot deck, but the commentary in the companion book is both Russian and zen. Even after I've translated to the best of my ability, I have to sit and stare at it and ponder what the heck it's trying to say. So...

Loneliness, Osho Zen Tarot Card of the day: Loneliness (Odinochestvo)

The level of Russian in this book is far beyond my ability, so I resort to Google Translate. It takes me quite a while to type my transliteration of the Russian text from the companion book into Google and try to get it to re-transliterate into Cyrillic, and then get the translation itself. Invariably, the translation comes out rather mangled. As near as I can figure, this card is about recognizing the difference between the negative state of feeling alone (loneliness) and the positive state of being alone with oneself (solitude).

Then it says this, the one paragraph I was able to get clearly:

When we don't find support from others in the truths that we feel deeply, we can either choose bitterness and isolation, or realize that our vision is strong enough to overcome the core human need for approval of family, friends, and colleagues.

Wow. This is totally for writers. Writing is a very solitary pursuit, and even when we do have supportive people in our lives, they can't totally get how immersed we become in a world of our own making—that drive to make the story as true as we can. So the Zen Tarot is telling us that it's up to us to believe in the story we're compelled to tell without expecting or relying on external validation. That's a really hard one for me, and it hits home with what I was thinking about in my last post: how to believe in the good stuff people say about my work as much as the bad. In the end, no one can tell me if I've told the right story. I have to believe in it whether anyone else does or not.

So it took me several hours to get this post out and it's no longer Friday, but there it is: your Friday fortune, a day late.

Jane Kindred

Pride and prejudice

Lately I've been noticing a trend of mine when it comes to my writing: I believe every negative word someone says about it. I have no problem taking criticism; rejection notes and editing notes all ring true to me—unless it's something that really feels fundamentally wrong, like a rejection I got once saying Belphagor and Vasily's love story was a distraction that weakened The House of Arkhangel'sk. That kind of note I can look at objectively and realize the reader was simply the wrong reader for me. But if the criticism is that I didn't create strong enough goals, or a character's motivations aren't clear, or the writing isn't captivating enough, or a character is too passive, or any of those reasonable sounding, justifiable criticisms, I take them straight to heart. Because who am I to read such criticism and decide it doesn't apply to me? It seems like the height of arrogance for me to dismiss any of it, particularly if it's coming from a professional in the industry. They know their business. If they didn't love my story, it's because I failed.

Then there's praise. I've received it from critique partners and beta readers. I receive it in abundance from my wonderful agent. But I tend to think these people are a bit prejudiced. I mean, yes, they'll tell me when reading a draft if something doesn't work, but they like my work and I already know that going into it. Still, for the most part, I can accept that praise, though there is a point where I begin to dissociate from it. Sure, sure, I tell myself. They liked it. Maybe they even liked it a lot. But they know me and they know I need external validation to keep going. And if it's particularly high praise, I start to feel like I'd be a conceited jerk if I actually take it to heart.

And then there's praise from people who don't have a vested interest in boosting my ego. As much as I crave it, that really wigs me out. I recently received a blurb from one of my favorite writers that knocked my socks off. It didn't come out of the blue; I asked if she would consider reading the manuscript and giving it a blurb. Obviously, I was hoping she would like it and say nice things.

But here's the thing: I find myself cringing just posting that link. I'm not sure I can even complete this blog post. I don't think I have the right to believe that praise, let alone tell someone else about it.

Now, I'm not totally crazy. A more reasonable part of me is smacking the back of my head in frustration. Do I honestly think everyone who says anything positive about my writing is blowing smoke up my ass? Of course not. But who am I to read such praise and believe it applies to me?

Clearly, I have a strange relationship with my writing. It means everything to me, and I long to be good at it and to have others think so too. And at the same time I get physically ill at the thought of sharing my work with someone for the first time. The conversation between my loony personalities goes something like this:

Self 1: What if they hate it?

Self 2: Shut up. Why would they hate it? It's a good story!

Self 1: Oh, so now you're the arbiter of good fiction? You can't possibly know if it's any good. That's for them to say. And they'll probably hate it.

Self 3: Oh my God. I hate you both.

Yeah, I didn't say it was pretty.

Okay, writer friends: tell me I'm not alone. This is normal-crazy, right? Right?? Anyone? Beuller?

Friday fortune: Hope

I decided to try a different deck tonight from my usual favorite, so I chose The Mythic Tarot. Strangely enough, I pulled the same card as my first Friday Fortune two weeks ago. Unlike the Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg, however, the Star of  The Mythic Tarot augurs the usual interpretation of "hope," but through this deck's unique association with Greek myth, it has a bit of a twist.

Card of the day: The Star

The Mythic Tarot's Star depicts Pandora unleashing the Spites upon mankind. Like Eve, Pandora is the creation of a vain, paternal god, and like Eve, she is blamed for all the miseries of the world because she just can't obey the authority of the man to whom she's given as a bride when he gives her a simple order.

Does this bug anyone else but me? I choose to interpret the stories of Eve and Pandora a bit differently. I think it's pretty clear that the miseries of the world were there all along, otherwise women would not be the pawns and property in these stories of the battles between petty gods and foolish men.

Instead what these much maligned women represent is a refusal to "keep one's place" and an insistence on independence and the right to self determination no matter the consequences. Thinking for oneself is bound to include some mistakes along the way; if you never take a chance on opening the box of potential and possibilities and facing the mistakes and failures that might be part and parcel of the journey, you risk never seeing your brightest hopes realized.

As writers, we have to allow ourselves the bad first drafts, the darlings we may later have to murder as part of the process of perfecting our craft, the queries and submissions that will amass a pile of crushing rejections. Because only in allowing ourselves those mistakes will we be able to experience the joy and beauty of reaching for that star and discovering worlds we never dreamed of along the way.

So go ahead, open that box, eat that apple, and to hell with any critical, disapproving voice that tells you you're being foolish to pursue your dream. There's enough misery in life already without keeping hope buried and playing it safe.

Jane Kindred
Jane Kindred

Happy Birthday, Dear Blog

I just realized Tuesday was exactly one year from my first post on this blog. I was sitting down to talk about gardening today, and remembered my first post had been about gardening. And what do you know? I started gardening almost the same day last year. It was the end of a long saga of building painting and deck rebuilding on the part of my landlady, wherein I ended up with my "Solomon's step":

Solomon's step

I also ended up with a brand new deck I was told I could not water plants on lest the wood rot. San Francisco gets enough moisture from fog and rain that I thought I'd just let things go and see what happened. They did okay for awhile. Then my autumn depression set in and I stopped going outside and everything died.

NasturtiumsA couple of weeks ago I was surprised to see bright orange flowers peeking through my back fence and I went out to find that one of the planters I'd left out behind the fence to toss out had spontaneously sprouted a lovely crop of nasturtiums. So I brought that one back onto the deck and enjoyed the lovely color among all the dead things. Then a couple of days ago I spotted more nasturtiums growing in two additional planters that had been full of weeds. I love it when, as Jeff Goldblum's character said in Jurassic Park, "life finds a way."

Today I finally got the yen to go out and deal with the weeds and see if there was anything to salvage. Most of my succulents are actually thriving. My Betty Boop roses are beyond dead. :( But my little "unintentional bonsai" fig tree is still struggling along and sweet alyssum has popped up in several of the pots. I spent an hour weeding, and pruning down the rosebush in hopes that maybe there's a tiny bit of dormant life in the roots, and then watered everything.

I'd forgotten how much I love spending time in the garden, even if it's just weeding. It's a little like editing, finding all the useless things sprouting among the good and tidying it all up so the good stuff can thrive. You're still there engaging with the creation you love even if you're not actively growing it at the moment. And sometimes you'll find unexpected surprises, things you'd forgotten or have a new appreciation for. Maybe something you thought wasn't going to work out turns out to be a lovely blossom.

This weekend I'm planning an outing to a plant nursery to get some petunias and lavender and mint, little things I can plant around in the small pots on the deck to give it some color, and then I'm going to look through their roses and flowering vines and see what strikes my fancy. I'm hoping for a nice jasmine plant, and maybe I'll give the bougainvillea another shot (haven't had much luck with them, but I love the profusion of bright pinks and purples and crimsons I see in other people's gardens and can't quite give up on them). This part will be more like the excitement of starting a new story, choosing the elements that will be in it and imagining how they're all going to fit together.

And then along with those, I'll go through my seed packets and see what I've got. Then the real fun begins: putting it all together and watching it grow. At that stage it's "first draft" and I don't have to worry yet about the weeds that will invariably crop up among the things I meant to plant or the pests I'm going to have to deal with down the line when the garden is in full bloom. It's just me and the fertile earth.

Nasturtiums close-up

Flesh for fantasy

Lately I've been wondering how much boffing is too much boffing for traditional fantasy. Because right now my WIP seems to need a cold shower.

I've always had a bit here and a bit there in everything I write, but really, I'm not writing erotic fantasy.  I may even have erred on the side of caution in some of my books for fear of bringing too much sparkly-girldom into my fantasy, because heaven forfend my future fans upset the status quo at sf/f cons by having, you know, vaginas.

And yet even as romantic vampires are supposedly ruining conventions all across America, we have columnists like Ginia Bellafante in her recent review of HBO's Game of Thrones telling  us no self-respecting woman could possibly enjoy traditional fantasy, and that if we like it it's because it's been "sexed up" and we ren-faire losers are too stupid to notice we're being fed pablum to keep the boys happy.

Meanwhile, self-hating-woman columnist Liz-something of the Daily Mail tells all of us stupid boorish sex-positive feminists that women pretty much hate sex and only do it to get a man to take care of us. So really, HBO can't possibly be engaged in imaginary sexing-up of George R.R. Martin's writing to get women to watch, cuz we're all frigid. (Welcome to somewhere in an orange and avocado polyester jumpsuit in 1972, and grab yourself a valium and a vodka tonic because the last 40 years were all in your head.)

It all has me a little confused. Do I dance around the sex to avoid being accused of (gasp!) writing for women readers or do I sex it up for the hordes of Lifetime watchers I might be able to lure into the genre?

The problem is, I keep doing this silly little thing where I write what I enjoy reading. And right now in The Palace of Wisdom, all of my characters are going at it like they're at a South of Market sex club in San Francisco on a Saturday night.

But maybe it's okay, because Jacqueline Carey has a fabulous anal scene in Kushiel's Justice. Whether it's because women writers and readers are tarnishing fantasy's good name or not, it looks like the sex kitten is out of the bag.

And now as bonus post-script eye candy, and apropos of nothing, Maroon 5's Adam Levine seems to have a little something Belphagorian going on:

Thanks to the lovely ladies at Cup o' Porn for turning me on to this yumminess. ;)