In Which I Ruminate on Labels

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I've recently discovered SF Signal and can easily get lost in the Mind Meld column archives. I did some of that yesterday afternoon. In "The Directions Speculative Fiction Hasn't Taken Yet", one panelist's contribution really stood out.

The panelist is Diana M. Pho. She asked this question:

Are readers the ones who tend to categorize, or is it us, the producers and creators, who rely on labels more? Is it possible to go “labelless” and have readers find their own words to describe it?

I think the tendency to categorize with labels is human. It doesn't depend on whether one is a reader or an author. Humans have a need to create order out of chaos, for the most part. Labels, and genre labels, help us achieve this. They're the "keys" to finding what we want.

Case in point: The only real bookstore in my town is Books-A-Million. Several years ago they decided to do away with ALL genre sections and file everything alphabetical by author under fiction or non-fiction. I have no idea if it was a local decision or a national decision, but I can tell you it was a disaster. I think it lasted all of two weeks, a month tops.

As a reader, I can tell you it was a nightmare. Unless I knew exactly who and what I was looking for, no way was I leaving there with a book. Browsing around in the genre I wanted to read and finding something new was impossible. That's how readers discover new authors, for the most part, and that ability was taken away. Even if you buy most of your books on Amazon I'm betting you look through the "what other people bought" carousel. I do. I've found some cool stuff doing that.

Is is possible to go "labelless"? Yes. Is it desirable? Based on the fact that Books-A-Million is once again sorted by genre in fiction, and subject in non-fiction, I'm going to say no.

I think as writers and authors we can get too hung up on specificity in our labeling, because we have to do that in proposals and queries. Does it really matter that, to an agent, I label what I'm writing planetary-based science fiction romance with a space opera vibe? I don't think so. What does matter is that it's science fiction romance. There is such a thing as being too specific I think. But the inverse, not specific enough, is just as dangerous.

The better way for me to label my SFR is like this: Do you like Farscape and Firefly? Do you think Crichton and Aeryn, and Mal and Inara, are the most overlooked couples in science fiction TV history? If so you'll probably enjoy my flavor of SFR.

Now if I can only get it published... Plans are in motion to make it happen this year.


Meet A'yen and Fae

The story behind the creation of this universe is a very unique one for me. A'yen walked through my head in a dream the night of May 15th, 2012. I remember it because it was the same day my sister left for her vacation in France and the chicken drama started. (My sister "farms" for her hobby and while she was gone for three weeks a raccoon killed all seventeen of her chickens. One at a time.)

BBC via Pinterest
It sticks out for another reason too. May 16th, 2012, would have been my third wedding anniversary. The date that should have started the best period of my life instead signified the beginning of the worst two and a half years of my life. But that's a story for another time. Because on May 16th, 2012, I started the development process of what turned into My Name Is A'yen. I became a Whovian in this same span of time and inhaled seasons 1, 3, and 4 while she was gone. We hadn't yet seen Vincent and the Doctor when my sis went to the Louvre, so she didn't know to look for him and why his Sunflowers painting should make you cry.

IMDB via Pinterest
Originally his name was spelled A'yon. He informed me very quickly I was spelling it wrong. I could see him clear as day in my head, but was having a hard time describing his features to my crit partner. He's a humanoid alien. In an effort to show her what he looked like I began combing through every TV alien database I could find. I spent weeks looking for his face. Then it hit me. The Face of Boe, minus the tentacles and wrinkles.

Still wasn't enough though. I needed more to match the vision in my head. While catching Doctor Who reruns on BBC America they kept playing commercials for Copper. British costume dramas are amazing and it's set during the Civil War in New York City. Must watch! And there I met Tom Weston-Jones and his amazing blue eyes.

 If A'yen was human, he'd look exactly like Tom Weston-Jones.

Via Pinterest
Fae was a lot easier to cast. I knew she had bright green eyes almost too big for her face and black hair. She's Zooey Deschannel, but with green eyes instead of blue. Another writer friend snagged the image I pinned and Photoshopped it for me with the exact correct shade of bright, almost fake, green eyes. Which turned out to be an important clue to her real identity. I knew immediately she was an archaeologist. I wasn't ready to let go of all the work I'd done building myself as a historical romance writer. I'm over that now, but Fae is still an archaeologist. I have thousands of years of history to fill in for A'yen's people and I'm enjoying every second of it.


Stay out of my bubble!

I'm an introvert. Every person in my life will tell you that. I'm perfectly happy to be left alone for hours on end, with no sound whatsoever except the hum of my laptop's cooling pad. As I'm writing this on Saturday afternoon this is the exact state I've been in for the last four hours. My social interaction today has consisted of asking my mom if both the cats are outside and telling her I found an SFR where Russia is the dominant culture, and a thirty second conversation with my brother before he left for work. He's an extrovert, by the way, could sell a lifetime supply of ice and reindeer meat to a Finnish reindeer herder.

We introverts tend to be a misunderstood lot. People think we're weird, there's "something wrong" with us because we're not friends with every person we meet and we don't talk all the time or have to be the center of attention. We don't like being interrupted when we're engrossed in something. For some of us the idea of talking to people we don't know is downright terrifying. We're not afraid of silence or being still or the dreaded (to extroverts anyway) "being alone".

A lot of people, all of them extroverts I'm sure, tell us there's something wrong with us. I'm also a homeschool graduate and never spent a single day in a public or private school classroom. I'm very comfortable with who I am and mostly immune to peer pressure. Homeschooling provides, in my opinion, the perfect atmosphere for introverts to thrive. We're not drowning in noise. We can go off to another part of the house and be alone while we do math so we can think. People aren't constantly trying to talk to us and get us to "open up". I thrived in a homeschool setting, whereas in a public school setting I would have withered up and never discovered my creative side.

Because of that, many homeschooled children are introverts who are always being accused of having no socialization skills. Nine times out of ten it's a bald-faced lie. There is NOTHING wrong with a kid who'd rather read than talk about nothing with people who think he's weird or rude or aloof or socially awkward.

I'm a homeschooled introvert. I don't lack social skills. I simply interact in a different way. If I have my head down in a book or a notebook or I'm staring into space, leave me the hell alone! If I want to talk to you I will. Don't try to chit-chat with me. You'll get nowhere real fast. This is actually etiquette rule #1 for dealing with introverts: Don't try to force us to be like you.

For some of us, extroverts are scary. I'm not one of them, and at writer's conferences I do a pretty good imitation of being an extrovert. But I pay for it when I get home with a week of being totally, mind-numbingly exhausted and I stay locked in my room, emerging only for food and the bathroom. And The Big Bang Theory, of course. But I also know when I'm at writer's conferences most of the other attendees are introverts too. It's easy to be a little more outgoing when we're surrounded by people who UNDERSTAND why you drift off into space, or huddle in a corner, and don't force their way into a most sacred bubble because you can't possibly be having a good time over there by yourself.

What sparked this whole rumination was Twitter and the link to an article in The Atlantic, called "Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up At School". It's a teacher ruminating on her interactions with the parents of introverts in regards to class participation grades. What ticked me off was this:
This is no problem for the extroverts, who live for the opportunity to talk about their ideas. However, I also teach introverts, who live in fear of being asked these sorts of questions
Hmm. For a teacher who said she's read "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking", she doesn't seem to have really grasped the difference between an introvert and someone with real, valid social anxiety. I don't know a single introvert who lives in fear of being asked questions. But quite a few of us live in fear of others' reactions to our answers, or being made fun of because we have a different view of something. Public school settings are one of the most hostile places in the world for a young introvert.

Yes, students need to participate in class. That's how many learn. But introverts tend to learn best by reading or seeing. Not by talking. Instead of a teacher focusing on the fear of an introvert student, the teacher AND PARENTS should be making every effort to help the introvert be comfortable in the exchange. Talking about an introvert being afraid of something will make the introvert afraid of said something.

Thankfully one of the stories linked to in this article is another about Caring For Your Introvert. I love this:
The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books—written, no doubt, by extroverts—regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts' Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say "I'm an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush."
This is also pure genius, especially the third one:
How can I let the introvert in my life know that I support him and respect his choice? First, recognize that it's not a choice. It's not a lifestyle. It's an orientation.
Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don't say "What's the matter?" or "Are you all right?"
Third, don't say anything else, either.

To sum up I present the link to the best infographic I've seen in a long time.


Creation mode

Paired with my love of Star Trek is a love of old things. I love history. I love writing by hand too. There's nothing quite like it. When my dad jumped on the fountain pen bandwagon a few years ago it didn't take long for the rest of us to follow him.

I love my fountain pens. I'm up to six. The one pictured is my newest, a Noodler's Nib Creaper Flex. The color is called Lapis Inferno.

I finished the first draft of The King's Mistress day before yesterday, but this page of notes is actually from last week. The plot of #3, To Save A Life, is still simmering and it's not quite there yet. The heroine is still being tight-lipped about things.

Heroines do that to me. Every. Single. Time. It took 140,000 words across two books, plus an amazing class at a writer's conference last fall and a page of backstory notes for me to get a handle on why Fae is the way she is. You can't have a romance, IMO, without a heroine's POV.

The page of notes in the picture is on Jasmyn Jenkins, heroine of To Save A Life. Heroes tend to walk into my head about 75% formed. Heroines, sometimes I'm lucky to even have her name. Jasmyn has been a little different. Thanks to the tricks I learned in the above mentioned writer's conference class making heroines real is a lot easier. Jasmyn's creation is coming along, but I still don't have enough to start writing To Save A Life.

Enter Beth Harrison, heroine of one of the prequels, Worth Fighting For to be specific. I've had her name for awhile, but when I pegged her archetype Monday night she blossomed into a three-dimensional person. So that's the one I've started working on. It's going to be fun!