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Fun With Festivals of SheyKhala


Now that Serpent Heart is up, my attention turns back to final revisions for Sand of Bone.

Celebrations—when, how, and why—are fantastic worldbuilding tools that can give depth to a culture, move the plot, and reveal character.  The longevity of the celebrations, and how the celebrations have evolved over the years, inform us of the culture's values.  Whether characters partake in, shun, or are indifferent to the festivals tells us how well characters are integrated into the larger culture.

In the desert and delta of SheyKhala, where the upcoming novel Sand of Bone takes place, festivals mark the turning of seasons primarily through focus on close kin, neighbors, and the greater community.

The year ends and begins with the Feast of Kin -- the midwinter festival of family. Though jokes are often made about the different ways one could serve one's family members at a feast, the festival is critical for maintaining good will among kinship groups as they head into that time of year when close quarters and limited food supplies can raise tensions. For the days leading up to the feast, family members do favors for one another, and the most secret favors are considered to be the ones performed with the deepest love and respect. The feast itself, though, is geared toward indulging the children in all possible ways. Grandparents say the focus on children ensures young adults consider carefully what their nighttime cold-weather activities might engender.

Promise Days happen in the spring, when the seasonal rains provide the low desert just enough moisture to coax short and spiky grass to cover the sands between brush that blooms but once a year. The notion of promise-keeping is incorporated into the river levels as well, since the season's rains promise to flood the delta once the water rushes down from the high desert. It's also the time of year consorts decide to make new vows, renew their existing ones, or part ways. It's one of two festivals that include the ceremony to brand women and men as full Blades in service to the ruling Velshaan. (The other branding takes place during Shades.)

In midsummer, everyone takes part in Givings, which the cold-hearted and tight-fisted call the Mis-givings. Able-bodied folk provide service and work for the neighbors, preferably those less fortunate. (As you can imagine, there can be a snark-fest in determining who among one's competing 'friends' is more or less fortunate.) In larger settlements, Givings is the day set aside for civic duties such as field maintenance, road and wall repair, and sewage care. Moreover, every person must pass their evening meal to someone less fortunate, and will not eat unless someone more fortunate takes pity on them. The two groups most likely to go without an evening meal are the middling poor and the ruling Velshaan bloodkin. In fact, the Velshaan absolutely refuse to eat on Givings Day because they have only the gods above them.  Why the gods don't provide the Velshaan with their own meals is a subject of speculation only among those who wish to live a life of hard labor in Salt Hold.

Lastly, the welcome cooling of autumn leads up to Shades -- three days and nights of honoring and remembering the dead, and (supposedly) spiritual visits from dead ancestors or notable figures. It's understood ghosts don't really show up every year to everybody, just like we understand Santa Claus doesn't really visit every child's home on Christmas Eve. Shades is instead a time to reflect on past losses. It's considered wise to think of what you'd say to loved ones if you were a mere ghost able to communicate but once a year, and wiser still to say those things while living. But, as with our Christmas traditions, parents take advantage of the festival to instill behaviors and beliefs in their children. Parents will sometimes leave small notes or symbolic gifts from "ghosts" for children to find, and the final night of Shades is marked by costumed folk going door-to-door masquerading as prominent figures from SheyKhala's history dispensing advice and warnings.

In addition to the large festivals, smaller celebrations are more often either observed within families or smaller groups, or confined to certain occupations and such. There are feasts on the Dark Moon, when the nightsighted folk see the undimmed beauty of the stars. (It's a favorite among young people looking for excuses to spend the night away from family.) More ritualistic celebrations occur around the first pressing of olives for oil, the training of horses, the welcoming of new Blades into the ranks, and thanksgivings for salt and iron.

In more recent years, remembrances for the Woes have been added to the festival calendar. Officially, they are held to acknowledge the losses and destruction caused when the Velshaan warred among themselves. But they are really intended to both remind the people of what power the Velshaan can (or, more accurately, could once) wield, and remind the Velshaan bloodkin of what fate they could meet if they stand against the wishes of their family.

How much of this will make it into the final version of Sand of Bone? Only bits and pieces mentioned mostly in passing. Half the story takes place in settings removed from the usual cultural constructs. The sequel, Breath of Stone, more tightly entwines the cycle of celebration and remembrance, and the third (yet unnamed) novel downright depends upon them to trigger... well, to trigger happenings. (Shh, can't tell!)

But I know the festivals are there -- why some people choose to ignore them, why others anticipate them, and why still others will seek ways to use them. It's another valuable tool in this writer's Swiss Army Knife.

Serpent Heart for Nook!

Here it be: Serpent Heart

Serpent Heart Goes Live!

Woohoo! Serpent Heart is now available at these booksellers:




As soon as Kobo and Nook go live, I'll provide those links as well.

Publishing this one came with the extra thrill of discovery, since I spent years believing it lost forever in a computer crash. Not only did I enjoy getting to know the characters again, I can clearly see where the story will go in the next installment. Somehow I gained another series.

Strange Holidays

I am not religious, but celebrate the "big" holidays as if there were secular events.

But now that Dev is older, the rest of the family lives elsewhere. My single and non-religious friends -- the ones who usually shared holidays with us -- have likewise moved away. The majority of people I know in the area celebrate with their own family and strong religious traditions, and half of those folks believe their good churchgoing habits will eventually rub off on me and I'll be gratefully saved.

Considering all that, I didn't have much to do yesterday.

Dev, being a teenager with a day off, didn't want to do anything at all but hang out. So I put Gambit in the my car and the pup and I headed off to a nearby nature preserve I hadn't yet visited. After twenty minutes of walking in dappled sunshine along the creek, I realized I was grinning. Grinning and looking at everything. A few wildflowers, purple and violet, bloomed along the sunnier patches. Bare branches showed the tiniest of new green leaves. The sound of the creek and short falls covered almost every other sound. The only scent in the air was fresh.

And Gambit, who usually doesn't want to go first unless Ty is at his side, scouted up the trail with his little nubby tail held high. He even splashed into the creek shallows.

Pictures!Collapse )

Then I came home and made a huge dinner for Dev and I (and for the freezer), and essentially took the evening off.

So it ended up being a good day, though it felt all strange and transition-y. Next year will be different yet again, and the year after that likely different as well. My goal is to get better at planning since the past defaults are no longer there.

Women, Reviews, and Self-Publishing

I thought of writing a long post on the conversation about the visibility of women writers in SFF, but decided it all boils down to this: I am sick unto death of seeing articles and opinion pieces about the need to acknowledge women writers, from publications and groups that refuse to review and include and support women who self-publish.

The most common reason given for rejecting self-published works from reviews, sight unseen, is that there are just too many of them to review. By the same token, there are far too many traditionally published novels to review as well, so there is that. I get it. Making decisions takes time, and it can be difficult to choose which reviews will best please the readership. Thus it’s easier to set aside a single publication method as not-reviewable.

That reasoning suffers from two downsides. First, the policy cuts out the work of many women whose writing didn’t gain approval from a relatively small audience of editors, but instead found a great audience among readers. It cuts out women who decided they didn’t want to seek such traditional approval, and chose instead to control and direct their own work. It turns away from women who have found success outside the system that the diversity-in-the-genre articles are ostensibly trying to impact.

Self-publishing is empowerment; cutting its existence from the landscape of writers’ options, while pushing for greater visibility of women writers, is rather counterproductive if inclusion is the actual goal.

Second, the policy ensures the publication will be missing out on the broadening conversation readers are having with a number of self-published writers. It won’t affect those readers much, since they’re obviously getting their information from a variety of sources. But there are readers who are entrenched in traditional publications and reviews, and will not venture far from the familiar. Those readers will be missing out on the greater conversation as well.

Again, making decisions takes time and can be difficult.

I knew when I self-published the sort of attitudes I’d be facing from traditionally-oriented reviewers, publications, bloggers, and even other writers. To act surprised that I’ve found the environment to be pretty close to what I expected would be disingenuous. I’m simply pointing out a contradiction that troubles me.

The review policies on self-published works will eventually change, likely when it becomes apparent that readers are having conversations the publications aren’t. And when it does change, we’ll be starting the conversation on the visibility of women all over again.

Until then, though, I’ll just keep watching the policies that state a support for women writers, as long as they’re not self-published women, because those self-published women should stay in their own playground.

Well. I guess that became a blog post after all.

While you’re here, tell me who your favorite self-published women writers are!

This Is Seal


This raggedy creature has been in my possession for forty-two years.


Once upon a time, Seal had soft white fur, long black whiskers, and black button eyes. Once upon a time, his stuffing held his head up high and proud, and he was plump enough for little-girl-me to use as a pillow.

But years and years of being tucked under my little-girl arm squished all the stuffing out of Seal's neck. Whiskers and eyes were replaced over and over--always via a careful surgical operation after Seal had been allowed to fall asleep so there was no discomfort.  His button eyes were replaced by two or three different kinds of eyes, until finally the current ones lost their pupils. The fur wore away bit by bit, eventually becoming so thin and sparse, the stuffing could be seen in some places.

I remember pressing Seal against my face and screaming when strangers pounded on my window and told me to run because our house had caught fire, and I had to run outside to stand in the dark while my dad climbed onto the roof with the garden hose to do what he could until the fire department arrived. (The garage and its contents were a total loss. The firewall saved the house from fire damage.)

I remember dreaming about Seal, my companion on so many imagined adventures.

I remember putting my stuffed penguin on the opposite side of the pillows, out of Seal's reach, when I first learned seals eat penguins.

I remember wondering, when I was about ten, if I'd still care about Seal when I was eighteen, or when I was an elderly thirty.

I remember stuffing Seal into the bottom of my sleeping bag when I went to Sixth Grade Camp, because I still wanted him with me but didn't dare let anyone else know. I remember using my feet to move Seal into my arms after lights-out.

And today? Seal sits on a shelf in my bedroom, worn and raggedy and dear. When my nephew was here--a boy who loves his Lamby as much as I loved Seal--he met Seal, and saw he doesn't need to get rid of his best friend in order to grow up.

Now that I think about it, only my parents have been in my life longer than Seal, and they only beat Seal by about eleven months.

I'm not certain why this became important today. Maybe it's just the comfort of knowing something -- something good and sweet and loving -- can endure through damned near anything, and still matter enough to make me smile.
This article turned up on my newsfeed today:

Lawmaker Says Congressmen Should Make More Money

The guy has introduced a bill to raise pay, in the hope it will draw attention to the amount of money congressfolks are expected to accept.

So after I laughed until I cried, I wrote this:

1. Honestly, Representative Moran, if you can't figure out how to run your household when bringing in a salary over twice as high as the average American, I don't want you anywhere near the nation's economic decisions. I'm sure there are plenty of folks living in and around D.C. who'd be *thrilled* to share with you their strategies on getting by without a raise for a few years.

2. If the D.C. cost of living is an issue, I've the *perfect* solution. Institute Congressional Barracks. Since our military (the overwhelming majority of whom would gape at your wage-whining) has access to them, I see no reason why you shouldn't. It might make those late-night meetings even easier, too.

3. Along those same lines, your budget could be helped by instituting Congressional Meal Passes. We, the taxpayers, will pay for your lunch (and breakfast, if you qualify). And I'm sure you'll be pleased to know those Meal Passes will give you and your coworkers the same quality meals the government standards and funding provide to our public schools.

4. If, after all that, you're still not happy with your compensation, you can do what so many in your income bracket tell those who make less: Quit your job and find another one. Or go on strike. Either one will likely make life easier on the rest of us.

Miscellany with No Fools

I just put my father on a plane for home. He stayed an extra day to help Dev tinker with the car and to take him out practice-driving a little more. (The car is a manual.)

Dev's new car is now fully operational, and he drove it to work on his own for the first time. We are both excited about the freedom this gives us. No more are we forever tied to the intricacies of each other's schedules! No more will we miss our individual events because the car must be used by another! No more will I be paying for his gas! (Okay, so that one makes only me happy, but hey.)

Here's the pic we took last week:


In other news, almost no progress was made on the writing front since Thursday. There were simply too many other things to do, including spending time with Dad. But the novella shouldn't take more than a couple days to get into shape, as I've had plenty of driving-hours to think through the changes I want to make and how I want to make them. Not enough time, though, to come up with a new title...

Once the novella is out to betas, I'll start working through beta-feedback for Sand of Bone. And when that's done, I'll send it off for proofing and start on Breath of Stone.

Speaking of beta-readers... I feel bad asking those who have just finished/are still finishing the beta for Sand to pick up yet another piece. If you're up for it--cool! If not--that's cool, too! :) So if there are folks out there who'd be interested in beta-reading a 23K fantasy adventure novella that's fairly traditional, set in a desert culture, let me know.

But now, I've thirty minutes before I head out for tonight's teaching. It's women's-class night, so I'm looking forward to it.

If Self-Publishing Is On Your Mind...

... and if you're worried about doing it "right," check out When You Are Your Own Publisher over at Jaye's blog.

Don't let fear of making a mistake keep you from reaching for accomplishment. Mistakes are fixable. Far more fixable in self-publishing than in trade publishing. A certain level of anxiety is good--it pushes us to check and double-check, to put our best work forward--but too much anxiety leads to really bad decisions.

Working Away

I finished typing in the found novella a couple days ago, making little changes along the way. I've a short list of adjustments I want to make -- mostly fleshing out the world and giving the secondary characters a little more depth. It's nice to know I need not then go back to slash things I like for the sake of coming in under a certain wordcount. While I certainly believe work should be edited and tightened, I believe equally that tightening for the primary purpose of hitting a certain number can weaken rather than strengthen some stories.

My other goal in editing is to lay groundwork for future stories about these characters. I don't currently have any planned, but I certainly want to have the option. Besides, it's a good project and a distraction while I await beta feedback.

In other news, I'm greatly looking forward to Saturday -- the first day I won't have to teach, see clients, be on call to drive someone somewhere, or clean storage units since March 16. I'm a little on the tired side, but not yet dejected-tired. Dev and I are both pretty worn out from the one-thing-after-another months of November to present, compounded by crappy weather that made everything more difficult than it ought to have been. And, of course, I'm getting the urge to Go Somewhere again, but am forcing myself to wait until Wiscon.


Blair MacGregor

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April 2014



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