The Shadow Sanctuary Receives the Liebster Award!

liebster award

I got a much-needed boost this morning when I found out the crew at The Dragon Blog had nominated me for The Liebster Award! In case you didn’t know, the Dragon Blog is a quartet of lovely ladies, each with a different writing specialty. If you have not done so before, I HIGHLY recommend that you check them–and their various works–out!

Thank you all, and I am proud and honored to accept this award, which I do hope will be the first of many.

Before I go on to name my own Liebster Award nominees, I will, in keeping with the rules, answer a few questions and share a bit about myself.

Question #1: Coke or Pepsi?

I really had to answer this question because I find the various answers so amusing. In my experience, whichever a person prefers, he or she finds the other one “too sweet.” I am a Pepsi drinker by nature, because Coke is “too sweet.” That being said, Coke is the ONLY choice when I’m sick, being particularly effective for migraines and nausea. And the end result is I tend to drink more Coke than Pepsi, because I’m not much of a soda drinker unless I’m sick. But I did have a craving for a Pepsi the other day.

Question #2: Favorite Monty Python Sketch?

There are so many, it’s hard to choose! Could it be “The Fish-Slapping Dance?” Or “Whizzo Chocolate?” Possibly “Australian Table Wines?” “Buying a Bed?” Or the “Church Police?”

*Falls into You Tube*

Oh, sorry.

Question #3: There is no Question Three.

I came up with a really brilliant and funny question, but I forgot it. So here’s a random picture of my bulletin board instead.

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Question #4: What are you doing today in another universe, if parallel universes actually exist?

Today in a parallel universe, my parallel universe self (who is in much better shape, less flabby, and more shapely than my this-universe self, although equally as brilliant) is rolling around naked on a warm beach in an isolated locati0n with the parallel universe version of my celebrity crush, who is mostly the same as the this-universe version, but a better feminist and devoted to me. And that’s ALL you need to know about that!

Something about me you probably didn’t know:

When I was a dance student in California in the late 80s, I worked as a nude figure model. My ability to hold a pose and my familiarity and comfort with my own body made me extremely popular. Mostly I worked for art classes, both at the local colleges and at Adult Education. (Aside: I really didn’t much like living in California, but at least at the time their public higher education system was AMAZING. I’ve NEVER found its equal.) But also, sometimes private groups or professional artists would hire me. It was kind of like being a rock star. I enjoyed it a WHOLE lot, and I wanted to keep it up when I moved to Colorado. But somehow it never took off for me here. I find it super ironic that a woman of my shape became a sought-after model in body-conscious California, but couldn’t find the same work in supposedly more open-minded Colorado.

A Story:

About ten years ago, I had to have my gallbladder removed. I stayed in the hospital overnight, and they fed me soup for dinner. My husband asked, “What kind of soup it is?” I said, “Cream of Salt.” He laughed so hard he fell out of his chair. I still don’t understand what was funny, but I put the exchange in one of my books (A Maid in Bedlam) in case someone else does.

Anyway. Enough about me. Time for me to nominate my own Liebster Award Winners!

(The Liebster Award is a blog-to-blog award. You can find several sets of rules here. Or you can make up your own.)

Drum Roll, please! The nominees are:

Sonya Craig

Jennie Davenport

J. Miles Wagner

L. Z. Marie

Check out these wonderful peeps, and tell them I sent you!

Male Privilege II: What Men Don’t See

A Twitter friend of mine shared this Buzz Feed article yesterday: 19 Things Women Writers Are Sick of Hearing. For those of you who don’t want to click the link, it’s a series of photographs taken at the AWP Conference. Photos of women writers holding whiteboards of things women writers hear all too often. I shared this link on my personal Facebook page when it came out, back in March, and it occasioned an interesting conversation between me and a (white, male) friend of mine, who is a professor of writing (among other things) at a United States University.

DISCLAIMER: I searched all through my Facebook Timeline to try to find this actual conversation so I could quote directly from it, but since it took place so long ago (by Facebook standards), I couldn’t locate it. So this blog post is based on my recollections of the conversation, rather than on me looking at the actual words. I stand by my recollections, because the conversation I had with my (white, male) professor friend is one that I’ve seen other women refer to, but one I’ve never taken part in. And it threw me, because my professor friend is another Good Guy, thoughtful and insightful. But he still didn’t see some of the things I saw. If I ever do manage to find the thread, I will, of course, amend this post as necessary to provide direct quotations.

The conversation revolved around this image, which appeared fourth in the list.

 

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This is what my friend had to say. Again, it’s paraphrased because I can’t find the related thread from which to post:

I can see how many of these questions would be annoying. But the fourth one bothers me. If she’s consistently getting that kind of feedback, she needs to look at her own writing instead of complaining about the criticism. It’s more productive to work on the writing craft than to bitch about people not understanding you.

The response rather jerked my chain. Here are a number of women stating things they hear over and over again, things they find useless and annoying. And instead of believing that this particular woman had a right to be annoyed and was expressing frustration at the patronizing attitude many women writers get from readers–especially male readers–who have not made an effort to understand their work because the writers are female, my friend immediately leaped to the conclusion that there must be something lacking in her work. Now, I have no idea who this writer is. The subjects of the photographs were not named. I don’t know her, don’t know her work, don’t know the context of the comment. But neither does my male friend. He had no basis for his comment that this writer needs to work on her craft. He just felt that, as a (white, male) writing professor, he was privileged to make it. Without even acknowledging that he had no context for his remarks.

We went back and forth for a long time. Because my friend is a Good Guy, whom I’ve known since high school, I tried to explain the experience of the woman writer.  How we face this kind of thing at every public appearance, with every public statement. How male readers and male writers–especially in genre fiction–judge us at the drop of a hat. Accuse us of “ruining the genre. Declare that we don’t know what we’re talking about, or that our experience and professionalism should be questioned because what we wore on vacation was “too revealing.

My friend responded with several posts about how, as a professor of writing, he stresses to his students the need to be open to criticism rather than respond with knee-jerk defensiveness. In fact, he said, even in his own experience he has had things pointed out to him that he did not want to face (namely, accusations of unconscious racism in some of his published articles), but he forced himself to re-examine his writing and try to see the other person’s point of view.

He talked about the need for the writer to connect with the reader and seek ways to make the work accessible. I talked about how women’s experience and women’s bodies are pre-judged as inaccessible and outside the norm because in our society maleness is the standard. He talked about being able to sympathize with a well-written account of childbirth even though he doesn’t have the anatomy to experience it. I talked about how people discount women’s opinions because they come from women, not because they’re badly written.

Do you see the trap I fell into here? It took me several exchanges to see it for myself. Because my friend is a Good Guy, I tried to tell him about what life is like for women writers, believing he would listen to me because he knows me as a person. Which is not necessarily a bad thing to do. But for a long time, I failed to address the main problem with his original statement. I got derailed with explanations and justifications, with defending the picture instead of calling my friend on the thing that had upset me in the first place. It took me several exchanges over the course of the day before I realized we were speaking at cross purposes. He thought we were talking about effective writing. And I thought we were talking about women’s experience.

When I finally got it, I posted this comment:

Look, I love you. But your male professorial privilege is showing. Because you have made an assumption about the quality of this woman’s writing from nothing more than a picture of her holding a sign with a statement of something she finds annoying.

His response?

I didn’t make any assumptions. Why are you accusing me of making assumptions?

So, I spelled it out for him. I quoted back his original comment: “She needs to look at her own writing instead of complaining about the criticism.” I pointed out that he had no basis to make this statement, as he had never read the author and could have no idea whether or not the criticism was justified. I told him that, to me, it looked very much as if he had read her “complaint” and automatically decided that she had not sufficiently explained “what the body had to do with it,” WITHOUT having any clue of the context or whether she did or not. To me, this is strong evidence that he had made an assumption about the quality of her work without ever having read it. Because she publicly declared she was fed up, and because he’s a (white, male) professor of writing who knows these things.

Well, he came back with, “You’ve supported your position very well and given me a lot to think about,” which I found a bit condescending, but accepted as the best response I was likely to get. After all, he’d made a tacit agreement to think about things, which was about all I could hope for and better than I get from a lot of people. And that was essentially the end of the conversation.

The lesson here? I think there are a couple.  The first is, posts like that one on Buzz Feed may be validating for those who already “get it,” and as such are valuable. But they don’t convince people who don’t already “get it.” They don’t even necessarily engender coherent questions and conversations, because those who don’t “get it” can’t even see what the problem is. And the second is, when people can’t see what the problem is, it does no good to engage in long conversations trying to explain it. As long as the eyes are closed, they’re STILL not going to see. You have to go to the blind spot. You have to point out the unconscious assumptions that lie behind the automatic judgment. Like, “A woman holding a sign is wrong.” Like, “All feedback has value.” Like, “A white, male professor necessarily knows what he’s talking about.”

 

The Writing Process Blog Tour!

Welcome to your next stop on the writing process blog tour! Sonya Craig invited me to be your host this week. Sonya is the author of the Outbound Science Fiction series. Her novels include OUTBOUND, EVOLVE, WATER DEATH and PAWN. The fifth book, ICED is coming soon. Space has never been more unpredictable than when Taiga Chavez and her fellow underdogs square off against the unhinged, totalitarian bullies of the universe.

And thanks, of course, to J. Miles Wagner, author, blogger, and book reviewer for starting us off.

So, me.

Who am I and why do I write what I do?

Hi! I’m Katherine Lampe, author of the Caitlin Ross series of Paranormal Adventures. Caitlin’s a witch in a small town in rural Colorado where she manages the difficulties that arise between the town’s supernatural and mundane residents. You can find the first five books in the series HERE. Book Six, Demon Lover, is slated for release 2 August 2014.

I didn’t set out to write Paranormal. In fact, I didn’t know it existed as a genre until someone else described my books as Paranormal. I knew about the Sookie Stackhouse books and the Anita Blake series and others of the ilk, sure. I’d even read some. But my brain just lumped those into a corner of the mystery genre and left them there. Besides, those books all involved vampires and werewolves, and mine don’t. It never occurred to me that the adventures of witches and shamans and spirit helpers and gods would fall into the Paranormal category. To me, those things are normal. More about this later.

Anyway, what I’ve always wanted to write is Epic Fantasy: the kind of “sweeping tapestry” of a novel that features momentous events and a huge cast of characters. I’ve wanted to write Epic Fantasy ever since I first read The Lord of the Rings (of course) in eighth grade (in the choir loft, behind my hymnal, during the sermon). And, except for an extremely derivative, 300-page, heroine-on-quest tale I churned out that summer, I’ve never been able to pull it off. I don’t have the kind of mind that’s interested in those huge plots. I like stories about people, and my books have always been character-driven rather than plot-driven. And the standard conflicts of Epic Fantasy don’t appeal to me, either. For years I tried to mesh my interests with Epic Fantasy and it just didn’t work.

Then I spent a year reading every Cozy in the local library. Without my intending it to, my mind took note of the similarities, of the formulas. I saw those simple plots—people solving problems in the context of their interpersonal relationships—as something I could do. So, armed with a fictional small town, some actual local history, and a few character names that began as an in-joke, I set out to write a Cozy.

I hit a problem almost at once. As my starting point, I had chosen a local building with a nasty history. Common wisdom was this building was haunted. In fact, I knew people who had actually seen the ghost. Great. My idea was to have my female amateur sleuth solve a decades-old murder and remove the baleful influence from the local bar.

Except. Except my female sleuth had other ideas. So did her husband. In fact, my whole fictional small town had other ideas. The case turned out not to be as simple as I had hoped it would be, and to solve it, or even begin to understand it, I needed magic. So, okay. I could do that. I wanted to write Fantasy, after all. I’d write a Fantasy Cozy. I decided to make my female amateur sleuth a Witch. Well, that also turned out not to be as simple as I had hoped, because I needed a good reason that this Witch didn’t just wave her hand and make the ghost and all the problems associated with it disappear. I didn’t want to go into that overused Fantasy trope about powerful people never using their powers because CONSEQUENCES or because having power necessarily implies you’ll abuse it. I needed something different. Something particular and personal to the protagonist, not some lame dogma.

It took me five years to solve the problem and explain the magic of my world to myself to my satisfaction. The end result was the first Caitlin Ross Adventure, The Unquiet Grave.

 

How does my work differ from other works in the Paranormal genre?

The most important way the Caitlin Ross Adventures differ from other Paranormal books is that they come from a Pagan world view. I’m a practicing polytheistic Pagan and have been for over twenty years, and I wanted my work to reflect my values and my ideas about the way the world works. I have read tomes and tomes of Fantasy and Speculative Fiction, and since I realized what genre I worked in, I’ve read tomes and tomes of Paranormal, too. One hundred percent of the Paranormal fiction I’ve read has come from authors working within a Judeo-Christian world view. Some of the Fantasy and Spec Fic I’ve read incorporates elements of Paganism, notably the works of Charles De Lint and Neil Gaiman. Gael Baudino, Diana Paxson, and Mercedes Lackey write Fantasy from a Pagan perspective. But there isn’t any Paranormal that does what I do, at least not any that I’ve found.

Why is this important? Well, when you come from a Judeo-Christian world view, you take certain things for granted. Demons have certain characteristics; it’s a given. Magic is limited by ethical and moral questions that just aren’t a part of Paganism. There’s generally a clear demarcation between right and wrong, and a clear line between good and evil. Now, this provides a handy template, both for the author and for the reader. Because the United States (and other parts of the world) is largely populated by those who, if not practicing Christians, have at least been raised in a Christian context, authors can plug in standard conflicts and situations without having to explain them in detail, and count on the readers understanding what’s going on.

Most Modern Paganism doesn’t operate the same way. My brand of Paganism definitely doesn’t operate the same way. In fact, a lot of the standard operating system looks nonsensical. This poses me a problem, because I have to find ways to convey a Pagan world view to a non-Pagan reader that they’ll be able to understand and relate to. But it also makes my work unique, because my characters constantly are challenged to make personal, situational moral choices, and the outcomes can be other than what you might expect. Since demons aren’t necessarily evil, a character might form a relationship with the local demon instead of automatically banishing it to the nether realms. Since there’s not a moral code that places human beings above other entities on the Earth, a character might, say, decide that the best way to deal with a human foe is to kill him. Or not. It depends. You never know. My characters tend to be a practical lot, and they don’t do a lot of moral agonizing.

There are other differences in my work. The two protagonists are married, for example. I didn’t write about their first meeting until book four, when readers were beginning to demand the story. So, even though the books are grounded in their relationship, there isn’t the same kind of dance going on that you see in books where the protagonists are trying on different love affairs at the same time as slaying monsters. Some people will miss this. Many find it refreshing. Also, I just don’t deal with the main tropes of Paranormal fiction. I have no doubt that vampires and shapeshifters et al exist in the Caitlin Ross world, but we haven’t seen any. And the angels, demons, and gods of the world are far different than those in other worlds.

 

What is your writing process?

In a stunning twist, I generally start with the title. The one conceit of the series is that I take all the book titles from songs in the traditional Irish and Scottish repertoire. (I was the leader of a Celtic band, and I produced and hosted a Celtic Music public radio show for fifteen years.) Sometimes I’ll hear a song title and think, “Ooh, that would make a great book title!” I have a whole list of these titles. A few of the titles came later, but probably 75% of my books start from taking a title and wondering how it would apply to a book.

With or without title, I spend a LOT of time doing what Neil Gaiman termed “composting.” I think about where I left the characters in the last book and where I want them to go. I think about where they are in their lives and their relationships. I write self-contained stories that include elements of series-wide arcs, so I think about those. Sometimes I decide on specific events. For example, after I completed the second book, I realized that Timber had rescued Caitlin a couple of times, so I decided I needed Caitlin to rescue Timber next. I generally have a beginning and an end planned before I start. The middle is flexible.

Once I’ve composted what seems like long enough, I just sit down and start writing. I don’t do a detailed outline. At most, I make a bullet list of major events and, sometimes, make some notes about ideas so I don’t forget brilliant stuff I’ve come up with before I get to that part. I write the book from beginning to end. Writing is the most linear thing I do. I’ve tried jumping around and writing pieces as they hit me, but most of the time that doesn’t work (although I did write Timber and Caitlin’s first sexual encounter about two years before I wrote the rest of the book in which it appears).

I do the first edit as I go in that every day I look at what I wrote the day before and adjust it as necessary, but I try my best to run through the first draft without major stops. This doesn’t always work. Two-thirds of the way through A Maid in Bedlam I realized I needed to add a character. I didn’t feel like I could go on to the end as if the character had always been there, so I went back to chapter three and inserted him, which involved a lot of name-dropping, a couple scene rewrites, and a whole different chapter seven. I do try to write every day, but I don’t force myself if it isn’t there that day.

After I get through the first draft, I do a pass to eliminate words that I know I overuse (that, just, really, etc.). Then I let the draft sit for a couple weeks and do a third pass to eliminate unnecessary dialog tags and make the whole cleaner. Actually, I might do the second and third drafts concurrently with the first, if I get stuck and I have a couple chapters stacked up in my second and third draft folders. When I’m satisfied with the third draft, I send it out to beta readers, and then do a fourth draft incorporating their suggestions (or not). And then I’m pretty much done.

 

What are you working on now?

I finished the third draft of book six a couple weeks ago and I’m waiting on beta feedback. I know pretty much where book seven is going, and I’ve written a few paragraphs of the first chapter. But I promised myself a major break after book six. I got my characters past a major event in their lives—which took me almost three years—and my brain needs a rest. Right now I’m working on promotion and building my following. I also enlisted a cover artist, so over the next few months we’ll be seeing new covers for books one through five. I plan to get back to book seven after the release of book six in August 2014. If my brain lets me rest that long!

And that’s it for me! Your next stops on the writing process blog tour will be the week of May 12th, with these authors as your hosts:

Jennie Davenport, an author of modern fairy tales and the paranormal, is a wife and mother of three boys. She is represented by Beth Campbell of BookEnds, LLC and her first novel, HEMLOCK VEILS, comes out this fall from Swoon Romance, with its sequel arriving in April 2015! Jennie is a lover of words, to-do lists, nature, music, and anything that moves her. She is addicted to caffeine and hates crafts, and her ideal getaway would be one-on-one time with any form of nature (but a hotel would do). Follow Jennie on Twitter: @may_davenport and Facebook: http://facebook.com/jenniemaydavenport

Madeline Dyer is a fantasy and science fiction writer, whose fiction has been traditionally published by a number of presses. Her most popular short stories, ‘The Power Of Blood’, ‘The Photograph’ and ‘Stolen Memories’, appear online, in magazines, and in paperback and ebook anthologies in aid of charity. Having had seventeen short stories published, Madeline has been working on a number of novels in the last few years. Her upcoming book, ‘Untamed’, a YA dystopian novel, is currently under review with several publishers, one of which has already offered Madeline a contract.

Melissa A. Petreshock is the author of Fire of Blood and Dragons, NEW from Swoon Romance.