LaShawn’s Writing Project Status Update for February 2010

I missed the boat on creating my new year resolutions at the start of 2010. That’s because I was busy writing. Can’t come up with a better excuse than that.

So, Willow-wise, what have I been up to? I feel like I’m finally starting to pick up speed on the revision. Currently, I’m on Chapter 12. At first glance, it looks disheartening. Seeing that I started rewriting Willow in March, it almost looks like I did only a chapter a month–and with about 60 chapters planned, if I keep at that pace, it will be a long time before Willow is finished. The thing is, I don’t feel so bad.

I’ve said before in my Willow updates that I knew the first opening chapters were going to be hard. I would be basically establishing everything that would be coming after, and this included fine-tuning the world to be consistent and in some cases, starting a new chapter over from scratch. I believe I’m getting past that stage…the last chapter I worked on went much faster since the story was now established and things were finally moving.

I’m also perfecting my revision method. At the beginning, I just rewrote and rewrote the passage I was working on until I felt like I got it right. Now, I’ve been utelizing the comment feature in Word 2007 and highlighting areas that I feel needs more work to come back to later. I’m finding that instead of wracking my brain to come up with something right away, highlighting it give me a chance to continue working on the passage without losing my flow. And chances are, the right words will come to me later and I can easily plug them in. Now it’s just figuring out when’s the best time to do that.

So basically, I’m 20% into the second revision of my book. If I finish my short story for WOTF on time, then I plan to make April an "all-Willow" month, meaning that the only project I’ll work on will be Willow. I don’t have a set end date planned, but if I can finish by the end of the year, I’ll be happy. We’ll see.

And with that, I’ll lead into my short story status update. Back in September, I ran out of short stories out there on the markets. At the time, I decided to quick edit 5 stories and get them out on the market by October 9; I was only about to get four out: two poems and two short stories (I also promised to put up a progress meter; that didn’t happen.) At least I do have stuff out there now. I’m also hard at work with my next WOTF entry, which I have dubbed "Cotton Picker". I’m hoping to get it done by the March 31st deadline—and that’s coming up pretty fast.

The good news is that "She’s All Light" had been published and received rave comments and a good review. And I have another story coming up in the March issue of Ideomancer called "Future Perfect", which is actually the first science fiction story I ever wrote. This will be my second story published with Ideomancer, and I’m quite pleased this one made it in.

One final thought: I’ve been feeling a little burnt out on the creative side of things. So when Mur Lafferty announced on her I Should Be Writing podcast that she was starting a Facebook group on The Artist’s Way, I immediately jumped on board. I’ve always wanted to do The Artist’s Way, specifically the morning pages. I tried to to do a version of them on my own, but that didn’t last long. I’m hoping with the actual book and a community, I’d be able to get back into it. Feel free to join if you’re a writer or any kind of artist. Or even if you’re not an artist. From what I read so far, The Artist’s Waycan be used for anyone wanting to bring more creativity into their life.

While I’ll participate in the Facebook group, I’ll also post most of my thoughts on Twitter (my handle is @TboneJenkins). Feel free to follow along and let me know what you think.

And now, a word about John Mayer, because enough hasn’t been said about him. Seriously.

Before you say anything, yes, I know.

I know the whole John Mayer thing has been done to death. I know he’s a total idiot. I know that we shouldn’t take seriously anything what he says.

I know there are thousands upon thousands of blogs out there saying exactly what I’m going to say here. I know that what I say here won’t add anything new to the outcry, that there’s a good chance it will get lost among all the comments and the mocking and the boycotts and the suck-it-ups.

But it’s been a long time since I had a good rant at the Cafe,  and I need to get this out of my system so I can move on with my life. Because frankly, it’s bugging me.

Personal life detail rant to follow. Standby. Standby…

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A long time ago, I realized I was attracted to white guys.

How I came to that realization will have to be the subject of an different post. Suffice it to say, by the time I reached college, I was open to the thought that I would most likely date and marry a white guy.

Most of the family advice I got at the time was along the lines of "you’re setting yourself up to get hurt". And it was true—my heart got broken over and over again by guys who weren’t interested . My least favorite were those who were open to interracial relationships, but only wanted to date Asian girls. The worst? Those who were open to interracial dating, and then would proceed to point out—to me—girls they would like to date. "She’s cute," they would say, pointing to a girl walking by. Or they would talk and talk about some girl they met, how pretty she was, etc., etc.,

And really, all I heard was, "This girl is so much prettier than you, LaShawn. This girl is far more attractive than you. You’re a nothing, LaShawn. You don’t have long hair and you don’t have porcelain skin and you’re not slender. You’re not pretty, so let me just say you’re a friend and hey, let me tell you more about this girl that you’ll never, ever will be—"

And now, years and years later, here’s John Mayer. I already knew he was a jerk, but prior to the Playboy article (or the Rolling Stone article), I didn’t really care all that much, because I liked Room for Squares. But that article dredged up those same emotions of self-doubt and low self-esteem. Part of this could be that my church is doing a sermon series on freeing oneself from the past, so the past has been on my mind a lot.

What surprised me, though, was how upset I got over the interview. Upset and angry. At first, I was so upset that I considered tossing out all my John Mayer CDs. Then I posted a link from Salon that I thought adequately summed up my feelings. After I posted the link, though, I did a little more thinking about it, and realized, no it didn’t.

With all the images that are bombarding around us on what’s considered "standards of beauty", I’ve gone throughout my life ignoring those standards. They didn’t apply to me, and I soon learned that those who searched for those high standards weren’t worth my time. It took me a long time to figure out the beauty standard for myself.

I’d forgotten that in my past, while I knew guys who broke my heart, I also knew guys who really, genuinely liked me. And I did date. The past has a tendency to do that—dredge up all the worst parts of itself, but not the best. And one of those guys I dated liked me so much, he asked me to marry him. For the past eleven years, he tells me every day how beautiful I am. He ogles me, treats me like a queen, and does everything he can to seduce me into his arms.

Thinking about that makes me feel sort of sad for John Mayer.

He’s living the rock and roll life, and predictable, it’s turned him into a douche. Or maybe he was like that beforehand, I don’t know.  But he’s pretty much closed himself off to any black female relationship. Oh well. Maybe it’s for the best. Shame really. He don’t know what he’s missing.

As for me, I can honestly say that at age 38-soon-to-be-39, I have never felt more beautiful. Part of it is my hubby telling me so, yes. Part of it is also the locs, which, if you allow me for pure indulgence, I absolute rock in. But most of it, I think, stems from the fact that I’m a writer. I’ve claimed that as an essential part of myself, and it has given me confidence that I never had before. Or maybe it’s because I’m older. I don’t know. But I don’t need John Mayer, or any celebrity, or anyone in media, or anyone period, to dictate to me what standard of beauty I need to rise to. I find that in the gifts God’s given me, in my personality, in my health, in the way I take care of myself, in my laughter, and my love.

Oh, and my locs. Because I have to stress it again: I rock the locs.

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Personal rant over. Returning to regular blog.

Well, I had a post all set for updating things on Willow and my other writing projects, but that will have to wait until next time. Thanks for letting me rant. I think I’m going to give my hubby a big hug…and other things that cannot be mentioned here…

Book Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

I first heard of N.K. Jemisin when she wrote “We worry about it too” during RaceFail. I then met her in personduring Wiscon (for a rundown on that, see my Wiscon post).  I got to hear her read an excerpt from her upcoming book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and I thought: cool! A black woman writing epic fantasy just like me. I must read her book so I can crush her with my mad writer skillz get to know her works. And it just so happened that a friend of mine had an advance copy.  It’s not everyday that I get to read a book before it comes out in the bookstores. And it’s not every day that I get to spill cranberry juice all over it said book. This resulted in the embarassing act of me waving the book about in public while screaming, “NOT THE END! DON’T BLOT THE END!!!”

I was halfway through the book by then.

This is a good story. And I’m not saying that because I am unraveling her book word by word to pry out the secrets on how she made it so good a fangirl. In some ways, it’s similar to The Name of the Wind, in that both are nice slim books that don’t go overboard on setting, but gives you enough to spark your imagination. Both also contain young adults who have lost their families and must learn to live in a uncaring world. Both are told from first person POV–though I’m pretty sure if both main characters ever met…actually, I’m not sure what would happen. Instant dislike…fireworks…I’m just not sure ::surpressing the urge to suddenly write fanfiction::

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms tells the story of Yeine Darr, a young woman who is called to serve her grandfather after her mother’s untimely death. She is taken to the city of Sky, a place where the very gods themselves are forced to bow under servitude. There, she is named her grandfather’s heir, a dubious title since she has two cousins vying for the same title: cousins she has never met. Yeine must learn how to keep herself alive as the time for choosing an heir draws near…and uncovering some surprising secrets in the process.

Jemisin does an excellent job weaving these secrets into the story. She also does a wonderful job in incorporating the gods into the regular world, making them both powerful and powerless at once. Her characters are strong, from the childlike god Sieh whom you can’t help but instantly love (to your peril), to the very cruel Scimina, Yeine’s rival for the title of heir, whose acts are so cringeworthy I winced whenever she appeared on the page. And then there’s the oldest of the gods, Nahadoth, the god of darkness and change. Wild, dangerous, unpredicatable, trapped. Sympathy for the devil, indeed.

I loved the backstory of the gods and how they became enslaved as they did. I also loved how Jemisin used Yeine’s narration to get the story across. Whereas in The Name of the Wind, you had Kvothe narrating for an audience, with Yeine, you’re not quite sure who she’s talking to. In fact, you’re not even aware she’s talking to someone else until well into the story. Yeine’s narration isn’t as straightforward as Kvothe’s either. She stops, hesitates, backtracks, remembers things out of the blue, interrupts herself. In this case, it completely works. The reader gets drawn in.

There’s only one caveat I have with the book, and to be honest, I’m not sure it’s that much of a caveat. I didn’t get much of a ‘person of color’ feel from Yeine that I hoped for. Yes, she mentions that her skin is brown and that her hair is somewhat curlier than normal. It’s hard to tell, though, what her lineage is. I know her grandmother is described as white (as one can be considered as such in fantasy novels), and there are others who are related to Yeine who have brown skin, though it’s hard to say if they can be considered black (again, as one would be considered black in fantasy).

But then that brings up a whole other, older question: are POC writers required to solely write POC characters? I look at my fiction, and while most of my short stories prominently feature blacks (except for Christmas Eve at the Petite Bouchette), in my novel, at least one quarter of my characters are black. In fact, in my first draft, my main character was a white male. So, what does that say about me?

Furthermore, does it matter?

I found that in the vagueness of Jemisin’s physical descriptions, I was able to fill in my own details of her characters (if they ever did an anime of it, they should base Nahadoth off of Byakuya Kuchiki—that would be soooo hot!). And frankly, the story was so riveting, it soon faded to the back of my mind.

That’s the sign of a great story.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first book of the Inheritence Trilogy. This is good, because I want more. Lucky for all of you, it’s out now in bookstores. I definitely plan to buy a copy because I plan to dissect it even further I read it too fast and want to read it again at a slower pace. I rate this 5 floating cities out of 5. And I just can’t wait to meet up with Jemisin for the next Wiscon, just so I can tell her your book is too awesome! I must defeat you with my Willow congratulations on writing such an awesome book. Crush! Must crusssh!!!

I’ might also ask why it’s named a hundred thousand kingdoms when really it’s only really focused on a couple, but I don’t want to seem all nitpicky and weird…