Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Month: October 2014

National Novel Writing Month 2014

Every year since 2011, I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo, as it is affectionately known. Last year—yes, even in the midst of cancer stuff—I worked on two novels for the duration of November. This year, I’m working on only one.

I was originally going to write the first book of Autocrat’s Rise, which is set on Chraest. Unfortunately, I got about four plot cards on this story, and the characters all shut up. I haven’t been able to think of a way past this block.

So.

Instead, I’m working on a totally new concept set in a resurrected world. This story is a fantasy mystery: Jodalur Investigative Division: Case Journal One: Masks. If this story makes it to the end of November with any sort of word count above 10k, I’ll be adding it, and the world its on, to my Projects page here on the site. If it doesn’t get more than 10-15k, I’ll set it aside and let it percolate for a bit longer before taking it up again—and in the meantime concentrate on one of my listed projects.

In part, I’m using this Nano as an opportunity to try out a new genre. Writing a mystery has been on my Writing Bucket List for a while now, so I’m glad to have the chance to do it now. I expect, if it makes it to 50k by the end of November, I’ll be setting it aside once I’ve validated the word count. I’ll also likely be taking a brief hiatus from writing, if Nano does to me like it usually does and makes me sick of my work. For this, I’m kind of glad I’m working on something so different from my other stuff; it’s my hope that instead of not writing for a couple-few weeks after this November, I’ll simply set aside Masks and go to work on something else.

Choosing My Battles

I have a bill. From my old apartment. I received it in the mail on Saturday. It’s for the repairs and carpet replacement, since my deposit won’t cover everything.

Now, there’s a story to this. Part of the reason why I moved out of that apartment was because there’s no on-site manager. There isn’t even a management office in town for the building I used to live in. It used to be in the management office of another apartment building, but the owner of that other building decided to do something else for management and the company which managed my old apartment was ousted. Management for my old building is now in a completely different city.

We were supposed to have maintenance request forms on-site. They weren’t supplied. Management was supposed to be on-site once a week. Never saw a car from the management company parked on the street in front of my building or in the parking lot in the back on the stated day when we were supposed to be able to find them. The number given for the manager went to a fax line, and even after I called the company’s head office to get our manager’s number, she never answered her phone or responded to messages about repairs that were needed. Same for calling her bosses at the head office. Repairs got done only if the apartment was going to be inspected.

So I’d probably have a case if I decided to fight the bill, but I don’t care to. I have to pick my battles, and this would not be worth it to me. The stress incurred would kill me.

There are parts of the bill I agree with. Like carpet replacement. My desk chair destroyed the living room carpet in more than one place, and I know that’s not cheap to replace. And, yes, the apartment was left “dirty.” I didn’t see a point in going back to try scrubbing the mold/mildew in the bathroom. I’d been fighting a losing battle against it for about three or four years, and could never completely scrub it all away. So those two things I have no objection to.

The repairs? I just don’t want the aggravation of dealing with. It’s cheaper, in the long run, for me to simply make payment arrangements to cover the bill. I could possibly ignore it, but my sense of honor won’t let me. I want to pay this bill because, one day, I’d like to be able to buy my own home, and though the property management company couldn’t garnishee my income, they could give me a bad credit report.

Fighting even part of the bill would probably escalate this bill into a court case. It would be something big enough it would cause me to lose sleep over. I’m not the most eloquent person even when I’m well-rested, so I’d probably end up having to pay the bill and have court fees as well on top of it. My income is far too limited for that. I also don’t need the emotional burden, because fighting this without proof of my stance would throw me into a depression.

I just don’t need it.

Making Comparisons

In Forward Motion for Writers chat, writing skill is a common topic. It comes up a few times a month at least. And, pretty frequently when this topic comes up, a certain subset of writers will say how they wished they wrote like one author or another.

I try not to do this.

It denigrates my own skill, and I’m not interested in insulting myself. So I don’t write like some author who can turn a clever phrase, or write a beautiful line, or whose description is vivid and compelling.

So what?

I am not that writer. I would not want to be that writer. I am happy as myself. The fact is, I have some things I want to write—some things I think it very important I write. I could not write the stories I’m telling if I was writing like those other authors. My description may not be particularly vivid, and I may only rarely be able to produce a truly clever phrase, and my lines may not be the prettiest things to be written, but I’m pretty pleased with my skill. What I’m not pleased with, I’m working on improving.

And, no, I’m not saying a writer shouldn’t aspire to acquire the skill they see in the books they admire. They should. But saying, “I wish I wrote like This Really Skilled Author,” seems, to me, to be an insult to their own writing. It would be an insult to my own writing if I said that. It would make me feel like not writing—and that’s how these authors who I’ve seen say this feel. They seem to believe their writing isn’t worthy of admiration—or even being written—if it can’t possibly match up to what they admire.

That’s crap. They’re sabotaging themselves. They seem to be using their prose’s lack of beauty and compelling skill as an excuse not to write. If not that, they’re using it as an excuse to beat up on themselves and make writing more difficult to do.

The fact is, I could not write what I write if I constantly compared my writing to that of those whose writing skill I admire. I like the fact my writing isn’t as beautiful as some other writers’ words are. It leaves me the freedom of mind to write the story that’s in my head accurately. If I worried the entire time I wrote something about how it compares to someone else’s book, I’d never get anything done. My stories wouldn’t be mine, they’d be somebody else’s—somebody not-me and not-this-other-writer. They’d be an insult not only to me, but to that author whose writing I was trying to imitate.

Also, by not comparing my writing to other writers’ skill, I’m reaping the joy of discovering a sentence or paragraph that makes me gasp or grips my heart. I’m able to appreciate writing not my own because I’m not spending all my effort in my own writing trying to make my skills and gifts meet goals which I’m still very far from. I may one day be as skilled and gifted with prose as authors whom I admire are, but it’s going to be a slow process, and even after I gain that skill and gift, my writing will still be my own.

And that’s excellent.

That means I’ll still be filling a niche with my writing no other author can fill, even those whose writing I love to read. My life has made me a very different writer than any other writer out there, and my writing can’t shine and entertain people like it should if I tie it down in comparisons to other writers’ skill.

And one skill I probably wouldn’t have now if I spent all my time trying to imitate other writers, or wishing I wrote like them, is the ability, as one of my friends who’s read a number of my completed works has said, to “pack a lot of story in.” I rather like being able to do such a thing.

How Music Helps Me

I’ve always loved listening to music. I’ve even played/sang it on occasion, mostly to do with school activities like band and chorus. But I’ve always loved music.

Throughout my life, once I realized my love of listening to music, I’ve always done my best to have it with me. Beginning in the 1980’s, when the Walkman came out all the way up to present day with mp3 players, I’ve habitually had some sort of music playing. I listen to music before I go to sleep, used to sleep with it on when I didn’t wear headphones in bed, and am happiest when I can have some sort of soundtrack playing, even if it’s only one song on repeat and all I’m doing is sitting at my computer in my apartment.

After my breakdown, music became even more important to me. It became a buffer between me and the rest of the world. It protected me, kept me distracted from things when I went out. It still serves this purpose to this day. It’s something I need, sometimes a great deal, in order to face the world outside my home with confidence and at least the appearance of calm.

I have unspecified anxiety, and focusing on the music playing in my headphones keeps me from losing my mind and going nuts when I’m in public. Particularly in new places. Like grocery stores. Or at the mall. Places where there are lots of people who just might find something to say to me. I can’t explain just what it is about such situations which drives my anxiety up, but I do know that music helps me stay calm and reasonable. I’m able to, if I must talk to someone, move one muff aside so I can understand what the other person is saying; the music playing in my other ear keeps me calm.

Music keeps me balanced and grounded when I’m feeling desperate to get away. It relaxes me so I don’t get too tense or irritable with those around me. I can handle silence if I must, and I can be without music if I need to be, but I prefer not to.

I concentrate on different things at different times when I have music playing in my ears. This is to rein in my impatience when I’m doing something new or going someplace I’m unfamiliar with. Doesn’t always work perfectly, but I’ve found if I concentrate on some aspect of a song on repeat, say the beat, or the lyrics, I’m able to endure the situation I’ve put myself in better. Concentrating on the bass notes from piano/keyboard or synthesizer helps a lot, too, especially if those notes come at a slower tempo or less predictably than the song’s drumbeat.

I habitually step to the beat of the music I’m listening to if I’m on my way somewhere afoot. This actually helps in square dancing, because walking to the beat helps with the dancing. When I was a kid and went to roller skating rinks, I skated to the beat. While waiting for the light to change so I can cross streets, I’ll frequently end up sort-of-dancing if the change takes long enough.

I don’t know what I’d do without music to help me through my anxiety. Even though it isn’t very pronounced much of the time (I don’t require medication to control it, thank goodness), it does affect my life, and I’m glad I’ve found a safe, healthy, cheap way to keep it under control. There are so many other ways I could have chosen to deal with my anxiety—and most of them are in some way detrimental to my overall health and/or safety. It’s nice to know I have something to turn to if I get to feeling like doing something or going somewhere is too daunting.

17 October 2014’s Post

I did intend to post something yesterday, but I forgot. Sorry! I’ve been dealing with a depressive phase and night before yesterday, I’d gotten little sleep, which only exacerbated the depressive mood. I finally pulled myself out of bed at noon (after fitful sleep), but went to bed at around 5:30PM because I couldn’t stay awake any longer. I should be back on schedule this coming Tuesday.

Oncology Check-In

This entry is part 38 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

This past Friday, I had another Oncology visit. This time, instead of getting my Neulasta injection after the appointment with my Oncologist, I picked it up prior to the appointment. This is so I wouldn’t be stuck waiting at the hospital to have it injected; a nurse has to do it, and the medication is refrigerated to keep it fresh because it is a powder-gel combination so it works over a long period of time. There are three-month and six-month doses, and I have the three-month dose.

Nothing’s changed with regards to my medication regimen. My doc said what I’m on now is better than the Tamoxifen, though I forgot to ask precisely how. Before my appointment with her, I went for blood draw, for tests for both her and my primary care doc, but the hormone results take 24-48 hours to return. I think the VA either has to send the tests out to another lab, or it just might be because something about the test requires more time. Next time I go to the lab and see I’m getting a hormone test done, I’ll ask the process it goes through and why it takes so long.

I may contact my Oncologist tomorrow to see if she’s had the results in, and if I do, I’ll try to remember to update this post with the news.

One thing my Oncologist did say was that if this medication regimen isn’t suppressing my hormones adequately, we may have to look into surgery to remove my ovaries. I’m sort of half-hoping it has to be done, and half-hoping it doesn’t, and the latter is because it won’t be a full hysterectomy, and I don’t really fancy going in for the remainder of the procedure at a later date. Still, if it’s required, I’ll do it. The last thing I want is to put myself at risk for more cancer.

ETA:

During my Oncology visit, I also received a breast exam, which I’m apparently to have done every six months now. I wanted to mention this in particular because I learned a couple things which are troubling to me. One thing, which I’ve noticed in my breast self-exams, is that it’s impossible to press deep enough to the front of my chest wall. This is desirable because it enables the examiner, whether it be the woman herself or her physician, to feel through the entire breast. The main issue preventing this complete examination is the density of my breasts, which my doc places at a level of three or four on a scale docs apparently use to indicate difficulty/ease of breast examination.

When I asked if this was bad, she said that breast density—the denser the breast is—was an indication of the propensity of cancer (higher density = higher likelihood of breast cancer). My Oncologist went on to add that right now, there are no decided recommendations on how else to examine breasts. What I got from her explanation is that though there are possible other methods, besides mammograms (which she noted may not work as well because of my breasts’ density), which may work for discovering breast tumors, there’s a great deal of uncertainty about whether or not they’re actually even as helpful as a mammogram, never mind any more helpful.

Also:

My Estrodiol is apparently suppressed to a level which pleases my Oncologist, so it looks like my current medication regimen is working. Yay.

On Prologues

Prologues in fantasy and SF books used to be a pet peeve of mine. I couldn’t see the reason for them. Most of them I’d come across in my reading seemed to merely be history lessons or summaries of events which didn’t seem to have anything to do with the story. So I stopped reading them. Oh, I’d take a look, check out a few lines, then, if it seemed to be another history lesson, I skipped over it the first time I read the book. Sometimes, I didn’t go back and read it even when I read the books in question again. Sometimes, I never, ever got around to reading the prologues of books because I was far more interested in the story contained within starting from Chapter One.

Catastrophe did not befall Civilization.

I have a pattern. If it’s a book by an author I’m unfamiliar with, I may reread the book a number of times, but I won’t read the prologue until I’ve read enough other books by that author to trust their writing. Writers with whose writing I’m familiar, I may or may not read any prologues in their new books the first time through.

The rest, I still check the first few lines.

Because of the number of “history lessons” I came across in various genre books, I didn’t see a point in having one. Often, the historical stuff about a world/country had little or no bearing on the “present” depicted in the book. Just as often, when I finally did get around to reading the prologue, it turned out to be stuff which could have been included in the main narrative as backstory or other ways. In fact, the only book I’ve read whose prologue turned out to be pertinent to the story in an important way but which would not have worked as part of the narrative in the book and could not have been adequately or well-managed in the main narrative was that in Not Your Father’s Horseman by Valerie Griswold-Ford.

And that’s the prologue that changed my mind on them. I could see a good reason to include one in books now. Don’t get me wrong. I still check the first few lines, but now if it seems to be a history lesson or a summary of past events, I still skip it. Still, even these days, many prologues seem to be unimportant to the main narrative. Or unrelated. But now I’ve seen a perfect example of when and why to use a prologue in a book.

So, when I realized I had a scene that fit nowhere for one of my planned books, but it pertained in an important way to the main narrative, I was willing to write the scene out as a prologue. I may not use it, but I like knowing it’s there just in case I need it, especially since I don’t think much (if any) of the overall narrative will come from the MC (but non-pov) in it.

Sacredness of Life

Several days—perhaps a week or so—ago, I posted a little mini-rant on Twitter regarding the Sacredness of Life. I hadn’t slept at all the night before (took my night meds too late and second wind hit before they made me drowsy), and that was the topic my mind chose to focus on throughout the remainder of the day. I decided that day after my little mini-rant, I’d write a more in-depth post regarding the Sacredness of Life here on my blog. This is that post.

Tweet #1:

I think it’s less a case of “all life is sacred” than it is “my life is more sacred than yours because you do [this disagreeable thing].”

I think this goes for pretty much anybody who loudly and vehemently proclaims life is Sacred. From US politicians advocating the war in the Middle East to those who destroyed the Twin Towers in New York, to those who tried to murder Malala Yousafzai, right down to opponents of gay marriage and feminism and birth control.

They view their lives as being more beneficial, more entitled, or in some way more important than anyone else’s life. This is why the US still struggles with racism and will, even after all 50 states are forced to permit gay marriage, continue to struggle with gay rights. This is why women in the middle east will still continue to live under sometimes oppressive regimes—whether nationally, regionally, or in the home—and why we still have sexism all over the world in general. Those who wish to promote these regimes feel, perhaps not even consciously, that their lives are somehow better and more important than the lives of those they oppose.

Tweet #2

And it doesn’t really matter what the disagreeable thing is, it’s that it’s disagreeable to the sacred-lifer’s personal worldview.

If a person do something the majority or those in power deem disagreeable in some ways, that majority or those powerful ones will feel it their bound duty to act against it in whatever way they can get away with.

So you’re male and want to support the HeforShe campaign. There are men out there who will protest this, call you a sissy, pussy-whipped—whatever—to insult your genuine feelings that we need gender equality in the world. You are doing something these misogynists wouldn’t dream of doing because their lives are more sacred than any woman’s life.

Women who protest our cultural inclination to blame the rape victim may and do receive everything from insults to death threats from men who feel their rights are fundamentally more important than women’s right to say no. This is wrong. This is “the sacredness of my life is more important than yours because I find you disagreeable.”

It’s entitlement.

Tweet #3

Especially when someone bases their personal worldview solely or deeply or strongly upon a religion.

When someone brings their religions “faith” into this equation, things become even more stratified.

I have met some religious people who are extremely openminded, kind, and loving toward their fellow human beings—unequivocally. They’ve not differentiated or sorted people. They take people as individuals and judge them based upon overall behavior, and do their best not to blanket-judge groups for the disrespectful behavior of a few from that group.

I have met some religious people who are not so openminded, but who are kind and loving enough to change their minds when they learn something new about someone or a social group of people.

And I have met some religious people who use their faith as a basis, reason, or excuse to exclude, suppress, or kill people they don’t like. It’s as if their religious “faith” blinds them to reason. I’m speaking from experience here. Before I learned to accept myself, I converted to Catholicism, and I was, to put it bluntly, a hypocritical zealot. I claimed to believe in Jesus’s injunction to love my neighbors when in fact I prejudged people—whole social groups I disagreed with for whatever reason—based on my personal interpretation of what was right and wrong, basing those interpretations upon what I only thought Catholicism was teaching me. I based my opinions on “faith,” when if I’d been truly faithful, I wouldn’t have felt so threatened in my beliefs I needed to disregard and suppress everything else God was teaching me.

That’s why I write it “faith” for people who base their personal worldview on a religion. If they truly had faith, they’d be kind, and loving, and openminded. The best faithful people are.

Tweet #4

And I think, if you use your religious faith to excuse yourself for going out and killing people, you aren’t very religious at all.

If someone has true faith, they don’t need to exclude, suppress, or kill people who do things they disagree with. They don’t need to defend their faith. They live their faith and treat people with respect. People who have true faith are unafraid of being proven wrong.

Most of the politically oriented people in the US I’ve heard, often quite vehemently, promote the sacredness of life in some manner don’t support their claims adequately. They want to ban abortion and deny women birth control, but cut the social programs which would help support the women and children affected by these measures. They’re not willing to put into place a comprehensive national health care plan which would enable everyone who needs medical care for whatever reason to get it whenever they need it for however long the care needs to be provided. They’re quick to declare war, but slow to work for peace, either that of their own country with others or between two other countries.

And many (though not all) of these people base their arguments on whatever religion they happen to follow.

Tweet #5

Because, imho, if your life is sacred to any degree, the life of that person doing disagreeable things is equally so.

That’s it. If someone believes life is sacred, that means everyone’s lives are sacred, not just their own. If a qualifier is necessary, they’re declaring their lives are somehow more important or sacred than another’s.

Science Fantasy

Chraest is actually not pure fantasy. It’s science fantasy. If you happen to be a reader or writer who thinks this can’t be done . . . I’m happy to say, it was done before. Probably several times over, but the series/world I’m most familiar with is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series.

And I’m sort of treating Chraest the same way. Oh, I make reference to different things which make it clear Chraest isn’t pure fantasy, but they’re subtle until the third volume of TPOM. In the middle of Measure of Resistance, in a scene from Asthané’s point of view, I make blunt reference to the fact humans are not native to Chraest.

I had a great deal of fun writing that little bit. Had, in fact, been seeking a way and a place to make it absolutely clear humans aren’t native to Chraest. And, even after the other little hints (references to the hours of the day, the length of the year, naming plants native to Chraest) my blunt statement is still just the tip of the iceberg. There’s much more to Chraest and its universe than even I’m aware of at this point.

How did Chraest end up a science-fantasy world?

There’s a story to this development, and here it is:

I like to develop calendars as part of my worldbuilding for my fantasy worlds, and Chraest was no different. The last science fantasy world I developed, I meant to write stories from the natives’ pov, so I had complete freedom—in my mind—to do what I wanted with the calendar, and I had fun with it. With Chraest, it was a bit different. I kept trying to mash it into one of our years, and it just wasn’t working out. I could not, for the life of me, figure out why Chraest wouldn’t function on a 365-day year.

So, I decided to fiddle with the months. I was, to make it clear, in Forward Motion for Writers chat this particular night I was working on Chraest. I wanted to settle the calendar so I could use Aeon Timeline to list out the stories I had planned and a number of events and such I’d worked out in my worldbuilding over the course of TPOM1&2 and Stirrings (whose title will be changed once I figure out what fits better). I fiddled with the months and ended up with twelve—but three of them shorter than the other nine—and still not fitting our Terran year.

At this point, I made a frustrated comment about this issue in chat, and Zette suggested I play with the number of days in the year. At first, I hesitated, then I decided, Why not? and threw myself into it. I forget all the convolutions I took Chraest’s year-length through, but I finally ended up with a year-length of about 540 days. The first month of each third of the year is a two-week Sacred Month, and the other nine are six-week-long Secular Months; weeks all have nine days.

When I announced that I’d figured this out (and the resultant worldbuilding “facts” I’d learned from this process), Zette went on to say that perhaps the days weren’t 24 hours long. At this point, the knowledge Chraest wasn’t a pure fantasy hit, and I mentioned that in chat—along with even more worldbuilding facts which landed in my head at about the same time.

So I blame Zette, but with a big grin, because her suggestions opened up an aspect I hadn’t been looking at and made what I know of Chraest possible.

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