Flash Fiction: The Last Tokelauan

Tokelau is a very small country, halfway from Hawaii to New Zealand—tiny dots of coral reef in the vast Pacific Ocean. I almost went there once—when I sailed with my husband around the South Pacific—but the anchorage was too iffy. The atolls that make it up are Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo. The total land area is four square miles. About 1,400 people live there.

No significant land is more than six-and-a-half feet above normal high tides. Tokelau is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. Cyclones are devastating. They wash over entire atolls, killing all the vegetation and eating away at what little soil exists. Survival there is tenuous, at best, but it is where Tokelauans have called home for a thousand years.  They have the distinction of being the first nation in the world to be 100% solar powered.

More Tokelauans live in Wellington, New Zealand, than in the islands. They bring their culture with them, but their government would like to continue to exist. From a conference in Kiribati in 2015: “So the questions related to forced migration because of climate change and rising sea levels are also critical to Tokelau: we need commitment from the international community, .., we need protection for our displaced people, we want to retain sovereignty and our Exclusive Economic Zone.” The question to the world is, where do these people go and how do they continue to be Tokelauan?

I wrote a Flash Fiction story about the not-too-distant future. It is best read while listening to Te Vaka’s ‘Te Namo,’ from their first album ‘Te Vaka.’

The sun rises, at it always does, creeping across the ghost white rim of the atoll. Mele watches its magic turn the lagoon from grey to shades of teal, then returns to kneading her bread. Her gnarled knuckles ache, but the action loosens the joints. She misses the birdsong. She looks longingly at her old clay oven, but there has been no wood to fire it in a long time—and burning is illegal, anyway. When the dough is ready, Mele shapes it into buns—a real loaf would take hours to bake in her little solar oven. Everything has changed.

She remembers running, naked, down to the lagoon—te namo—as the sun rose. She was four or five. She helped her father push the canoe—te vaka—into the water. She was there when he returned, midday, with the fish they would eat for dinner. There are no more fish in the lagoon. When the reef died, the fish disappeared. The sea is too warm, too acidic.

The sea is also too high.

“Mama”—Ione returns from loading the cart—“what are you doing? You should be packing.”

She peers up. How could this middle-aged man be her baby boy? “The bread needs to rise. I’m sorry it won’t be ready before you go.”

Ione squats beside his mother. “We’ve been over this. There is nothing left for us here. We can no longer grow food. The ocean rises higher every year. We have to go. Today. The ship is here. It won’t be coming back.”

Seagulls squawk overhead. They must have followed the ship.

“You pack. You go.”

“Mama, a cyclone is coming. They think it’ll make a direct hit. The island hasn’t recovered from the last one.”

“I remember.”

“Then you know, we have to leave. All of us. That includes you.”

“You pack. Hurry now. You don’t want to miss the ship. I need to put the bread in the oven.”

Ione stands. “I don’t have time to argue.” He goes into the little concrete block house where he was born.

Mele turns back to her bread. The flour will last another ten or twelve days—longer, now that she will no longer need to feed everyone, so maybe a month. She wonders if the supply boat brought more. She places the tiny loaves into the oven and makes sure it is facing the sun.

Copyright ©2014-18 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

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Elizabeth Guizzetti’s “The War Ender’s Apprentice”

The War Enders Apprentice (Chronicles of the Martlet Book 1)The War Enders Apprentice by Elizabeth Guizzetti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Elizabeth Guizzetti weaves a delightful tale of wars, politics and intrigue across seven worlds in her new novella, “The War Ender’s Apprentice.” Her characters are engaging and nicely portrayed. I was especially taken with Eohan as he tries to figure out how to exist in his new world as apprentice to a War Ender. I went to bed, but couldn’t put the book down until I finished it. I felt like my child self, hiding under my blanket with a flashlight—I kept expecting my mother to come in and tell me it was past my bedtime. A fun, quick read.

View all my reviews

Tishta the Crystal Orb: Part 2 Revised Draft Complete

I am excited to have finished the revised draft “Part 2: Learning to Trust” of “Tishta the Crystal Orb.” It felt good to finish in only six days.

I trimmed fewer words—only about 800—leaving the word count for this part at 32,106. At the same time, the number of pages went up by one. This was primarily due to my continued focus on my new practice of making sure most paragraphs focus on a single character’s actions. If I had not trimmed  800 words, it would have gone up by closer to three pages.

So far, I have stuck with my decision to wait to record this draft until I finish the edits. It makes me uncomfortable. I may still choose not to release the book to my Beta Readers until after I record it and have a chance to listen to it. I need to hear what I have written before I feel it is correct. Listening really helps me find repeated words, characters who are out of character, and bad cadence. I also find missing or extraneous periods and commas as I read along. If you have not recorded and listened to yourself reading your work, I highly recommend it.

Part 2 still feels a little slow to me. It covers the characters getting to know each other better—and there are a lot of characters, on both sides. There is one major battle that results in a serious injury to one of the warriors, but the real action does not start until part 3. What I mean is, that is when a couple of big battle scenes take place and things get really serious. I like the relationship building—and part 2 contains the start of Gentu and Coltan’s love affair, complete with a couple of sex scenes—but I like battle scenes the best. Go figure. I guess that is why I do not write romance novels.

It has been fun to come upon scenes I do not remember writing—they were added during the second draft—since I have so many of the original ones memorized (or nearly so—a lot has changed since the first draft). With some of them, I will need to hear the story again to determine if they should stay or get deleted. Feedback from Beta Readers and a potential edit by an editor will be more useful—I like all of my words, so find it difficult to delete them. Although I have done a fair amount of shortening scenes, I have not deleted any completely.

As soon as I finish, I plan to release a Beta to my Beta Readers. If you’re interested in helping with this, let me know at TheWolfDreamBooks@gmail.com, and I’ll add you to the list. The work for you would be to read the book in a timely manner and give me feedback. The reward will be eternal gratitude and an autographed copy (if and when a physical book is produced), or maybe a signed special edition of the final ebook.

“Part 3: Travels and Battles” is around 30% longer than part 2. Hopefully, I will get through it in a week. The end of September will be here before we know it, and I hope to be through this revision by then. Back to work.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Two Hour Transport – August 23, 2017

Last night, at Two Hour Transport, we had the pleasure of hearing Seattle author Nancy Kress read from her newly-released book, “Tomorrow’s Kin,” based on her Nebula-winning novella, “Yesterday’s Kin.” It was an intriguing introduction to a story about an alien invasion—they set up housekeeping right in New York Harbor. It’s always exciting to hear an author give voice to her story.

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The second guest reader was Evan J. Peterson. He read a delightfully weird short story, “Investment Opportunity,”—which will be included in “Unspeakable Horror 2”—about a scientist who gets sucked into an experiment. I have heard Peterson read other stories—they are always full of surprises.

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The open-mic readers included J. G. (Joe) Follansbee, who read from his new novelette, “The Mother Earth Insurgency;” Edith Follansbee, whose spin on the Cinderella fairy tale had everyone chuckling; Tod McCoy; Anaea Lay; and several others, including me. I read the scene, “Eclipse,” from my novel, “Tishta the Crystal Orb.” It seemed appropriate, given the eclipse on Monday.

Two Hour Transport happens each month on the fourth Wednesday at Cafe Racer. Host Theresa J Barker keeps the atmosphere warm and nurturing—a great place to practice reading to an audience, to share your stories, and to get to know other writers in the Seattle SciFi and Fantasy community.

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Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Tishta the Crystal Orb: Invasion

Whew! Another slog to finish chapter 27 of “Tishta the Crystal Orb.” I spent a large part of my writing time going to NorWesCon40 last weekend, so spent it listening instead of writing. I believe these events are well worth the time. During my edit of “Invasion,” I made many changes to the last chapter, “Denalton,” to tie the two together. I probably added more new stuff to “Denalton” than I did to “Invasion”—although the current chapter required all its editing.

The new writing has been fun, but challenging, to add to the story. There have been some new interactions within the main group, but the biggest part in these chapters was adding a lot more story around one of the Dark Wizards, Baldru, who has been hounding them.

Working from some notes, I added a totally new character—an apprentice for Baldru, called Keldra—as well as giving some more personality and description to a couple of other wizards that work with him. Keldra surprised me by turning out to be a girl—in this world, girls don’t tend to be very powerful as wizards, usually becoming witches, which is a totally different thing. Baldru looks right past that. She can conjure demons, just like him. He is ecstatic. They were featured in two new scenes.

I knew Baldru kidnapped Gentu, but not how he pulled it off. When Keldra joined the story, I found the answer. With Keldra joining his forces, Baldru can put up quite an army of demons. This will help towards the end of the book, where Criften and Baldru get into it—but, that’s getting ahead of myself.

In “Invasion,” I expanded Coltan’s interest and concern over Gentu. In the original draft, after Gentu goes off to be with Maglin—due to his injury with the poisoned dagger—Coltan didn’t do much grieving. It was something my editor, Anne Bean, found lacking. I’ve added quite a bit about it in this version. It helps that I also added Criften’s communications wth his allies, Maglin and Eido. Coltan now regularly checks in with Criften to see if Gentu is getting any better. He’s also very upset when he finds out he was kidnapped. I think it adds a lot to his story, and to the story in general. Gentu’s rescue is becoming a larger plot point and I have plans for it to interfere with Coltan’s judgment.

A fun scene that I added to this chapter was “Not Your Servant.” In it, I show the interaction between the god, Rindahl—currently inhabiting the body of a young boy—chastising his wizard, Anakru, after he sends him on a task.

Anakru turned to Rindahl. The god held his eyes. His orotund voice shook the wizard.
“I am not your servant to bow to your beck and call.”

I like the incongruity of the apparent young boy having a deep, resounding god’s voice. Even the choice of the vessel in which to make himself corporeal is telling. When gods inhabit humans—or whatever—in my world, they can’t just pick anyone they want. It’s someone weak, and it’s difficult for their wizards to keep them there. This is also true for Rahl. Baldru works hard to keep the god in the eunuch’s body, and he can only maintain him in Gentu for short periods of time.

It’s demanding to keep track of all my characters and what rules apply to them in this world. I keep copious notes. I write backstories. I try to ensure that if a character comes from the same region as another character, that they share similar names, physical traits, customs and speech patterns. I work way ahead in the series to ensure the things I know are going to happen will still make sense when we get there. I don’t know how much other writers do this. I always knew this would be an epic story, so have taken great care with it. I’ve heard stories about publishing a first book in a series and then abandoning the series because some key point was overlooked in the first book. I am doing everything possible, within some constraints—time being the most crucial one—to make certain that doesn’t happen to my story.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

NorWesCon 40: Over the Hills and Far Away

I spent all day yesterday, April 14, in writer’s panels and workshops at Norwescon 40. It was intense and exhausting, but time well-spent. I attended three workshops, seven panels and a reading in the twelve hours I was there. Except for an hour break to eat a burger at six, I was in meeting rooms all day.

I got a late start and arrived at the DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport, in SeaTac, Washington, just before ten. The parking lot was full, and, rather than go looking for parking elsewhere, I did valet parking. It cost $30—I’ll plan better next time. The hotel is a great venue for the conference, with lots of rooms for the panels and other attractions. The location is good for folks flying in—it is right across the street from SeaTac International Airport—but a little inconvenient for people getting there from Seattle. It would take nearly an hour-and-a-half for me to use public transportation to get there—versus twenty-five minutes by car—requiring transferring in downtown Seattle from the bus to light rail, then walking a fair distance once I got to SeaTac. I sometimes think the transit system is rigged in favor of forcing people to use cabs or Uber instead of mass transit to get to the airport.

I arrived at the conference checkin just in time to get my ID before my first panel started. Checkin was a breeze—I had printed and signed my consent form before arriving—with a very short wait in line. After another quick stop to confirm my workshops, I found my way to the conference rooms.

“Story Form, and the Pros and Cons of Each” was my first panel. It was moderated by Mark Teppo. The rest of the panel included Caroline M. Yoachim, Peter Orullian, Nancy Kress and Esther Jones. The discussion was about different forms of narrative fiction—novel, flash, short story, novelette—and how they are similar or different. One of the points everyone agreed on—no matter the length of the story—was that the ending is very important, so put a fair amount of work into it. The beginning is also very important. Everyone agreed you need to pull the reader in, pretty much immediately. You’ve got three paragraphs to hook the reader (or agent), or they’ll move on to something else.

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At eleven, I attended my first workshop, “Escaping the Cage – Write a Short Story”, with Patrick Swenson. It was an intense hour going through several exercises that are meant to set the stage, provide a middle and follow through to a conclusion, for a short story—all within an hour. “The Cage” refers to the predicament plaguing your character at the start of the story. We spent five minutes writing this before moving on to “The Escape,” where we wrote for another ten minutes about how the character makes a first attempt to get out of “The Cage.” The first attempt is a miserable failure and might even make things worse. “The Quest” comes next, with fifteen minutes of challenges and learning, including another failed attempt to solve the problem presented in “The Cage.” In part four, “The Dragon,” the hero comes face-to-face with the problem and has the know-how to kill it, either figuratively or literally. We took twenty minutes to complete this. As a wrap-up, we spent the final five minutes on “Home,” where the hero is validated at a homecoming—the awards ceremony at the end of the first Star Wars movie is the perfect example of this. I ended this workshop with a skeleton of a short story about a character I am going to add in the third of The Wolf Dream Books. It is by no means complete, but I will flesh it out and, hopefully, make it into a real short story. I haven’t figured those out yet, so this workshop gave me some tools to make progress there.

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My noon hour was spent in another workshop, “Fear and Writing in Les Genres,” presented by my friend, Evan J. Peterson. Evan writes a lot of speculative fiction, including a lot of horror. His about-to-be-published book, “PrEP Diaries,” is decidedly non-fiction—in it, he describes how PrEP is changing what it means to have safe sex. He moderates “Shriek: Women in Horror,” that explores the roles of women in horror films. He co-moderates the monthly film series with Heather Marie Bartels at Naked City Beer. In the workshop, he explored the “Three Levels of Scare”—attributed to Stephen King—Easiest – revulsion, gore, torture; Intermediate – actual horror, that moment when what you were afraid would happen, is happening, or confronting the fear thing; and Most Difficult – suspense, or horror not yet faced (being chased or whatever). After some discussion around what type of horror an author is trying to present, based on which audience is being engaged, we moved on to some examples of very short works. This was followed by a couple of exercises that helped the students come to grips with their own fears about writing. This workshop segued into the next panel nicely.

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In “Horror’s Role in Perpetuating Fear of the Other,” Arinn Dembo moderated a panel, which included Tegan Moore, J. F. High, Evan J. Peterson and Jason Bourget, in a discussion about how minorities—of all kinds, including racial, religious, disabled— have been portrayed in horror as the evil. This has been done both openly and through metaphor and allegory, to create an Us vs. Them narrative. The panel talked about how that has rippled out into a larger cultural narrative. The often mentioned “Get Out” is a new horror film that turns this upside-down, portraying the Black person as the victim, and the whites as crazy, evil monsters. Kudos to writer/director Jordan Peele for the care he took in the making of this film. All the panelists agreed that, when writing horror, great care should be taken to not perpetuate the tropes and stereotypes that have been used in the past.

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My third writing workshop, “Diversity and Narrative Voice” was with Nisi Shawl. She is a well-known author and writing teacher—see WritingTheOther.com for current classes—whose debut novel Everfair, is a finalist for the 2016 Nebula Award. For the discussion, she introduced the things that define “other”—Race, Orientation, Age, Ability, Religion, and Sex (gender). These are the elements of character to consider when writing about a character that is not “the unmarked state,” which is to say the dominant paradigm. In general terms, this implies white, but could also mean male, age twenty-five to forty, christian—whatever the “default” image the general audience would assume. The narrative voice is also a consideration when writing about “the other.” It is usually written in our culture’s “unmarked state.” Be mindful to ensure that this voice conveys and facilitates the inclusionism you want to portray. As an exercise, students wrote a scene based on a photograph, first from the perspective of one of the characters in their work in progress, then from either a different character or from the original character with one or more of their defining factors changed, e.g., a young man, then an elderly woman. I noticed the scene perspective changed drastically from my vampire seeing the location in my photo, to my little girl experiencing the same place at the same time.

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“Shady Characters” was a fun panel. Besides moderator Raven Oak, the panel included Kat Richardson, Tod McCoy and PJ Manney. In it, we discussed what goes into the creation of scoundrels, tricksters and rogues, and why they are fan favorites. In general, a writer needs to be careful not to make the hero too “clean.” All characters have flaws, so don’t leave them out. They add complexity and conflict to the character and to the story. One example of this was Princess Leia in the original Star Wars movie. The panelists agreed she would have been a lot more interesting if she had at least one flaw. An interesting part of the discussion was around whether the scoundrel is being  malicious or selfish, or if he believes his actions are necessary, whether or not he considers them “good.” All characters believe they are the hero.

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“Writing LGBTQ Characters in the Post-Patriarchy” was my next panel. It was moderated by Dean Wells. The panelists were Evan J. Peterson, Sienna Saint-Cyr and John (J.A.) Pitts. It was an interesting discussion around the rather sudden influx of “the other” in modern media, including writing, stage, film, television, ads and, to a lesser degree, comic books. The panel suggested it might be partly due to societal changes, but also changes in media, which have allowed unbridled creativity and access to media on the internet. Early instances of inclusion were noted to have presented those outside the norms of the last century as clowns or villains, but today, those same characters have become part of the fabric of storytelling. They are simply part of the story and might even occupy the coveted position of main protagonist.

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I decided to take a break from characters to attend “Outlining for Pantsers.” Manny Frishberg moderated the panel which also included Evan J. Peterson, Jude-Marie Green, John (J.A.) Pitts. It was interesting to me that the three panelists who don’t regularly outline before they write all expressed a desire to try to do so more often, and the one who always outlines, Pitts, wanted to do less of it. I am definitely a pantser, but perhaps my lack of outlining can be forgiven, since I am so new to the art of writing. I understood all the reasons Pitts gave for why outlining is a good practice. He comes up with a beginning and a solid ending (of course, this could change), and then plans out where the major plot points should occur. Then, he fills in some details about each one, develops  characters, and creates the world. It seems like a good way to go and I might try it sometime. The other writers had practices similar to mine—although they all have a lot more experience in story structure than I do—and come up with an idea, start writing, see where it takes you, come up with a likely conclusion, then just fill in things as they come. This process, in my own writing, was wonderful for me—to see the story unfold before my eyes. Now, I am learning what parts of the story are missing. Editing the first draft has been a long and arduous process. Outlining might help some of this.

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My final panel was “Diversity 101,” moderated by Sheye Anne Blaze. The other panelists were J. F. High and Evan J. Peterson. This was more about educating people about diversity, in general, as opposed to a discussion about how diversity appears in media. Both Blaze and High are Indigenous people, and both talked about their own experiences of not seeing people like themselves portrayed in media—and, if film characters were Indigenous, they were almost exclusively portrayed by white actors, some great examples of which are Johnny Depp’s portrayals of both Raphael in “The Brave” and of Tonto in “The Lone Ranger.” This led to more talk about appropriation of culture. Interesting to me, some of the audience weren’t familiar with this concept. The panel moved on to women, briefly, then to gender and sexual orientation. Again, an audience member was unfamiliar with some of the terms, such as cis. Since both Blaze and Peterson are not cis, they were able to talk about the issues of being part of “the other” in this regard. It was a good, safe place for people to share what they had experienced with others who were looking for the information.

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When J. F. High told us he was doing a reading just after my last panel, I decided to stay for a while longer to hear him read. He was originally planning to read something more current, but the recent events in Standing Rock—where ancestral bones were intentionally bulldozed—had shaken him. He decided to share his short story, “NDN Bones,” which is part of the Spring 2016 “Hot Mess” anthology. I’m glad I stayed. His story is about communing with ancestral bones. I could hear the emotion and respect in his voice as he read. It was a moving experience.

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I had a great day at Norwescon. It was my first time attending this conference. I wish I had the time to go again today and tomorrow, but family calls. If you’ve never been, try to make it out there before they wrap up tomorrow afternoon.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Tishta the Crystal Orb: First Step Into Part Four

This was a really tough month for me, in a number of ways that all seemed to interfere with reviewing and adding to “Chapter 21 – South to Colmaria” of “Tishta the Crystal Orb.” It’s no coincidence that I started having a lot of distractions after I finished the previous chapter on January 20. That was the day a majority of the distractions started—and they haven’t let up, I’ve just learned to integrate them into my life and manage them. It’s not that I haven’t been reading—a lot—or writing. It’s just that the reading hasn’t been of SciFi or Fantasy—although a lot of what has been going on seems much like dystopian SciFi—and the writing has been either in Facebook posts—mostly in private or secret groups—or on my personal blog, or in my new diary.

It has taken a lot of effort to assimilate the goings on of the new administration without normalizing it—because, it is not normal. I suppose it could be considered fodder for future writings. I have to look on the bright side.

Along the way, I tried to write. The first week was a total loss. I was a deer in the headlights. I went to marches and rallies, I called my congress people, and I read and read and read. I learned which news sources I think I can trust, which ones lean left and right, and how far. I used up all the free views on all the major newspaper feeds—The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Seattle Times, to name just a few—and discovered other, online-only sources including Dan Rather’s Facebook feed and another one called News And Guts. Entirely too much information to ingest in such a short period of time.

The second week, I closed the Facebook tab on my browser except during meals. That weaned me from the addiction. I didn’t want to shut it out completely because it has become my primary source of news, and there has been a lot to keep up with. I am still using that as a tactic when I start spending too much time there. I thought Twitter was an equal issue, but found I don’t need to close that tab. I use its Trends to key me into what might be interesting, but it isn’t near the draw that my Facebook newsfeed is.

I started spending more time writing. My writing. On Tishta. It turned out that I had a lot to add to the previous chapter, as well as this new one. I didn’t have anything about Toran and Gillan’s handoff of Gentu to Maglin in the first draft—Maglin was just a character Criften talked about occasionally, and Gentu just disappeared after he left the group. After I added the second witch, Inla, it gave me the opportunity to resolve an issue I wasn’t sure about—how and when Gentu would end up in Mondar—and Inla being close to the border makes that easier now.

I also didn’t deal with the grief of Contara’s death in the first draft and I added some more about that to both chapters, including a new scene between Malcan and Brant where the boy asks what happens after someone dies. I showed—instead of telling about—Coltan’s grief at Gentu leaving, including his distraction while teaching the children and his not paying attention to how tired the other adults were becoming. Some of the descriptions I added, especially about the magics Criften uses to stabilize Gentu, I am quite pleased with. When I read the new scene that exposes this at Two Hour Transport last week, I got a good response from the audience, and comments afterward. I think I got that one right.

Overall, I am adding a lot more interactions between characters, and showing their increasing concern for each other. I like this part of writing. It exposes more about the characters and allows their little community to grow stronger as they help each other through some pretty tough times. They are going to need that strong bonding to get them through what is to come.

Although I still have outstanding notes on this chapter I will need to resolve, I’m ready to call it good enough for now, and to move on to the next chapter. I will definitely come back to this one to make some additions, but I need to see what happens next with some of the characters to better understand what those additions should be. I hope the next chapter doesn’t take a month to finish, or this is going to be a much longer slog than I was expecting. Wish me luck.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

RustyCon34 or What I Did On My Weekend

In January, each year, Seattle has a little SciFi and Fantasy convention, RustyCon. This year—its 34th—it was held January 13 – 15, 2017. The theme was “A Gathering of Guilds.” Hundreds of people gathered over the three days to express their love of science fiction and fantasy through events like games, costuming, an art show, writer’s panels and readings by authors from their latest works.

Special guests included Robin Hobb, a fantasy novelist known for Assassin’s Apprentice, Michaela Eaves, an artist and author, and Bill Doran, a professional prop maker. After having the chance to hear Hobb read from her new book, I had the good fortune to spend ten minutes alone with her, during which she validated my writer’s voice. I expressed my concern that the fantasy writer’s voice had changed in the years since I was a heavy reader of the genre–many new books I’ve read or heard part of have a very different feel from what I remember. My voice is similar to Hobb’s—she called it the fairy tale voice—”once upon a time…” No experience can compare with a novice listening to a master of her trade.

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Robin Hobb reading from ‘Fool’s Assassin’

I wandered through the game room, the art show and the marketplace, where I learned all about armor. I talked to an artist who draws anime and he shared some tools of the trade with me, like a flip book app on his Nintendo device for making animations.

Mainly, I went for the writer’s panels, of which there were plenty. If I had chosen to, I could have filled every hour of the conference with a different panel, usually being forced to choose between several. As it was, I went to thirteen over the two days I was in attendance. They covered diverse topics such as online publishing; world creation; writing characters—women, villains, powerful protagonists and antagonists; and sex—keeping it real, how far to go, relationships outside what might be considered ‘normal.’

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Robin Hobb, G R Theron, Tom D Wright and Shannon Dilley on the Creating Your World panel

Because the convention is so small, the panels were intimate gatherings of three to four panelists and a small audience ranging in size from ten down to one, me. In the smaller ones, it became just conversations among writers. I saw the same panelists on many of the panels, so got to know a few of them over the course of the two days. It was enjoyable.

One person I had met before was Elizabeth Guizzetti. She was one of the guest readers at a monthly writer’s group I frequent, Two Hour Transport, which meets on the fourth Wednesday of the month at Cafe Racer in the University District of Seattle. They have an open mic followed by two invited guest readers. The genres are SciFi and Fantasy. I love to read from my book at the open mic–five minutes in front of a live audience. The guest readers are icing. It’s so much fun to have people like Guizzetti come to share with us, and to hear their works with their own voices. She read from her indie-book, “The Grove.”

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Elizabeth Guizzetti, John Lovett, Sienna Saint-Cyr and Rebecca Birch on the Bechdel Test panel

Guizzetti was on four of the panels I attended. Other frequent panelists I saw were Rebecca Birch, John Lovett, Timothy Trimble, Anthea Sharp, Tod McCoy, Tom D Wright, G.R. (Grant Ryddell) Theron, Sienna Saint-Cyr, Manny Frishberg and Richard Gilmore. They all had different things to add that enriched the discussions.

I’m so glad I got to meet and get to know all these storytellers. A number of them talked about going to NorWesCon (April 13 – 16 in SeaTac, WA). I hope to meet some of them again when I attend it and other local conventions.

Thanks to the dedicated organizers of RustyCon. I know it was a huge amount of work to put this together and run make a success.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Tishta the Crystal Orb: Edits to Chapter Seven Complete

I made my way through “Chapter 7—Haliton,” of “Tishta the Crystal Orb.” That took longer than I expected. Well, I was sick the last two weeks, so that slowed me down a bit, and I was focused on other parts of my life, as well. The editing and rewriting actually went pretty well—I feel good with the results.

Along the way, I added more to the story of The Others, including introductory scenes that named the characters in chapters three and six. In the original draft, I attempted to make them more mysterious by only giving tiny flashes into what they were doing, to put some of the events in the main story in context, and I didn’t identify them by name until later in the book. My editor, Anne Bean, found this jarring and wanted more information sooner, to make them less confusing and also to build more tension as their objectives became more clear.

By telling more of the antagonists’ stories, I found a way to introduce conflict into the ranks of The Others by introducing more of them in this book, instead of waiting until “Into the Wolf Dream.” In the second scene of “Chapter 2—The Gathering,” Malcan tells the story of where Tishta came from. In it, The Others are described as, “…like Kahl, aggressive and full of self-interest.” In the same chapter, I insinuate Criften’s distrust of The Council (who govern the wizards in the West). By adding another minor story arc, I was able to show that The Others don’t play well together, either. I think this will work well as the story progresses.

Some of the rework of this chapter revolved around the introduction of the second story arc for The Others. I may need to add another scene from the perspective of these new players, but I won’t be sure until I’m into the next chapter. Move forward. Go back and fill in details. I can see how this editing is going to progress.

The other work was mostly around clarifying and enhancing existing scenes, and combining some of them. This included a bit of rework in places where I told the story instead of showing it through action or dialog. I wrote about this in “Lessons from the Fledgling Author: Show Your Story, Don’t Tell It.” One of the nice things I’ve discovered when I do these types of edits is that it helps flesh out the characters. I was able to show that Gillan is the leader of the warriors—she takes control of the planning and tells the others what she expects of them. Gillan is badass and I need to show it. This is a good change for a character Anne had trouble understanding the purpose of in the first draft.

I’ve been working to include more description of my characters, especially the main ones. At the same time, I’m adding more about what my demons look like and how they come into being. I need to be careful with this since it might impact the “science” of demons in the following books.

This process is slow, but I’m enjoying it. As I’ve recorded the stories and listened to them—which I wrote about in “Lessons from the Fledgling Author: Listen to Your Own Writings“—I’m finding I like this revised story much better than the original draft. I’ve done a lot more writing since I wrote a lot of these scenes, and the changes I’m making reflect this. I’m a better writer, now. I’m excited to see how the rest of the book turns out.

Copyright ©2014-16 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

GeekGirlCon Seattle 2016

Yesterday, I attended my first GeekGirlCon at The Conference Center of the Washington Convention Center in Seattle. I was interested in attending several of the panels they were offering. I ended up attending six in the twelve hours I was there. It was an intense experience. The first celebrity I ran into was none other than Artoo Detoo.

I got to the center at 8:30AM and found the doors didn’t open until 9:00. I was a little frazzled since I thought my first panel was at 9:00, but then, I found it wasn’t until 10:00, so all became right in the universe. Once the line started moving, I was inside within ten minutes. I’m glad I got there when I did. Later in the day, the line was out the door and down the block.

The first panel I attended was called “Sci-Fi Fiction Romance: Tentacles Not Required.” It explored the role of romance in Sci-Fi and Fantasy. The moderator was J. Tullow Hennig, who writes historical fantasy. Tricia Barr  (Twitter @fangirlcantina), who wrote Wynde, and runs FANGirl Blog and Fangirls Going Rogue, and Raven Oak  (Twitter @raven_oak), author of Amaskan’s Blood and Class-M Exile, were the panelists.

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I was surprised to find there is a Sci-Fi Romance genre. There was a lively discussion around what defines Sci-Fi Romance versus Sci-Fi novels that contains relationships and romance. The Sci-Fi I have read included very little in terms of sexual relationships at all, and the Fantasy novels have included only a little more. But, apparently, there are Romance genre novels set in Sci-Fi or Fantasy realms. Like all Romance novels, the main focus is around a central love story with an emotionally satisfying—happy—ending. Sci-Fi  can be defined as multi-disciplinary within “the art of the possible” (Fantasy would be “the art of the impossible”). If the writing is labeled as Sci-Fi/Fantasy, the romance should not be the focus, but just part of the plot. Speculative fiction is supposed to push boundaries, whereas Romance is supposed to be comfortable.

Falling in love, relationship building, human and emotional connections, getting the reader to root for the main characters getting together—that’s what a Romance is all about. Adding Sci-Fi or Fantasy to the mix allows a diversity factor not available in the real world. Relationships between aliens and humans are possible, allowing the author to explore how that could even be possible and what alien emotions might be like. What might be taboo in our social norms could be perfectly acceptable in a created world or universe.

Some of the recommended reading from this panel were:
Rachel Bach – The Paradox Trilogy
Claudia Gray – Star Wars: Lost Stars
Anne Bishop – The Black Jewels Trilogy
Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

My personal takeaway from this panel was, my writing is solidly in the Fantasy genre with character building that includes love and romance. I’m happy with this.

“Saving Sci-Fi and Fantasy: POC, Women & LGBTQ Voices Saving the Genre” was the second panel I attended. Dawn Rutherford (Twitter @DawnOfLibraries), who is Teen Service Coordinator for Sno-Isle Libraries, moderated the panel that included: Misha Stone (Twitter @ahsimlibrarian), a readers’ advisory librarian; Zola Mumford, Faculty Reference Librarian and liaison to Arts and Humanities, ESL/ABE, International Programs, and Student Services; Emily Calkins (Twitter @drawexplosions), librarian; E. Lily Yu, science fiction and fantasy writer who, in 2012, won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer; and Jackie Parker (Twitter @interactiver), Readers’ Services Librarian.

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This librarian-heavy panel was mostly about Sci-Fi and Fantasy genre book recommendations written by and/or about people of color, women and the LGBTQ community. Many times during the conference, I heard that talking to your librarian is an excellent way to find the types of books to read, or to have the library procure the books you want to read. Good advice.

Here are some of the books recommended by the panel:
Nisi Shawl – Everfair
Sophie (formerly Ross) Campbell – Shadoweyes
N. K. Jemisin – The Broken Earth Series (the first black author—and first woman of color —to win the Hugo for Best Novel for “The Fifth Season”)
Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew – The Shadow Hero

The entire list provides a plethora of reading choices. I’m going to be busy in the coming months reading some of these.

My third panel was “Adaptation, Appropriation, Influence: Using Other Cultures to Build Fictional Worlds,” moderated by Paulina Przystupa (Twitter @punuckish), a comic book collector and blog writer. The panel consisted of: Carrie McClain (Twitter @DivineBlkPearl), editor for Black Nerd Problems (Twitter @BlkNrdProblems); Tristan Tarwater (Twitter @backthatelfup), author of Hen and Chick; Karla Pacheco (Twitter @THEKarlaPacheco), who wrote the comic Dreadful Sirens with Steve LeCouilliard; and Leia Weathington (Twitter @solmaru), also a writer of comics like Deep Engines.

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There was a good discussion of how one should be careful when using images and customs from other cultures. An example was Padmé Amidala in her queen regalia in Star Wars—images of actual ancient, Asian royalty were shown by comparison, and it was easy to see where George Lucas got the idea. Many examples were connected to Star Wars. A lot of the talk was with respect to Sci-Fi, where a writer should not ignore the current situation with respect to cultures, race and women, but should take care when including an updated version in their stories.

Although there was no consensus on the examples about when an author was adapting versus appropriating, it was clear the authors had published works that had offended at least some people, with the advice that, as you become more seasoned, you will likely do less damage, and, when the author is called on it, the proper response it to not get defensive, but to learn from the experience.

I’ve been thoughtful about creating the cultures in my stories. I’ll watch out for this more carefully as I edit and write more of the story. One suggestion was to involve friends in discussions about their cultures and to get feedback on your own writing—this was tempered by paying for the service, preferably monetarily, or at least, with an acknowledgement in the book.

“Ripley Loves Furiosa: Women Kicking Butt in Action, Sci-Fi & Horror” was my fourth panel, moderated by Evan J Peterson (Twitter @evanjpeterson), an author of horror who runs “SHRIEK: A Women of Horror Film Series” (Twitter @SHRIEKclass). The panel was: Grace Moore (Twitter @bonecrusherJenk), podcaster and writer; Laura Lucas (Twitter @LinesOfForce), a writer and an editor at Minor Arcana Press; and Katie Tippie.

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The panelists came to a general consensus that women as either the hero or the villain are generally either hypersexual or asexual. In general, women characters in these genres are passive while waiting to be rescued by the active male protagonist who takes control of the situation. There were many examples of women in both types of roles, including Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) in Contact, the women in the Thor films, and The Bride (Uma Thurman) in Kill Bill. They also talked about the brutality and hyper-sexualization of  women in Game of Thrones.

The panel went on to suggest some examples of strong women characters who took charge—Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien; Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in Mad Max: Fury Road; and Suzy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn) in Wait until Dark. There were even characters from two Netflix shows: Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) from Stranger Things and Maddie (Kate Siegel) in Hush.

These are good role models when creating women characters. I’ll use some of their qualities when fleshing out my primary woman warrior, Gillan.

Evan J Peterson was also in the next panel I attended, “Out of This World Exploring Awesomeness of LGBTQIA in SciFi,” although as a panelist for this one. It was moderated by Tracy Timmons-Gray (Twitter @timmonsgray), Community and Program Senior Manager of Collective Impact (Twitter @CIForumTweets). The rest of the panel was filled out with: Astrid Amara (Twitter @AstridAmara), author of gay science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary fiction; Matthew Buscemi, author of science fiction and fantasy; Laylah Hunter (Twitter @LaylahHunter), writer of queer speculative fiction, erotica, and romance; Nisi Shawl, author of steampunk and speculative fiction.

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It was interesting to hear the different viewpoints of the panelists as they talked about how to write queer characters into your writing—call it out up front, or just let it happen naturally as part of the story. It never occurred to me to call out the fact that some of the characters in my stories have relationships with other characters of the same sex, or of both sexes—it’s just not part of their character developments, not a major focus of the story.

Apparently, the big publishers are not very queer friendly, so going to a small publisher might be the right move for an author who wants hard copies. That might be changing as novels and fictional media in general begin to include more queer characters. Labeling the book as one genre is also an issue when publishing hard copies—is it a queer novel or is it Sci-Fi? Self-publishing mitigates this with the use of multiple genre tags to promote books to different audiences. Because of this, in places like GoodReads, it is possible to narrow down a selection books considerably to be a cross-over of several genres.

This panel had a long list of recommended LGBTQ Speculative Fiction that included:
Tamara Allen – Downtime
Amanda Downum – The Bone Palace
Heather Rose Jones – Daughter of Mystery
C.S. Pacat – Captive Prince

Here’s the full list:

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I think I could read for a year with all the recommendations at the panels I attended.

My final panel of the day wasn’t until 7:30 PM. It was “Queering the Apocalyse.” It dove into portraying queer and other minorities in dystopian future Sci-Fi fiction. The moderator was Sarah Mirk (Twitter @SarahMirk), who is the Online Editor of , host of feminist podcast Popaganda, author of Sex from Scratch. The panel consisted of: Zan from Northwest Press, writer of queer comics; Joamette Gil (Twitter @JoametteGil), Queer Afro-Cuban Cartoonist and Publisher/Editor at ; and Tristan J Tarwater, who was also at the “Saving Sci-Fi and Fantasy: POC, Women & LGBTQ Voices Saving the Genre” earlier in the day.

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Dystopian futures are often written devoid of queer and POC characters. They sometimes completely ignore the racial and other societal tensions that exist today, without any explanation. The panel agreed these things need to be addressed—to talk about the future, a writer needs to accept and confront the present, and explain how we got from here to there.

Even when the stories do include minorities, it is often with hollow characters that are there to satisfy some need of the straight, white (usually male) protagonist. I heard complaints all day about how, if a queer or POC character is introduced, that character will almost inevitably die or meet some other brutality—they’re not the main protagonists. Tarwater confessed, as soon as the characters are introduced, she gets anxious about them, and rightfully so.

I’ll give this topic careful consideration when I move on to my next big story (I’ve already done a little writing on it) about a dystopian future. The panel brought up lots of issues to be aware of.

Overall, I was greatly pleased by all of the panels I attended, and GeekGirlCon in general. It was professionally run by a group of volunteers. The crowd was polite, and very female. My experience was all good. There were ample red-shirted volunteers available to answer question or guide attendees to events. Besides the panels, I visited the exhibitors’ hall, which had an impressive number of varied booths. I also experienced VR for the first time in the VR Maker Dome (Twitter ). I got to play Space Pirate Trainer! It was awesome!

I’m definitely planning to attend GeekGirlCon17.

Copyright ©2014-16 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.