Thursday, 17 April 2014

Sunstruck: Word Clouds

Sunstruck has two viewpoint characters, so I thought it'd be fun to word cloud both of them (using the services at Wordle). Click to see bigger versions.




Ari

Ari is a Bigfoot, who previously worked in a bar and really likes cats. She speaks Bigfoot English, which is based on a number of real English dialects (but isn't a direct match for any of them). Common features are using ain't, tending to use got/get rather than have/had and refusing to capitalise Bigfoot. This does show in her word cloud. The liking of cats does not, so apparently she needs more kittens.

Ari's word cloud (Sunstruck)




Ben

Ben is Spokane (Native American), two-spirit, has OCPD and trained as a chemist. It's interesting looking at Ben's, as a notable difference is family. Ben has Grandpa, Mom and Tal, who are all his relatives (and don't appear in Ari's at all). He also mentions time more often, as he's focused on tracking time (and keeping things tidy, but that doesn't result in many repeated words).

Ben's word cloud (Sunstruck)




Random Observation

I would have thought Ari talked about chocolate more often, but apparently not as much as Ben talks about coffee.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Five Fun Fungi Facts

I asked on Twitter if anyone had any blogging requests and @silviamg recommended mushrooms. So I'm going to sidestep a bit and talk about fungi in general. I've talked before about the basics of fungi, so this is an add-on of fun fungi facts. Maybe it'll inspire some stories. Maybe it'll just make it harder to sleep at night. Either way, it's time to embrace your inner mushroom....




1. Snail Fungi Farmers

Marsh periwinkle (Littoraria irrorata) is a species of snail living in salt marshes. Its preferred diet is various fungi that grow on grass. In order to have a plentiful supply of fungus, it farms it. The first step it making holes in the grass, so the fungi can invade. The second is to poop on the holes (you always need a bit of fertilizer, and as the snails eat fungi, there's some in their droppings). And so a beautiful fungus farm is created.


Snails on grass

Marsh periwinkle on marsh grass. (Mary Hollinger, NESDIS/NODC biologist, NOAA)




2. Marine Fungi

As implied by the snail farmers, fungi can live in salt water. They're found all over the place, including on/in the sea bed and living on floating things in the sea. A place most people can see them is on driftwood. Marine fungi are generally understudied, so there's a lot we don't know about them.

There are also marine lichens - fungi with algae (seaweed). These are usually found near the coast.




3. Nematophagous Fungi

These fungi are fearsome hunters of nematodes (small worm-like critters). They do this by setting traps. Once a fungus catches one, it will grow into the nematode and digest it. Exactly how all this happens depends on the species. Some species can detect chemical produced by the nematodes, in order to grow the traps in areas where nematodes are known to be. Traps can include constricting rings and adhesive hyphae. And finally, some ensure the nematode won't escape by poisoning them.


Fruiting bodies of Arthrobotrys oligospora

The fruiting bodies of Arthrobotrys oligospora, a nematophagous fungi. (Walter Peraza Padilla, National University of Costa Rica, Bugwood.org)




4. Lichens.... in Space!

In 2008, the European Space Agency sent a collection of samples (Expose-E) to the International Space Station, to be exposed to space. It contained a variety of bacteria, algae, seeds and lichens. The lichens proved to be particularly hardy, as some of them not only survived, but grew normally once they'd returned to Earth after their space adventure.


The Expose-E Unit

Expose-E: home to space lichens (Photo by ESA)




5. Thermally Dimorphic Fungi

These fungi exist in two states. At cooler temperatures (such as room temperature) they're a mold. At warmer temperatures (like human body temperature) they're a yeast. This means the fungus can live somewhere, like the soil, for some time as a mold. If it ends up in a warm body, it will then turn into a yeast and cause infection. In this way, it can make the most of different environments.


Yeast

Blastomyces dermatitidis, thermally dimorphic fungi, in yeast form (J Scott)

Friday, 28 March 2014

Writing Diary: The Issue of Appeal

Thoughtful cartoon octopus, with a university hat I'd initially intended to post something unrelated to me, given than my last post was a book launch. The problem is I don't know what to write about. I don't mean in a writer's block way, as I don't get that as such. I have days where I feel more or less like writing, but I'm never incapable of writing. What I've been considering is the issue of appeal - whether what I'm saying interests people or not.

For the most part, I think my blogging skills have improved. I've got better at structure. But an ability to put together prose in a readable way is not the same thing as appealing to people. I know people are reading, because I get linked to by other sites on occasion. But it's very noticeable that the posts aren't memorable. People don't remember me as being part of the discussion a week later.

Obviously, blogs are done for free and it doesn't have much overall impact. The main concern is that I'm also seeing the same thing for fiction. It's not that I'm unhappy with how my book projects came out. Rainbow Lights has some of my best work to date. It also has flaws, like a particular poem that I know didn't hit what I was aiming to do. But overall, I think it's a good representation of my last few years of work. Sunstruck is all the things I wanted to find in an urban fantasy novel, but couldn't (well, maybe not cyborg dinosaurs with lasers, but no book is perfect). And my steampunk novelette is one of those odd little projects that it's fun to have a chance to do.

But they're prone to being quiet. There isn't that big concept to lure people in. Where characters are diverse, it's in ways I often find hard to explain. For one diversity-oriented review blog, I had to describe Rainbow Lights in five words, and couldn't think how to sum up the ways in which the characters were diverse. Now, I'd probably go with 'multiply marginalised', but when people post lists of things they want to see in genre, it doesn't usually include multiply marginalised characters or characters who are difficult to categorise.

So I'm left thinking I'm missing something. Some topic that's more interesting. Some storyline that is what people want to see more of in genre. I'm at a point where I could go in any direction, both with my next fiction project and my blog. But that feeling remains that I don't know what to write, because I don't know what people want to read.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Sunstruck - Bigfoot Urban Fantasy

I had the cunning plan to launch the book on my birthday. This might have worked, if I hadn't also got a helping of viral friends for my birthday. But a few days later than intended, it's go time. Sunstruck is an urban fantasy novel with Bigfoot. More about the book and the launch is below.


Sunstruck Cover


Book Description


The Spokane Ecology Board covers up supernatural incidents, under the pretence of enforcing environmental laws. It's a dull job of sightseeing thunderbirds and pixie outbreaks. Until the team gets murdered.

Ari is the replacement team's Bigfoot liaison. Armed with everything she's learned from detective shows, she's ready to find the murderer. The downside is the job comes with a human partner, who smells of air freshener and lines up his desk like a math project. He's only a scientist, so it's not like he knows anything about magical crimes.

Ben Cabot grew up hearing stories about Bigfoot, but they failed to mention a love of the internet or an aversion to throwing wrappers away. But there's more out of place than an untidy work partner. Someone's messed with the case files, and that means the killer might be closer than they think.

I have a three chapter sample on my website. Some vendors also have their own samples. I always recommend reading the sample before buying. The book is currently available on Amazon US, Amazon UK and Smashwords. A comprehensive (and regularly updated) list of sellers is found on the book's official page.




About the Series

The books are set in an alternate version of Spokane, Washington. They're told from two points-of-view - Ari and Ben. The balance between the two narrators will depend on the book. Sunstruck has more from Ari. The next book (Conduit) will have more from Ben. After that, it'll vary.

It's an open-ended series, where each book has a stand-alone mystery (though it'll help to read them in the right order).

Conduit will most likely come out in 2015.




Beyond Fiction

I've included a selected bibliography at the back of the book, but I'll be posting a more comprehensive one with some discussion of how I went about research. Also relevant is my Native Americans in Urban Fantasy blog series, which I started as part of my preparation for writing the books. Some other related reading is my thoughts on conservative urban fantasy.




Cupcakes

In the tradition of launch cupcakes, I made Bigfoot faces. These aren't my most technically skilled decorating jobs, but they are very chocolatey. So, here's to Bigfoot and launches. I hope you enjoy the book!


Bigfoot Cupcakes




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# If you want to note it for later elsewhere, I've tweeted about it, have a post on Tumblr, and on DeviantArt I have both the cover and the cupcakes. The book also has a page on Goodreads.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Women-only Calls and Non-Binary Authors

Cartoon rainbow octopusImagine you like every sort of berry. When you go to a friend's house, they give you a bowl of strawberries. This is great, because you like strawberries. The next time they offer you strawberries again. And again. And again. Because they only offer you strawberries, all your other friends think it's all you eat, so when you go to their houses, you also get strawberries. Eventually, you have enough and ask if maybe you could have blueberries for a change.

Everyone's shocked. Why this hate for strawberries? Why can't you just eat them? After all, they always thought of you as a strawberry person, because that's all you ever ate.


#


I've talked before about the issue of non-binary gender in genre. Specifically that it's difficult when the only gender or sex identity calls going out are for women. Since then, I've seen a few calls that address one of the issues - assuming that the only way to identify as a woman is to be a cis woman. That's much better than being told to get my own theme issue, and other such insults.

It also comes with a problem. It means that despite identifying in a broad way, I can only ever identify as a woman when it comes to submissions. If I could be in a couple of women's anthologies, and a few non-binary ones, some dealing with marginalised sex and gender identities in general, the big book of androgynous stories and trans* author tales, I wouldn't think anything of submitting to another woman-only call. Except this isn't how it goes down. There have been an increasing number of calls for women, whether it's guest post opportunities, submission calls or lists of authors. But it's not being matched by an increase in calls for marginalised sex and gender identities in general. These only get included in a lump with the QUILTBAG, which usually means a lot of gay and lesbian stories with maybe one or two that tackle sex or gender identities*.

A wider problem is it means anyone who doesn't identify as a woman in any part is not included. This creates a rather weird divide where you could have twenty androgynes, but though a handful can submit because they have some identity as a woman, the rest can't. Yet everyone's still an androgyne and has more in common with each other in reference to gender identity than they do differences.

This doesn't mean woman-only calls are inherently a problem. Much as it's not a problem when we have race-specific calls or separate calls for different sexualities. The issue is the woman-only calls don't happen alongside more general calls for marginalised sex and gender identities**. It's assumed that the way to counteract cis man dominance is to provide opportunities for cis women, rather than to provide opportunities for anyone who isn't a cis man.


#


At a personal level, this makes women-only calls difficult. I'd already decided that I wouldn't submit to any that implied women = feminine, particularly after the abuse the last time I queried such a thing. But it's a difficult career decision not to submit to any of the calls, ask to be on any of the lists or take up any guest posting opportunities. There are precious few things I can do that pay money or get me noticed so I can go on to earn money. I'm not in a position where I can forget about money.

The result is I do submit, but very selectively. I submitted to one last year. I decided against the ones this year, as it seems like they mushroomed up to a large number of calls.

What I'd really like is for more general venues to be open to more stuff. I don't like having to display an identity badge to get into a specific market, because there's always a chance of being rejected on identity alone (and such rejections are often much harsher than ones based on not liking a story). We don't live in that world though. I've had issues even with technically binary-identified characters who don't entirely fit the mould, which has generally discouraged me from writing stories about non-binary characters. I'd have maybe one or two shots of selling such a story to a pro market** before it hits the trunk. I'm more open to this now I'm self-publishing, but the things I wrote before were always with the awareness that I could only move so far from certain notions of gender roles before the story was unlikely to sell.

The point being author identity calls are here to stay for a bit, and I'm not in a stable enough position that I can avoid them all. I wish I didn't have to walk away from some of them, because I know there won't be other equivalent calls to replace that opportunity. I wish there were calls I could submit to without feeling bad about it, and without wishing I had more money, so I could just disregard any calls that made me uncomfortable.


#


I have considered other ways of silently protesting. One is through pronouns. I'm easy-going about pronouns, in that generally I don't give a monkeys as long as it's respectful. I'm not fussed on 'it' as it's usually used as an insult, but he, she, they and other pronouns I can't actually spell are fine.

One thing I do like is when people mix it up a bit, and take me up on the fact they can choose a pronoun. It means that articles and reviews about me might each make a different choice, which is a good way to make people stop and think about why that is.

So one thought is to do the same myself - to use a different pronoun in every bio. In the case of sales to women-only markets, to actively use a gender-neutral pronoun. Though this is hypothetical, because there are bigger barriers for me to enter a women-only space, even at times when I'm trying to do so. People are aware my identity is non-binary, but rather than it meaning they're more conscious of non-binary identities, it means they're more likely to decide not to include my name because they don't know how that fits.

The point here isn't that I'm amazing and people are failing to see my genius. It's that I'm one example of a trend. Other authors who talk openly about having an identity other than cis woman or cis man also don't tend to appear, even at times when they're trying. Once someone is open about their identity, they're signing up for additional obstacles if they do try to pursue women-only opportunities. So after making that uncomfortable decision, the door is likely to be slammed anyway.


#


My ultimate concern with all this is it's not simply about particular authors struggling to sell stories and be included where they could be included. It's that the attitude behind it means people aren't fully accepting the range of identities people can have, which makes it hard for any author with one of those identities. This was very apparent from the reaction to Alex Dally MacFarlane's introductory post on post-binary fiction. It was too complicated. It wasn't realistic. What do you mean these people are real?

I'm conscious that when I talk about this, people will read it, they will link to it and they'll say they learnt something. This is what happened last time. But next time they decide to tackle gender in genre fiction, they'll be writing a series of posts on women in genre, putting out women-only calls and otherwise only talking about women. It's great that more calls are noting that a woman does not need to be a cis woman or identify that way completely, but it's still missing the main point. I personally can be included in those discussions, as I do identify as a woman to an extent, but others can't. And even in my case, it's problematic. It's basically saying, "I know you have a non-binary identity of which being a woman is only a part, but I see you as a woman and I expect you to identify that way all the time."

An example of that is I've had to frequently repeat that I do identify as a woman in part. But I don't get to say I identify as a man in part and as neither in part. It's something I have to bring up if I want to talk about it, because it's never asked about. This creates a skewed view that I must identify as a woman more than any of the others, because I keep mentioning being a woman. But I only do this because the environment created only has space to discuss that one aspect of my identity. Not because that aspect is bigger or more important than the others.

Just for once, I'd like people to stop offering me strawberries.




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* One of the reasons for having more specific calls is to deal with some identities being lesser represented when it's a wider call. The specific calls also don't replace the wider ones, because if you only go specific, there will be identities missed. So there's room for both. The issue here is we don't have both. We have specific only, for one specific identity.

** I'm using "marginalised sex and gender identities" rather than "non-binary identities", because not all marginalised sex and gender identities are non-binary. A person may have a binary identity which was not the one they were assigned at birth, or they may switch between binary identities (whether it's on a daily basis or slower changes over the course of their life), as some examples. I talk about non-binary issues as that's where my own experience is, but this isn't to mean that's the only identify that may have an issue here. A general call for submissions would need to consider its wording carefully.

*** There are more token paying and non-paying markets, but that's another issue. Marginalised people have a higher chance of not being wealthy, so it's much more painful when a story earns a tiny fee. A pro payment might pay a bill, but it'd take a lot of token payments to get anywhere near that. And yet markets aimed towards marginalised people often don't pay well.