How It’s Done: Dana’s Non-Fiction Creative Process Exposed!

Ready for an inside look into my non-fiction creative process? Don’t laugh. I’ve spent decades trying one method and another, and this turned out to be the only thing that works for me. Continue reading “How It’s Done: Dana’s Non-Fiction Creative Process Exposed!”

How It’s Done: Dana’s Non-Fiction Creative Process Exposed!
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Why I’m Discarding a Trope – And Why That Terrifies Me

So if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to talk for a few minutes about what I’m trying to do with the main novel in my series, and why it terrifies me.

Most fantasy with a Big Bad and a Chosen One tends to get a lot of its conflict by the fact that the CO refuses the call to destiny. It’s a formula that works, so it gets used a lot. And I still remember the exact moment when I decided MY Chosen One wasn’t going to pull that shit – it was when I was reading The Dragon Reborn, and Rand literally ran away instead of sucking it up and doing his job. And then he spent basically the rest of the series being all “Woe is me! I am cursed!” and similar.

And the same thing pretty much happened with Buffy, where she just absolutely hates what she is and takes a very long time to come to terms with it, and is always pretty emo about the whole thing. Continue reading “Why I’m Discarding a Trope – And Why That Terrifies Me”

Why I’m Discarding a Trope – And Why That Terrifies Me

The ACE Cartoon Characters Re-Imagined in the Most Delightful Way

I’ll be you never looked at those utterly awful cartoons from the ACE PACEs and thought something wonderful could come of them, did you? I mean, honestly. They’re painful.

Image is a three-panel cartoon strip, showing two boys talking. Reginald is waving his arms in the air with his back to our view, saying, "Pudge, did I ever tell you about the time I came face to face with a lion?" Pudge: "No. What happened?" In the next panel, we can see Reginald and Pudge's faces. Reg says, "There I stood, without a gun. The lion growled and crept closer... closer... closer..." Pudge, imagining a lion in the grass, says, "Really? What did you do?" Next panel shows Reg imagining a lion in a cage, as he says, "I moved to the next cage! Ha-ha." Pudge, almost off-panel, says, "Oh, Reginald."
Cartoon from page (twenty-four) 24. No, I don’t know what it has to do with earth science, either.

But I’ve had the great good fortune to be introduced to an incredible group of ACE survivors, one of whom is putting a splendid new spin on these awful cartoons. Say hello to the adventures of Totally Hetero Pudge and Ronny by FeezlFuzzl. Here is an excerpt sure to change your entire way of thinking about pious Pudge McMercy and bad boy Ronny Vain. Continue reading “The ACE Cartoon Characters Re-Imagined in the Most Delightful Way”

The ACE Cartoon Characters Re-Imagined in the Most Delightful Way

SF Snippet #5: Three Phrases

Our civil war of words continues! Alas, this is the final installment – the story pauses here. Someday, when the poetry overflows from the depths of my not-usually-poetic brain again, I’ll finish it. I know how it ends. But I’m not sure what’s between here and the end. Not yet.

Someday…

Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four.

No one ever heard Disahnahle’s original three phrases. They had only themselves to blame.

The outcry started as a disgruntled rumbling and turned into a volcano. Plains Cousins crowed, seeing those three phrases as a tacit admission of their superiority, while Mountain Cousins trooped up to Disahnahle over the ensuing weeks to complain, at some length, of his betrayal. How can you envy a people too foolish to come in out of the rain? they asked. Why that ill-considered verse? Our reputation rested with you, and you trampled it. And other words to this effect.

Disahnahle stood in the entrance to his cave and listened gravely, head tipped to one side, one ear forward and the other back in an attitude of utmost consideration, until the last group (including some of the most respected members of the community) finished their tirade. He shifted his weight from his off to his near side. They waited. “It is the glory and the curse of poets,” he said finally, “to have meaning invested in our works that we never intended.”

Then he turned and went inside, leaving them alone in a sharp spring wind. The next group that tried to express their opinion were met with the flat of his horn. Further visitors decided it was prudent not to venture into a cave entrance that contained a sharp horn and forehooves with no room for flanking maneuvers.

The Plains Cousins proclaimed Nahkorah victorious. Disahnahle, they said, had as much as conceded defeat. The contest was over. Had she heard? He had retreated to his cave and refused to come out. She had destroyed him.

Nahkorah gazed out over the plains. It was high summer now, just before the rains, and the grass wilted under the blaze of the sun. There were no clouds, except where a fire sent smoke boiling up to the stratosphere some miles distant. Even the snow-fed rivers were shriveling, limping and wincing in the center of muddy channels between their banks. “I envy him his daylight shadows,” she said.

A little later, she ventured up into the mountains, and squeezed herself into a cave entrance that had no consideration for the dimensions of a Plains Cousin. The cavern blessedly widened after several feet. There was a small stream in the center of it, a freshening breeze from somewhere at the back, and stocky hindquarters planted firmly opposite, swaying with the motions of his work. He had propped a slab of mudstone on a ledge and was carving it with short, certain strokes of his horn. Other slabs lay propped all over the cave. She stood in the center of a vortex of words.

She drank from the stream, wandered around and sampled phrases, captured forever in lovely angular script. It certainly seemed easier than etching one’s words on living minds, and entrusting them to endure.

By the time he finished chipping the last phrase, she was standing stone-still in the middle of the cave, beside the stream. And then she began to move, without thought:

Nothing lasts, eternal

Unchanged

Yesterday long past

Someone cooled their hooves in the mud of a stream

Where today you carve a line

Which holds greater worth:

That moment of coolness

Those lasting words?

I know what each of you would say

Nothing lasts

Things become separate

That side of the stream or this

This elevation or that

Mountains rise, plains fall

And it is often forgotten

That this mountain was a plain once

That this plain washed down from a peak

Things separate

Not really separate

Need for divisions

Divides us

Without boundaries we would be no different

We need divisions

Remember the places between

Disahnahle stood there facing her for a moment, tail swishing. He wiped rock dust from his horn onto his shoulder. She waited for him to remark on the symmetry of right side and left side, front and back words, which she felt was this poem’s greatest strength. Had he caught the echo of his first poem to her? He had said they were many surrounding the same center, after all, and she had spoken directly to it in her last phrase. But he said nothing.

“Well?” she said after a long silence.

“Oh, you were done. I thought you were just resting. Usually when there is a trickle of water during a storm, a flood follows.” He turned away, blowing rock dust from his most recent work.

Nahkorah stamped her feet. “You ungracious lout.”

His head swung around, staring at her past his hindquarters, and then she saw his left rear hoof pivoting on its toe. He was right – she had fallen for his tease. “It was very kind of you to come up here and apologize for the fear of my kin,” he said, turning away again.

“Fear?”

“Of course. What else would make them so angry?” Disahnahle had taken down the finished slab and was raising another. She had expected his speech to change when transmitted directly with te’i’ahne, but it was just as clipped as his physical speech. “They fear such admissions as mine. They think that wanting something you are says that we no longer want to be ourselves, that we concede your superiority.”

“Your poem was nothing like that.”

“Of course not. But you are more visible, down there on the plains.”

She had never quite thought of it that way. She pondered it now, as Disahnahle lowered his head and began chipping. “You do realize that what I said about Mountain Cousin poetry was just an observation? That I never meant that one was superior to another, but so different that one could never appreciate the other?”

“You appreciated my three phrases.”

She ground her teeth. The sound harmonized well with the grate of his horn against mudstone. “And I can admit when I was wrong.”

“Never. If you do, I have nothing to strive for. Now hush.”

She hushed. She watched him work, carving one torturously slow character after another, and thought she understood why Mountain Cousins kept their verses so short and simple. If they did not, they would spend a year giving a poem that a Plains Cousin could trip out in moments, and likely forget where the verse had begun before it ended. How could he think, with that noise? How could he keep the phrases in his mind, even short as they were?

He finally stepped back, cocked his head to study his lines, and seemed satisfied. He moved aside so she could come read them.

While you recite,

We speak in pages of stone.

Flowers fallen in swift streams.

Nahkorah had to read it several times before she realized the truth. “That is what I just said.”

“Do you have anywhere to keep it?” he asked. “I doubt you could dance it.”

She kicked him, but not hard. “We have places for our things. Not that you would know that, lurker in caves.”

He planted his forelegs apart, head twisted in a grin that nearly ruined the last of her dignity as she gathered up his gift. She meant to depart in icy silence, majestic, unshakable, but he pricked her flank with his parting words as she left his cave, the poem bounding behind her in its net of te’i’ahne: “The next salvo is yours, Nahkorah. Give me notice so I can free a month to hear it.”

She threw a withering glance over her shoulder. “I once respected you, a minute ago.”

It would have made a far better retort had she not hit her horn on the cave wall turning back.

Image shows a white unicorn standing in front of a huge moon at the end of a rocky path.
Image courtesy Kasamy-Design (CC BY 3.0)

Copyright 2016 by Dana Hunter. All rights reserved.

SF Snippet #5: Three Phrases

SF Snippet #4: Victory! Only, Not

Our War of Words continues! Who will have the victory?

Part One. Part Two. Part Three.

 

The spring convention came again. This time, neither poet could wander freely, alone or with a few close companions. A retinue followed each, waiting for the next salvo. Word (and words) had spread to other nations. Something had begun, no one was quite sure what, or what it might mean, or when it would continue, or how it would end. All wanted to be there to witness whatever it would be. Anticipation was fueled by a rumor that Disahnahle had crafted the perfect retort, in three phrases. If this were true, it would end speculation and prove him supreme. The Plains Cousins’ prestige would suffer a severe blow. Unless, of course, Nahkorah could rally.

Neither of them showed the strain of it. They seemed unconcerned. They wandered about with their followers, carefully avoiding each other, and took interest in the political and trade details of the convention. Nahkorah arranged for some winterberries to be delivered to her at regular intervals throughout their growing season and expressed her opinion regarding solutions to a poorly shielded part of the world. Disahnahle bargained for a few flat sheets of rare mudstone and lent his weight to an argument for aid to a beleaguered but unreliable ally a few solar systems away. There were other wars being fought, beside their own. They both seemed to care more for them.

The days of the convention rolled on toward their close. Disahnahle’s entourage began to feel discouraged, Nahkorah’s smug. Significant fractions of each felt that this waiting was simply a buildup toward something earth-shattering, and depending on whose side they took, either went about with prancing step or quivering nerves.

No one’s nerves were quivering more than Nahkorah’s. She hid them, but after two weeks of such pretense, close to coming unstrung, she plunged into a race. It was that, or fracture like those frost-torn cliffs that had almost killed her the year before. She went to the running ground where the plains swept into the foothills and let her stately stride uncoil into enormous bursts of speed along a serpentine track. She normally finished around the middle in these contests, but nervous energy trumped native skill this time and she streaked past the last turn with the rest of the field tasting her heels. They were certainly close enough to.

She pulled up, blown, lathered and exhausted, and saw Disahnahle perched on the last low hill. He looked like one of his tors.

If she could have gotten enough breath, she would have screamed at him. Of course he would deliver his precious three lines when she was too spent to stammer so much as a couplet. He deserved her horn through his neck. Only she would have to climb the hill for that, so it would have to wait.

He stared down at her as Plains and Mountain Cousins alike began clustering, silent, when they should have been cheering her victory. He could have at least allowed her that much before showing up like this, she thought.

When silence had rippled through them like wind through summer grass, he spoke:

Wistful I gaze

On your fleet eternity

Your shadows come only at night

It was the sweetest victory tribute she had ever heard. She had been wrong, at least about this Mountain Cousin. His single verse proved that he had the gift of extemporization, and that simplicity in its way could be just as lovely as eloquence. She thought it was quite gracious of him to forego his planned retort in favor of this. It just went to prove: poets may compete, but they cared about each other despite all that.

And so she was quite shocked later when she found out that no one else saw it quite that way.

 

Image is a sketch of a running unicorn.
Running unicorn. Image credit Bettina Rateitzak (CC BY 3.0)

 

Copyright 2016 by Dana Hunter. All rights reserved.

SF Snippet #4: Victory! Only, Not

SF Snippet #3: In Which Hostilities Escalate

Conflicts, once begun, often snowball. In this installment of our story, we see that there is no easy resolution, and war becomes inevitable. Of course, some definitions may vary…

Part One here.

 

Outland historians proclaim that Atheseans have never fought a war among themselves. By their definition, this is correct: no sentient Athesean species has ever formed an army for the express purpose of causing the submission of their worldmates by killing. However, Athesean definitions differ. By their reckoning, there have been eighty-seven major wars fought since the rise of sentience, twelve of them catastrophic. There are, they say, worse things that you can take away from a people than their lives.

The historians who scoff at Athesean definitions forget the power of words. They should not. After all, wars as they define them have often begun with words, been fueled by and often concluded with them. Continue reading “SF Snippet #3: In Which Hostilities Escalate”

SF Snippet #3: In Which Hostilities Escalate

SF Snippet #2: In Which a Poetry War Begins

All right, my loves. Many of you on Facebook were looking for something happy with Unicorns, rocks, and aliens. So here you are: Unicorns who are aliens (their proper name is Drusav – please don’t call them unicorn to their face, it’s an insult), and rocks will come in after this first scene. I haven’t yet finished this short story, but I think you may like the bits I have got so far. I’ll be posting them throughout this week. Let us begin at the beginning, then…

Continue reading “SF Snippet #2: In Which a Poetry War Begins”

SF Snippet #2: In Which a Poetry War Begins

How Did We Ever Write Before the Internet?

I’ve been mapping a scene all night. So far, I have:

  • Found the exact bench at Founder’s Park in Alexandria, VA that my story people meet at.
  • Selected my main character’s backpack.
  • Read over several different versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Purchased a copy thereof that includes the cuneiform characters, plus several Greek and Roman epics and texts, delivered instantly, for a dollar.
  • Received a ton of papers on code switching and the effects of bilingualism on the brain from a person who did research on it for a university class.
  • Confirmed pigeons won’t come out to eat at night even if you shake a bread bag really loudly (and yes, I do actually know bread is bad for birds, thank you so much for helpfully pointing that out).
  • Found a video that not only would have been highly entertaining to my main character and her best friend/fellow profiler, but has a few seconds in which the singer looks almost exactly like her.
  • Been tipped to free genealogy software that will help me map characters’ families (although it doesn’t look like the designers ever imagined non-binary people).
  • Found a bunch of new music to write to.
  • And done probably a dozen other things I’ve forgotten completely about, but would have taken me hours of research in the past, if they’d got done at all.

Continue reading “How Did We Ever Write Before the Internet?”

How Did We Ever Write Before the Internet?

How Social Justice Has Improved My Series

It’s been rather quiet around here lately because I’ve been reading back through my own canon, and doing some deep thinking, and then I spent thirteen goddamned hours writing a chapter. That was a Merry Christmas, indeed!

One thing that stood out like a tumorous thumb was the fact that I’ve got a sausage fest going on. Oh, yes, I’ve got strong women characters. But aside from one, they’ve mostly been supporting cast. And they were thin on the ground compared to the dudes. Dudes, everywhere, man.

A lifetime of consuming media that featured mostly male protagonists and antagonists, overwhelmingly white male ones, has an effect, even when we’re fighting it. I wanted diversity, but I kept reverting to the default. Walk-on character? Probably going to be a dude. Tech guy? Well, dude, obvs. Lead detective? Dude. You’re a dude, and you’re a dude, and you’re a dude… Here a dude, there a dude, everywhere dude, dude. Okay, some of them were gay dudes. Some of them were black dudes. But they were still so many dudes.

Image shows Woody and Buzz from Toy Story. Buzz is gesturing out of the frame with a googly-eyed grin. Woody looks perplexed and vaguely horrified. Caption says, "Dudes. Dudes everywhere."

Continue reading “How Social Justice Has Improved My Series”

How Social Justice Has Improved My Series

I Shall Stop Worrying About My Character Being a Mary Sue, Then

You know, I’ve been worrying that my quite talented main character is a Mary Sue. I mean, Mary Sue bad, right? We don’t want our characters to be Mary Sues. Or Gary Stus, for that matter. But then I read this article, and it occurs to me that I’m going to end up with my main character being called a Mary Sue no matter what I do. It is because she is

  1. Competent
  2. Doing most of the rescuing
  3. Female

I mean, she’s the Big Hero. She has to succeed at some stuff. She has to be good at what she does. And it seems that will be all it takes to get her dismissed as a Mary Sue by many people, because heaven forfend we have a ladyperson doing the outrageously cool things menfolk usually do. Continue reading “I Shall Stop Worrying About My Character Being a Mary Sue, Then”

I Shall Stop Worrying About My Character Being a Mary Sue, Then