A couple months ago, a friend shared on social media one of those memes where you search your name and use the first search results to make a fantasy name, etc. This meme caught my interest because you had to search:
[Your name] fantasy gown
[Your name] fantasy crown
[Your name] fantasy weapon
For fun, I started with my given (legal) name and came up with this collage, which I love because I’m obsessed with white lace dresses with low backs and curve-hugging forms. I’m a huge fan (otaku) of Sailor Moon so the crown of moonstones and moon-shaped filigree is just to die for, and that sword is nothing to sniff at!
Then I got curious and searched against my writing name, Belinda Kroll, which was interesting because it feels like a darker personality to me. While the dress is reminiscent of a Victorian interpretation of a medieval dress with ruffles and embroidery, the crown, with its sea shells and obsidian gems, speaks to some sort of dark sea goddess. Throw in the emerald sword hilt and again, you’ve got a persona no one should think about messing with!
And finally, I searched my heroine’s name for my gaslamp fantasy and squealed because it’s just so perfect. I love the gold military-inspired detailing in the bodice, the simple elegance of the gold diadem, and the angular shape of the sword spun up so many ideas!
All of which made me think, I should be using internet memes for inspiration more often! One reason I usually don’t do memes is because sometimes I worry this is a method for internet scammers to get information (especially the ones that ask for your middle name or birthdate). But for a character who only exists in my mind? I mean, why not?
Unrelated, I wanted to share that I’m currently cuddling my second child! Wish me luck with recovery and regaining my writing energy after everything settles into place at home. See y’all soon!
Have you ever been in the situation where all you can remember about a book is pieces of the plot, parts of what the cover looked like, maybe a word or two of the title? That’s been me a lot recently as I regress to re-reading books I enjoyed during my formative fiction years (ages 12 – 17). Don’t get me wrong, I’m still reading new-to-me books, but there is something comforting about reading books you know you enjoyed so much that they haunt you later in life.
Now, I consider myself a pretty good hunter when it comes to information seeking on the internet, but this one really stumped me. Here is what I could remember about this book:
It was young adult fantasy when I read it between 1997 – 2003
The cover featured a brunette with a braid, and there was a lot of green
Or maybe the title had “Emerald Moon” in it
It was about a magical girl who was matched with a male magical partner who was older and of higher socioeconomic status
At some point, this man gets turned into a talking dog, and it’s hilarious
In this book, all magical pairs are male-female, but romance between them is highly discouraged due to lessons learned in the past
The ruling class are all magic users and grouped by jewels like emerald, diamond, ruby
Clearly, the more I wracked my brain, the more details I was able to remember… except the title or the author. I tried searching “emerald moon green cover YA fantasy” and various combinations into Google, Goodreads, Amazon, and eBay to no avail.
But then I found this amazing group on Goodreads called What’s the Name of that Book??? I was careful to follow the rules, and tried searching my combination of words, but again, I couldn’t find the book. So I created my own posting with many of the details I listed above.
Then on a whim, I searched the group with just “emerald” and found the thread below… where it turns out someone was actually looking for a different book, but one of the respondents suggested the book I was seeking!
So it turns out the book I was looking for is called Emerald House Rising by Peg Kerr. It was published in 1997, and I did in fact remember many of the details correctly. I’m a sucker for nostalgia so I found the edition from my childhood on eBay. But after more internet searching, I also found out Ms. Kerr only ever wrote another book after Emerald before stopping to raise a family.
I learned through Wikipedia that unfortunately her husband died of cancer in 2018, and that she had a LiveJournal account until 2017 when they switched the servers to Russia. She now blogs on Dreamwidth, and it has been fascinating for me to revisit an author like this. Back in 2000, it never would have occurred to me to seek out an author’s website or journal, I just wandered the library stacks and picked up books based on what the cover looked like.
I’m happy to share that Ms. Kerr has the rights for both her books now, and is republishing them for eBook and print. I’m interested to follow her work, much like M. Louisa Locke, I think Ms. Kerr has an opportunity for a second career creating the fiction she loves.
Have you hunted for a childhood favorite book? To what lengths did you search, and what did you discover?
As a mixed BIPOC (Black Indigenous Person of Color) myself, I appreciate seeing representation in my media. I enjoyed the 1990’s Brandy version of Cinderella, for instance, because I saw it for what it was… a modern retelling of a fairy tale, which you can’t say was ever a true story, and therefore who are we to say that casting couldn’t have happened (excluding the historical context of the Brothers Grimm, of course)?
I looked forward to watching Bridgerton on Netflix because I had read a couple of the original books by Julia Quinn, mostly the later books about the younger siblings. Eloise comes to mind, being a step-mom story with two fun kiddos. I’m not familiar with the earlier books, but was aware they followed some of the more unsavory historical romance tropes (power struggles, non-consensual sexual activities, etc) since that was popular reading at the time.
And I mean, I thought it was interesting they were going to play with these historical romances by diverging from the all-white characters in the books. Black people existed in many of the socio-economic levels in Regency England, though Duke is definitely a fictional stretch (or maybe not, check out this article from Marie Claire about what Bridgerton got right about Queen Charlotte), so why not play around with the idea in a Netflix series inspired by historical romance?
However. However. Facebook threads exploded in my news feed about the quality of including these non-white characters, confirming my fears from the commercials. If you’re going to go through the trouble of a diverse cast (in any media), the least you can do is avoid the following. I’ll do my best to give reasons behind why you should avoid these things.
DISCLAIMER: Since this is my personal blog, I will be liberal in blocking or deleting unhelpful comments that focus on “unnecessary political correctness” and the like, given the topic.
Do Not Hyper-Sexualize Black People
Keep in mind there is a harmful history in the United States, at least, of titillating the white population with the “threat” of the dangerous Black Man ravaging the innocent White Woman. Related is the Black Woman who is so inherently sexual that the White Man cannot help but be seduced by her (usually physical) sensual wickedness. The idea is that Black people are such savages that they just ooze sexual energy and therefore corrupt anyone else associating with them.
I encourage you to read more about this, especially some recent research that suggests during the centuries of enslavement in the United States, both white men and women compelled non-consensual sexual activity on the Black population, dispelling some of these harmful myths.
Do not suggest Black Women are romantically unavailable
This is sort of the reverse of the previous point. Often you’ll find in media that there is a Black woman in the character list, but she is relegated to a series of stereotypes, including the “mammy” who exists solely to comfort in a mothering way, the best friend who only exists to give advice, the “jezebel” or slut who will say yes to anything sexual, the “sapphire” or angry black woman who is defined only by her inherent aggressiveness, or the “tragic mulatto” i.e. a mixed (bi- or multi-racial) character solely defined and depressed by the fact they “don’t fit in anywhere.”
Romance and sex are two different things. One can have romance with little or no sex (sweet romances are the genre), but it is rare to see a Black woman get the romance treatment in media. If you’re looking for a unique offering, that would be a great area to explore.
Do not make skin tone an indication of… Anything
Have you heard of the “brown paper bag” test? Its history is rooted in racism and colorism. The basic idea is privileges may be determined by whether a person’s skin tone matches a brown paper bag or lighter, leading to acceptance. Whereas anyone darker will be disregarded. For the most part, this happens within the Black community and likely why, when racism comes up as a topic, you might hear “but Black people are racist against Black people, too!” When we’re discussing privilege in terms of amount of melatonin in one’s skin, that’s actually colorism.
If your character is dark as night, don’t also make that character corrupt and villainous. It’s just lazy writing. If your character is a lighter-toned Black person, don’t imply they are less corrupt than a person darker than them, or imply a white person spending time with them will become “less pure” by association. Again, it’s just lazy.
OK I get it, what am I supposed to take away from this?
Historical fiction is fiction for a reason. It’s inspired by historical fact, but in actuality, exists in the shallow end of speculative fiction. We all know a Regency Duke would never have married a governess. It would have been below his “station.” Heck, even Mr. Rochester, a landed, untitled man in England, shocked everyone by marrying his governess Jane Eyre.
If your Black characters are defined by one thing and that one thing only, and I’d say this for any marginalized population, then consider rewriting or removing that character. If your Black characters lack their own narrative arcs or are written with the assumption that they exist to be a threat or to serve white people, consider rewriting or removing that character. What are you trying to say, really?
Give your characters, all your characters, some sort of emotional depth. And if you can’t do that because you feel you have to rely on stereotypes that make characters feel Other Than White, then you might want to avoid it altogether or hire a Sensitivity Reader/Editor. If you’re going to be progressive with your fiction and/or fantasy, then be progressive, friend!
Something that struck me while reading Stephen King’s On Writing is that he emphasizes life supports the art of writing, the art of writing doesn’t support life. His anecdotal story talks about how he had a room saved for writing with a T-Rex sized mahogany desk in the center, but over time, with the family and kids, he got rid of the desk, bought a family set of furniture, and shoved smaller desk under the eaves in the corner of the room.
Now, even when I had my own two-bedroom apartment, where I could save an entire room for my writing and guests, I realized… I hated it. I felt cut off from my space, the room didn’t have the best light, the reasons were endless. I moved my desk to my living room behind my sofa and felt much happier.
We’ve been going through a similar transformation that Stephen King described at my house. We spend most of our time upstairs, whereas downstairs my husband has his hobby room, I have my hobby nook, and then there’s a second living space. My hobby nook faces the living space, which I like because it gives me the best light, I can watch the little ones (furry and human), and I can feel the energy of the house.
With lock down, however, I’ve completely let the space become a wasteland of papers, books, taxes, Etsy inventory, my violin, my camera equipment, etc. It’s a location of stress, not concentration. I’ve turned my attention to tidying because of the impending winter months… we need a second space we can all retreat to recharge without having to leave the house.
Next, I hope to consolidate all my photography and music content in an area, finally leaving the remaining space for writing. It’s a shame that I have an 1860s writing desk and never use it! My goal is to clear the space so I can get back to it by the new year.
Are you making a space for your hobbies? How has your home changed since the pandemic?
Summary: First book in the Clandestine Magic trilogy, this book follows Beatrix as she supports her sister Lydia, financially and emotionally, as she attempts to win the presidency of the Women’s League for the Prohibition of Magic. All magic users (wizards) and politicians are men in this alternate history, and the way wizards create spells is by transferring the energy from leaves with a combination of magical commands.
We join Beatrix the day Peter Blackwell, childhood rival and sole wizard to come from their hometown, arrives and compels her to become his assistant. While Beatrix fears Peter was sent on behalf of the government to sabotage her sister’s future, what she discovers is far more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story! It has an inventive magic system that lays the groundwork for political intrigue and women’s equality in this alternate reality. There were some troubling use of compulsion against the heroine, but since the characters also struggled with the unintended compulsion, I didn’t see it as a reason to put the book down. The romance was a struggle for me due to the compulsion… but I enjoyed the way Cowley flipped the script by having the unrequited person be male rather than female.
For writers, read this book to learn about how to write a fantasy where magic is not the primary plot driver. This book reads like a political thriller where magic is the weapon rather than machinery. The main characters feel emotionally real by the end of the story, but the true driver the consequences of transferring leaf energy into magic, and just who has access to that sort of magic.
I also really appreciated the Cowley included a note to readers to visit her website if they wanted to avoid any triggering content. She doesn’t give away spoilers, but she does let you know about the compulsion I noted above, and other possibly traumatic events. I wish the cover art was a little more impressive, though… I feel like it distracts from the fine writing hidden between the covers.
I’ve never gotten into audio books because even with the best narrator, I lose interest or feel sleepy about 15 minutes into a listening session. This is a big reason why I never picked up podcasts, I assumed the same thing would happen.
Part of the problem was friends were suggesting podcasts that they cared about… I don’t need more politics, or reasons to get frustrated about the inequalities experienced by women and minorities, or the incomplete or biased snippets we get from audiovisual news media. I have plenty of sources for that, thanks, but I appreciate the suggestions.
However, in the last month I’ve craved a way to consume media that doesn’t require using my eyes. I sit in front of a computer for work, and ultimately for writing as well. I stumbled onto Stitcher, a free podcast streaming service, I can’t even remember how, and now realize what I’ve been missing. Many of these episodes are only 15 – 20 minutes long, which is my sweet spot, but I’ve found I can even listen to 45 minute episode because it gets my brain into a writing mode.
Between Stitcher and adopting Notion.so to plan and write my latest book, I’ve never been more mobile and nimble with my writing. The other day I went on a walk with the kid and was able to listen to a full episode and write a little over 150 words into the Notion app on my phone, then later go into my tablet and rearrange scenes, and still later go into my computer to do additional plot tidying and some deeper research.
I don’t think I would have sought out podcasts had it not been for the pandemic. We’ve been one of the families to stay at home since March since I’m a high risk individual. This means we’ve worked full time from home and provided child care as well. We’re not accepting help in order to protect me, basically. This means we’ve been catching an hour or even just 30 minutes each day to ourselves. That’s not enough time to plan and write a book, or so I thought.
I’ve felt burned out and frustrated because I wanted to write, but didn’t know how to start. The lock down started right as I was about to rejoin my writer’s group, which didn’t move to a virtual platform and I probably wouldn’t have dialed in anyway because I’m in so many video conferences for my day job. On top of the whole pandemic reality, I’ve felt insecure about the book I want to write because of the way certain media outlets have twisted the purpose and meaning behind the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve blogged about my insecurities about writing about someone who looks like me but living in a historical context… mostly because so many people don’t understand that the Black experience in America was more nuanced than “all people from Africa were slaves and no one was allowed to marry them.”
If you want to read another author’s perspective on the matter, check out G.S. Carr’s “Wielding Historical Inaccuracy Against Authors of Color.” It really made me think! Why do I not question when a book suggests a duke could marry a family-less, penniless governess? We clearly know that wouldn’t happen, just look at any of Jane Austen’s works to know that’s too much of a leap. Why do I pause when I read about an interracial relationship in the 1800s? I know they occurred whether in secret or not, and at least here in the United States, not all states had laws against interracial relationships. In fact, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Alaska, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia never had laws preventing interracial relationships!
But I digress. These are the podcasts that I’m following these days: Writing Excuses and DIY MFAare both great for different reasons, but I credit both of them for strengthening my creative backbone to just try something. I just picked up but have yet to listen to The Self-Publishing Show,Writing Roots, and the Alli Self-Publishing Advice podcasts.
Tell me, is there something you’ve tried that you wouldn’t have if there were no pandemic? How is it going?
This past Saturday, I woke at 5:30 AM, troubled by our political climate. As a hobbyist historian, I found myself wondering how we got here and what could have prevented such an ideological divide. The answer lies in studying, among other things, John Quincy Adams’s impact on the Gag Rules, the South Carolina Nullification Crisis of 1833 (the first time they threatened secession), and the Supreme Court rulings following the Reconstruction Amendments that opened the door for state-governed Jim Crow laws.
I was chatting with a co-worker the other day that the Union won the battles of the Civil War, but lost war of cultural change during Reconstruction. So, this picture is my attempt to “fix it.”
My historical fantasy is set in 1873 Columbus, Ohio. My city was doing a lot of good stuff for the education of the general public, including desegregation to deal with the rising population, opening a public library, and founding The Ohio State University (which had women and persons of color in their first graduating classes). However, the political history I mentioned above had an impact that cannot be ignored.
In my alternate history, I tweaked the Reconstruction Amendments to be more inclusive and with less caveats. I allowed Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas to not be so heavily swayed by South Carolina. I even play around with the idea that President Lincoln let’s South Carolina secede for a (very little) while.
In my story, slavery legislation is a state equality issue, where it’s unfair that states with larger populations of people who aren’t citizens (I’m looking at you, 3/5 law) get extra votes. Plus, there’s magic. More on that later.
In the meantime, I felt a little better after rewriting history for 90 minutes. I feel like maybe I can face whatever new sad news I’ll see today about the transition of power between the former and new president. I feel like we’re on the cusp of a new era of Reconstruction, this time perhaps a more focused attempt at bridging the ideological beliefs separating the 70 million who want things to stay as they are from the 74 million who push for equality and unity.
I’m sure you’re as tired as I am of hearing about all the “uncertainty” in the world today. Let’s face it, the world has always been uncertain. Excluding the flabbergasting impact the pandemic has had on the total unpreparedness of the United States, 2020 is different only because there is more visibility on issues that already existed. Not to be a total downer here, but these issues aren’t going to go away in 2021 unless we all choose to do something about it.
All that said, I’ve been looking for things that bring a feeling of stability and predictability, such as revisiting favorite books from my personal library. Even if these are re-reads, I keep track of them in my reading journal.
Why keep a reading journal?
I have kept a reading journal since 2006. There’s something oddly comforting about looking over the years at the types of books I read. Some years, it’s clear I was doing research for a new novel. Some years, I was pushing my reader horizons by picking up a lot of fantasy or literary fiction. And some years, like this one, I revisited favorites either to dissect the narrative, or just to have something at hand that I knew I’d enjoy.
My journal follows a light version of bullet journal techniques, meaning I include a:
Key to indicate my opinion of the book
Index to locate each year (some years span multiple pages/spreads)
In my reading journal’s key, I have special symbols for the following reading statuses:
Started or in-progress
“Meh” as in, it was OK but I’d probably not read it again
Disliked or hated
Try again, as in migrate this title to next year’s list because I didn’t get to it by the new year
And then I have two symbols for the format of the book, because I noticed that I started reading eBooks out of nowhere in 2011, with 2015 being the first year where I read more eBooks than print books.
Noticing reading trends
This year, I’m back to only reading print books because I’ve been full-time work from home due to the pandemic. I have more than enough screen time with the job and doing DIY home improvement research on my phone, I just have no interest in reading books on my phone or tablet.
I wish I had started this journal back in high school instead of halfway through college. I’ve been seeking out books I liked at the time but didn’t have the money to buy, such as The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Some books I purchased in college, such as the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix, and some I’m now collecting through eBay to avoid spending too much money.
Of course, I also have been relying on the local library for newer books, but the new books have been such a hit-or-miss that I’ve given up on new fiction for a while. If you’re concerned about the virus transmitting on shared materials like library books, check out the REALM project from OCLC, which is a study tracking how long the coronavirus lives on such items.
What is something you’ve done recently for comfort?
Some friends keep a daily journal, just jotting notes about what happened that day. Some are keeping a specific gratitude journal. For me, it’s my reading and writing journals. Anything to keep me off another screen! I’m even considering going back to writing on legal pads since the thought of opening a word processor makes my skin crawl.
I admitted on Instagram the other day that I’m at a crossroads as an author… Not only am I considering shifting genres from historical fiction to historical fantasy (gaslamp fantasy?), but I’m also taking a hard look at my recurring writing habits with an eye to improve.
While reading WRITING FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION by Orson Scott Card, Philip Athans, and Jay Lake, I realized a hard truth… my plots misdirect the reader. This would be ok if it were done with well-crafted intention, but of course, that is at the reader’s discretion about how well I’m doing that.
Now, clearly I’m improving or I wouldn’t have won the 2017 Self-Publishing Review award for THE LAST APRIL. Even so, I’ve been learning more about the types of stories that populate fantasy and sci-fi and instead learning more about how I should be crafting my historical fiction. Isn’t that funny?
The book mentions four story categories: milieu, idea, character, event, a.k.a. “there and back again,” “answer the question,” “character transformation,” and “bring the world back to order.” At least, that’s how I’m interpreting these to help me dissect my own writing.
Card mentions readers get frustrated when you start with one category yet end with another. This made me reflect on some of the criticism I’ve received for my published works.
For instance, HAUNTING MISS TRENTWOOD starts as an “idea” story. Mary’s father crawls from his grave and we end the first chapter wondering why she is the only one to see this or if she’s losing her mind. The question the story needs to answer, at least based on the set up, is why is Trentwood haunting his daughter? Those who have read the book know this is actually a character story, because the mysteries culminate in a couple character transformations, and while we solve the mysteries, the characters are the true point. I have readers who love this, and readers who felt misled by the gothic nature of the first chapter.
THE LAST APRIL also begins as an idea, but it is more apparent that is has to be a character story because anyone who knows anything about President Lincoln’s assassination knows it had nothing to do with anyone in Ohio. Or at least at this point in our understanding of historical events, that is true. Anyone who has never learned anything about that event will feel misled by the premise. Anyone who is aware will realize this book is about the characters and the feeling of being one small individual caught in the storm of national events.
So anyway, it’s making me wonder why I start my stories on an idea but end with character transformations. I’ve always said I’m a character-driven writer, I’m proud and excited by that fact. The obvious thing to do is stop writing “idea” beginnings and instead write “character beginnings.” Putting this into practice will certainly be a challenge.
Have you read a book that you felt misled you? Did it work for you, or were you left wondering what happened?