Writing Women

I’ve been sharing the first chapter of a “short” story (It’s 10K) I wrote earlier this year as part of Science Fiction Fantasy Saturday. The main character is a woman.

In the past I didn’t write women main characters. I was crap at writing women. I’ll tell you why:

I believed that I didn’t understand women, despite being one.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

I’m a woman. I thought I didn’t understand women enough to convincingly write one. Yes. Really.

I understood men well enough. I had lots of male friends. Heck, the were pretty much just like me, except they had a dick and I didn’t. In kindergarten, I wanted to be with the boys at recess when they had boys vs. girls, since what the girls were told to do was run screaming from the boys and I didn’t like that.

Yes. Really. Kindergarten recess. There was a game called boys vs. girls where the boys chased the girls who were supposed to run away screaming. It was sexist tag, basically.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

And folks wonder where the culture of rape comes from. Little girls being taught to run away from boys while screaming. And boys being taught it’s fun to chase screaming girls.

I believed the lie that women were meek. I wasn’t. That they needed to be blonde and pretty and airheads for guys to like them. I wasn’t. That they weren’t into science. I was. They didn’t understand math. I did, once I figured out that I reversed numbers. That they hated fantasy and science fiction. I loved these genres with a passion. That all girls were either going to become mothers or English teachers. I wanted to be a biologist.

I vowed in ninth grade that I would never get anything as useless as an English degree, since all the girls were going into English.

In short, I was sexist against my own gender because I believed the lies that our culture taught me about what girls and women were and should be, despite having counter-examples in my own family. My mother was the primary tool-user in the family. She tends to be the more problem-solving parent while my dad was much more the emotional support parent. My grandmother worked pretty much her entire life. My aunt has been a computer scientist since the 60s. She used to give me punch cards to doodle on.

And yet it took me forever to realize that I’d been fed a pile of hooey. In fact, all my peers had, too. I marveled when I found other women like me in high school and college. I was chuffed when I discovered that other women liked comic books. And D&D. And Star Wars and Star Trek and Tolkien and… and…

..and now I wonder how many of those girls I hated were wearing masks because they thought that was how they should act. I wonder if they like Doctor Who. Or the Avengers. I bet they do. I bet we actually have a lot in common.

I’m a woman. I’ve discovered that I’m not unusual in my tastes or desires. I’m not an odd woman or something outside the norm. I’m actually pretty normal.

So what does this have to do with me writing a woman main character? It was only when I stopped trying to write women like I had been taught women should be that I managed to successfully write a woman main character. That is, I started writing them like I write my male main characters–I started writing them as if I could step into their shoes. And low and behold, the characters felt real. Finally.

Funny that. Turns out women are human. Just like men. Just like me.

Oh, and irony of ironies, I have not just one degree in English, but two. Go figure.

Categories: Writing

News! News!

Some of my most read posts on this blog are the series of posts I wrote based on a workshop I gave last June on Deep POV at the In Your Write Mind workshop, which is held at Seton Hill University every year and sponsored by the alumni of the Writing Popular Fiction graduate program.

What I didn’t blog about was that I met an agent there. We invite agents every year, and there are pitch sessions and talks and all of that. So last year, I pitched to Jennifer Udden of the Donald Maass Literary Agency and she asked for two partials, and I sent them off in July.

Time passed. Some more time passed.

Last Monday, Jen contacted me for the fulls. And from then on, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind culminating with her offering representation today and me accepting. The actual paperwork hits the mailbox tomorrow.

I’m excited and astounded and a bit dazed. I’m very glad I got to meet her in person for a couple of days, because that made the decision easy, since we clicked so well.

So that’s another step on the journey! I’ve got work ahead of me, but I’m really looking forward to what happens next!

Actually, I am totally like this:


Yeah. Dignified and all.

Categories: Writing

Why I don’t fear edits

I missed the signup for Science Fiction Fantasy Saturday, so that will return next week.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about edits. I love working on edits, both the self-editing I do and implementing the edits I receive professionally. I’m almost maniacally happy to start in on editing my manuscripts and I have no fear of edits. Why? Well…

Back when I was learning to drive *mumble* years ago, I took driver’s ed. When it came to actually driving, the first time I was behind a wheel of a car, the instructor took me around the neighborhood and then some local roads, so I could get the hang of moving the car, turning, stopping, starting… all the normal stuff.

The second time I was behind the wheel of a car, the instructor took me into center city Philadelphia and had me drive around City Hall. If you’ve never been to Philly, it’s basically a giant circle around a city block that is five lanes or so wide and you have to be in just the right lanes to either turn or keep going. Philly divers are not exactly known for being kind and patient, either.

But he figured if I could manage that, I’d learn that I could dive anywhere.

And it worked. I’ve never, since then, been that horribly frightened of driving anywhere in any kind of traffic. Heck, I even drove a manual transmission car  in Scotland. On single track roads. Best time of my life, really. Not nearly as terrifying as City Hall.

My introduction to having my work professionally edited was kind of like my driver’s education experience. During the second half of my time in the Writing Popular Fiction MFA program at Seton Hill, my mentor sent me this markup on my thesis novel:


Yeah. It’s a bit like traffic in Philly. Kinda overwhelming.

It’s actually not as bad as it looks. Wwhen I started in on the edits, I discovered that what he’d left me was a detailed map of how to chip away at the crap and polish up what was left. That’s what I did, and it felt great.

So when I received edits from the publisher of the paranormal romance I wrote under my other name, I did not flinch when they looked like this:


I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. And it was fine. Easy, even. I’d been around City Hall before, and could do it again. It was much like driving in Scotland–maniacally fun.

In both cases, I ended up with a novel that was better and closer to what I wanted than I’d started with. Because that’s what editors do, they help you write a stronger novel. In neither cases was I dictated to, and in a few places, I declined the edits, as I had good, justifiable reasons for writing what I did. In the end, I have to own all the words on the page.

But if you’re worried about edits, don’t be. They can look daunting, but they’re worth navigating.

Don’t fear the edits. They might even be fun!

Categories: Writing

Tag, I’m it! The Next Big Thing

Way back in October, the lovely and talented Nikki Hopeman tagged me to answer 10 questions about my work in progress. I… um… sat on those questions for a while. *hangs head in shame*

Meanwhile, my alter-ego got tagged with 10 questions about a work in progress as part of The Next Big Thing blog hop. And I recognized those questions!

So while I was writing up the answers for my pen name’s WIP, I wrote up The Next Big Thing for me. So here it is:

 What is the working title of your book?

As you can see from the various snippets that litter this blog, the working title of the novel is Herald. This will change, I’m sure.

Where did the idea come from for the book?


No, really. While procrastinating on rewriting the opening to another novel, I ended up writing a 6,000-word fanfic based on the 1989 movie version of Shakespeare’s Henry V. After I wrote that, I started in on another…that had me changing history left, right, and center. It occurred to me that if I stopped, sat back, world-built the Hundred Years war period differently, and added some magic, and set it on another planet, I could have an original piece of fantasy fiction. Because playing with my own characters has always been more fun. And hey! I can change history if I’m making it up.

So I did. There’s an aging and infirmed king, a princess who plots against her brother, the prince and heir. A duke who sees a path to the throne. A young foreign king whose own country still reverberates from the civil war his father and he fought, who seeks to reclaim lands given to his line previously, but also wants what is best for all his people (or the people he thinks are his…), and a royal herald stuck in the middle while two kingdoms fight, his king slowly deteriorates, and his kings heirs plot against each other.

Plus magical names, blood magic, and telepathic links to books.

What genre does your book fall under?

Epic fantasy, most likely.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

vlcsnap-2013-01-29-21h20m49s26*Cough* I still picture Kenneth Branagh as my Henry stand-in (That would be the Red King from the snippets) and vlcsnap-2011-05-28-14h13m17s195Christopher Ravenscroft as my Montjoy stand in (Denis de Mont from the snippets. And yes, the name is an homage to the French battle cry, Montjoie! Saint Denis! as well as the character of Montjoy.) Not as the gentlemen are now, but how they were at the time of the Henry V movie.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Revenan royal herald Denis de Mont is caught between his loyalty to King and country and the charisma of the invading Angth king who will either destroy all that Denis loves…or save it, at the price of freedom.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

With this one, I’ll fight hard to get an agent for it. But that’s a ways off.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’ll let you know when I finish it. I’d like to get most of it written this year, but it’s an expansive project and there are other books I’m also writing, so I suspect this will be a 1-2 year project.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

 I’m aiming at a kind of Guy Gavriel Kay feel, though really, I can’t escape my own style, so I’m bound to miss. If I can tap into a quarter of what makes Kay’s writing so awesome, I’ll be the happiest gal on the planet.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Too many rewatches of the KB Henry V movie. That and watching the woman fighters in the SCA.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The Catherine-analogous character will be more along the lines of Joan of Arc, I think. That is, she’s going to have brass balls and know how to use them. And a sword.

Categories: Writing

Little bit of research


Battle of Agincourt

I’ve been indulging in a little bit of research while waiting for Science Fiction Fantasy Saturday to return in the new year. Well, I’ve also been writing, too! But Herald, which will someday get a better name, is going to take a bit of planning to get right in my mind. So that means research.

This week, I’ve read two short books published by Osprey Publishing:

Henry V and the Conquest of France 1416-53


Medieval Heraldry

It’s the little things that catch my attention. Like a note that The Anjou King of Arms was annoyed at pursuivants abusing their diplomatic immunity by spying for their masters. And that the Duke of Burgundy was murdered by the Dauphin. And that Joan of Arc raised her army a mere 14 years after Agincourt. I mean, in the grand scheme, I knew most of these things, but the writer in me pointed these out to pay attention to.

I don’t know where I’ll go with them, since the world Denis inhabits is a bit different than our own (what with ghosts and heralds laying spirits to rest and magic and all), but the journey should be fun. Maybe not for Denis, but that’s the plight of the protagonist, eh?

Categories: Writing

Tag! I’m it!

Hope your shots are up to date… I’ve been tagged by David Day in a game of author infection!

The rules are simple. Search your work in progress for the first use of “look”. Copy and paste that paragraph and the ones immediately before and after into a blog post. Then tag five other authors.

This is from the dog draft (rough rough) of the sequel to my finished fantasy novel Duty to the Crown. The sequel currently has the stunning name of Duty, Part II.

Dannel crossed to the door that separated the two rooms. He bent close to the fire and rubbed his gloved hands together. Golden light flickered across the silver embroidery stitched into black leather. Silver. The casual richness of every item still made Peradon’s breath catch. Thank goodness Dannel’s focus was on the fire. Peradon cleared his throat. “My lord?”

Dannel straightened and stepped away from the fireplace. “Well now, you look about as irritated as I feel.”

Peradon schooled his expression. “My apologies.” How irritated did he look?

Off to tag some writers…

Categories: Writing

Deep Point of View: More on Third Person

Writing by Jeffrey James Pacres

Writing by Jeffrey James Pacres


To recap: As part of the In Your Write Mind Workshop I attended in July at Seton Hill University, I gave an hour-long class on Deep Point of View. I thought I might as well turn the class into a series of blog posts. This is the second one.

You can also check out Deep Point of View: Point of View, an Overview

More on Third Person

Third Person Point of View is the only POV where you can change the level of reader immersion into the character. With First Person, you’re pretty much locked into the POV. It’s that character, what that character thinks and feels, and what that character wants to report to the reader. In Second Person, the reader is also immersed into the character fully, since they more or less become that character. It’s like a video game where you’re interacting with the story as a character.

But with Third Person, since the reader isn’t necessarily sitting in the head or becoming the character, the author has the option of how deep to immerse the reader into the character. Or characters. The author also doesn’t have to stay at any one level of immersion. (In fact, chances are, they won’t).

So what are the levels of immersion? Well, there are different thoughts on that. Here are two of them.

Alicia Rasley, in The Power of Point of View, lists six levels:

  • Camera/objective – This is a view of observation, not interaction. Like a movie.
  • Action – The reader experiences the characters physical actions and reactions.
  • Perception – The reader experiences the actions, reactions, and the perceptions of the character (sees, hears, tastes, physically feels, etc.).
  • Thought – The reader experiences the thoughts of the character (what they’re planning, etc.).
  • Emotion – The reader experiences the emotions of the character. (who they love, what they hate, etc.).
  • Deep immersion/Voice – You get all of the above, plus the narrative takes on the voice of the character.

Orson Scott Card, in Characters & Viewpoint, lists four levels:

  • Omniscient – The reader sees all the characters do and think, but from a single, different, narrator’s perspective (i.e., not from one of the character’s view points)
  • Cinematic – The reader observes the characters, as in a movie (i.e., no narrator interjection or judgement).
  • Limited light penetration – The reader sees into the viewpoint character’s mind, but does not experience the scene as the character, but filtered through a narrator.
  • Limited deep penetration – The reader experiences the scene as the character does.

In addition to the levels of immersion, there are two main… let’s call them types of third person POV. You can see them hinted at in the levels of immersion:

  • Omniscient – Just what it says on the tin. In Omniscient third, the narrator sees and knows all, including the character’s–all of the characters–thoughts and feelings. The trick with Omniscient third is that the narrator is always the same. It’s the voice of a god telling the reader about the story.
  • Limited – Again, pretty much what it says. In this case, the viewpoint is limited to one character. If that character isn’t present in a scene, the reader doesn’t see it. However, you can have more than one limited third point of view in a story. Its just that you can’t jump points of view willy-nilly. Scene breaks are preferable, to let the reader know they’re moving heads now.

So that’s a little more about third person, on our way to examining Deep Point of View. Up next: What Deep POV is, What it isn’t, and Why First isn’t Deep POV.

Categories: Deep POV, Writing

Story published! For a good cause!


Cover for Hazard Yet Forward Anthology

My horror flash fiction story Eight o’Clock Walk has been published in the Hazard yet Forward anthology!

It’s a charity anthology put together by those associated with the Seton HIll Writing Popular Fiction MFA program to help support one of our own, Donna Munro, a 2004 graduate of the program. She was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and this is our way of supporting her.

Seventy-six authors pitched in to form this multi-genre anthology, including World Fantasy Award winner Nalo Hopkinson, Bram Stoker winners Michael A. Arnzen and Michael Knost, Bram Stoker nominee Lawrence C. Connolly, ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults winner Jessica Warman, Rita finalist Dana Marton, Spur award winner Meg Mims, Asimov’s Reader’s Award winner Timons Esaias and WV Arts and Humanities literary fellowships winner, Geoffrey Cameron Fuller.

And me.

There’s a blog about the project, too.

It’s only available as an e-book, because at more than 700 pages, printing it would have cost-prohibitive.

Categories: Writing

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