The Library’s Home on the Web

Hey folks, if you’ve landed here, the Library has moved on again to a more permanent home at liawolff.com. I only keep this blog around in case something goes wrong with my regular one. But if you’re looking for new content, that’s where it’ll be! Please stop in and hang out with me, I’ll be updating at random intervals and I’m always happy to talk to people in between! ^_^

~Lia

“The Falcon at the Portal” Re-Read

Spoilery spoiler-words ahead, don’t read if you haven’t read the books.

The Falcon at the Portal by Elizabeth Peters

The Falcon at the Portal by Elizabeth Peters

The Falcon at the Portal is set during the 1911-1912 excavation season, and is really the set-up for the next book in the series. There are some fairly important events, chronologically speaking in the series, but it finishes on rather a loose end. There’s no real sense of resolution, despite the obvious villain being defeated and the danger removed.

The three most important developments of the book are David’s interest and involvement in the nationalist movement of Egypt, Ramses and Nefret finally admitting their love to each other (and the immediate tearing apart of there relationship by outside forces), and the advent of Sennia into the Emerson family.

David’s dedication to the cause of liberation for Egypt is hardly surprising given the character and the time period. He is a gentle soul, not really the sort for revolution, but he is also a man of strong moral character (as Amelia would say), intelligence, and some little pride. The patronizing, paternalistic tone of the British Colonial machine would chafe anyone, and David is no exception. He becomes involved with a movement, led by a man named Wardani, a charismatic and mysterious revolutionary. This involvement leads to some difficulties and brief doubts about David by the rest of the family.

Another bombshell is Ramses and Nefret’s love-story. For several books now, Ramses has been pining quietly for love of Nefret, who has been apparently un-aware of the depth of his feeling for her. Near the middle of the book, she finally discovers his desire and realizes she is of the same mind. They spend the night together, and determine to be married. Naturally, before they can tell anyone of this revelation, a bombshell is dropped on the family, sending Nefret running from Ramses in revulsion (believing him a rapist) and straight into the arms of another man whom she promptly marries in a fit of pique.

What is this bombshell you ask? Well, the advent of a new member of the family, Sennia. She is about 2 or 3 years old, the daughter of a teenaged Egyptian prostitute from the Red Blind District of Cairo. And she has the features (particularly the eyes) of Amelia. The girl’s pimp attempts to blackmail the family by accusing Ramses of fathering the child and abandoning her to the life of a prostitute like her mother. Amelia and the Professor toss him out, knowing Ramses would never do such a thing, and that Amelia’s scurrilous nephew Percy (who also lives in Egypt now) very much would. Naturally, the child, Sennia, is promptly added to the family, to be brought up by Amelia and Emerson (and Ramses and Nefret too).

Unfortunately, Nefret’s lack of faith in Ramses and her hasty marriage precipitates the family into their final show-down with the criminal they have been tracking for the whole book. She manages to marry the villain, though it’s only partially her fault. She was set up by the aforesaid scurrilous nephew, though only Ramses suspects Percey’s involvement. This setback  in the course of the Ramses and Nefret romance is incredibly frustrating as a reader. They were finally going to find happiness.

Rather than reading this one, I actually listened to it on audio-book, narrated by the amazing Barbara Rosenblat. I actually was first introduced to the Amelia Peabody series via audiobook, and Barbara’s voice has always been the voice of Amelia in my head. It was rather lovely to listen to it again, almost nostalgic in a way. Besides, she really is talented as a reader, giving each voice its own distinct pitch, timber, and intonation. She even manages to differentiate between the tone of the main point of view (Amelia’s) and the two subsidiary points-of-view (Manuscript H/Ramses and Letter Collection B/Nefret). This is noticeable, as The Falcon at the Portal has far more of Ramses and Nefret’s POV than any previous books, perhaps even half of it being not narrated by Amelia. As much as I adore Amelia, I do enjoy seeing her through Ramses eyes, and Nefret’s letters to her friend Lia are always entertaining (and in a few instances extremely poignant). The letter she writes between the time she and Ramses become lovers and when she discovers Ramses’ presumed guilt is gut-wrenching in the intensity of her love and happiness in that moment, especially in light of the disaster I know is approaching in a few short pages.

Another thing that happens in this book  (and really becomes a major plot device for all succeeding books)  is Amelia dreams of Abdullah. She dreams of him many times, usually whenever she is in doubt or difficulty. Always they stand on the cliffs overlooking the Valley of the Kings and Luxor just at dawn, and he always looks very young. He passes on mysterious hints and reassurances to her, most of which are proved true in succeeding pages. The dreams are sort of a interesting codicil into Abdullah and Amelia’s relationship, as well as another development of Amelia’s character. She is not exactly the superstitious sort, being particularly practical and skeptical. But she believes fervently in these dreams, and they bring her some comfort from her present difficulties, as well as allowing her a glimpse of her friend and the man who laid down his life for her (which does tend to forge a special bond).

The title of the book is taken from the final dream, in which Abdullah warns of troubled times ahead (detailed in the next two books) but says that “in the end, the clouds will blow away and the falcon (meaning Harakhte the Horus of the Dawn) will fly through the portal of the dawn.” It’s sort of an egyptianized variation of the saying “it is darkest just before the dawn.”

Fear of Youth is Fear of the Future

So, I originally wrote this post a couple of weeks ago when this whole prom thing went down. I finished the post, attempted to publish it, and my whole blog went up in smoke (ok, that’s a slight exaggeration perhaps). I’ve been having technical difficulties ever since, and am finally able to post things again. I’m leaving this post exactly as it was when I wrote it in a fit of frustrated disgust with the world. The things I had to say are still true, and unfortunately still relevant, despite the fact that some time has passed since the inciting incident related in the linked blog-post by Clare.

There’s a story out there this week about a young woman, Clare, who was kicked out of her senior prom because some of the chaperone dads feared she would inspire “impure thoughts” or something. This kicking-out was administered by a Ms. D on the grounds that Clare’s dress was too short (it abided by the stated dress code which she proved several times) and that Clare had been dancing provocatively (despite Clare’s friends vouching that she hadn’t been dancing at all yet). You should read the whole story in Clare’s own words. She’s really pretty brilliant, and breaks down the fuckery of the situation at the end pretty concisely.

But one thing that’s not mentioned really stuck out to me. It was the fear exhibited by the middle-aged of the young throughout her story. There was the fear of the fathers of young sexuality. But there was also Ms. D’s fear of a young woman advocating for herself with allies. This quote:

At this point one of the girls in my group came back and said that she’d been by my side the whole 15 minutes we’d been there and I hadn’t even danced more then 2 seconds and it was completely appropriate.)

At which point they told her that she wasn’t welcome in the conversation and when I protested and asked that she be able to stay to verify what they were saying to me they got very rude and said if she didn’t leave they would kick her out too.

It’s so clear that the adults feared the teenagers having or believing that they had any agency themselves. Who else would be denied a peer-advocate while being questioned/detained/removed by an authority figure? Only to “children” (those under 18) do we do this. We give them advocates (if they’re allowed one at all)…who are NOT among their peers. Other adults always. If a woman were being detained? There would be another woman present to ensure she had a peer there. If a person of color felt they needed an advocate from the NAACP? There would be one present before anything further occurred. But a 17 year old girl? No, we can’t let them gang up on us, or we might be proved wrong!

This fear, this is what is wrong with many societies these days. This fear of the young by those older. It translates into fear of citizens by the government, and when government’s fear (but fear insufficiently) they begin to enact “safety measures” which are only meant to keep citizens in their place. This fear? It’s fear of the future by those who are starting to look Death in the eye. Fear of the future is counterproductive, but more importantly, it’s dangerous. Fear of the future leads to regression, the repeating of history, and the oppression of anyone who tries to bring about change. Fear of the future leads to stagnation, and eventually Death, the very thing the Fear sought to avoid.

I’m starting to feel old these days, more and more often, especially when I hang about with particularly young people. But any time I read or hear about a story like this, I flash back to my own youth. I remember, clearly, all the times my desires were run over or denied or abrogated by my elders. The excuses were always along the lines of “you’re too young to know your own mind” or whatever. Every instance, I very clearly DID know what I wanted, and argued hard for it. And in every instance, after it was too late (sometimes long after), the adults in my life admitted they were wrong to deny my agency and that they had had an ulterior motive for doing so (mostly because many of the adults in my life were good people who could admit when they were wrong). Every memory stings yet, and every reminder is a goad to do better with my own child. As a parent to a (very) young child, I know that he is often not of the same mind two minutes in a row. But I am mindful that changing one’s mind does not negate the sincerity of the original desire, nor a child’s right to decision-making autonomy just as much as any adult.

I can protect and advocate for my son, but I can not make his decisions for him in his life. And I must not ever fear them, because that will be the beginning of the end.

I Don’t Like Epic Fantasy

Today I read a thing that pretty much blew my mind. Elizabeth Bear posted something on her Tumblr in response (and agreement) to something else Scott Lynch had posted about Game of Thrones, and how it was basically a high-fantasy soap opera. Both posts are pretty brilliant, and you should click over to read the whole thing, but the part that really blew me away was this:

In fact, the long running soap opera is the modern equivalent of the newspaper serial or comic book or radio drama, and all of those are progenitors of epic fantasy as we know it today.

A story told in western 3 (or 5) act structure has one long peak with a series of quick up-and-down ticks in tension (rising and falling action, always trending upwards to the climax).

But the plot cycle in an epic fantasy or soap opera or serial is a series of overlapping sine waves. (One for each character or plot thread.) Each peak in each sine wave is one of those three-act structure peaks in miniature.

Here’s the thing, I’ve never enjoyed Epic Fantasy of the long-form variety. But I’ve never really been able to pinpoint why exactly. The only thing I could say was that I found them boring. I’ve also never enjoyed soap operas, long-running comic books (one-offs or short series are different) or serialized stories. It wasn’t until today that I finally realized exactly why, or how all these story forms were connected.

I get bored, and confused, with the sort of long-running, serialized, complicated story lines told in those types of fiction. Even when it’s a genre that I’m a passionate fan of (fantasy) I can’t really focus for that long. I’ve only ever really read two particularly long series (as opposed to interlocking short series and trilogies such as Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar). Those are by my two favorite authors, and my writing idols, Lois McMaster Bujold (Vorkosigan Saga) and Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody). They’re a little different, structurally though. There IS an overarching narrative for both series, but each book can also be read as complete in itself (mostly), unlike the ongoing structure described in the quote above.

The only exception in this personal preference really is with non-western media, specifically anime and manga. I haven’t done an in-depth study or anything, so perhaps it’s simply a difference in narrative structure which appeals to me.

Anyway, these are the sorts of things I think about sometimes. Some people are introspective about their own lives, but I prefer to ponder on my many imaginary lives. ;)

Historical Accuracy, Representation and Ancient Egypt

I don’t talk about race much (not just here, but anywhere on the web). I don’t really feel qualified, despite reading and thinking a lot about race, because, well. I’m white. Whiter-than-white. White-bread white. I know enough to know that my understanding of racial issues is a second-hand one, so I usually feel it’s best for me to keep my trap shut and promote the words of more qualified (often under appreciated) speakers who are usually more eloquent on the subject than I am anyway.

However, there is one area which I do feel pretty qualified to talk about, even on the subject of race, and that’s Ancient Egypt. I’ve been studying it for half my life, first as a hobby and then professionally. I’m certainly not the foremost expert on it, but I’m knowledgeable enough to make reading historical fiction set in that time and place a bit difficult for me. Assuming I can find any in the first place of course. But when I do find a historical fiction or historical fantasy set in Ancient Egypt, I’m always hugely excited to get my hands on it, and usually somewhat disappointed by the end. But rarely am I angry. Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes changes are made deliberately to facilitate the story. Reading fiction is all about suspension of disbelief. I do my best to just suspend my inner Historian and enjoy a well-told narrative. But sometimes the deliberate historical inaccuracies are Not Ok. Sometimes they are rage-inducingly Not Ok.

I (relatively) recently began listening the audio version of a book set in the same village as my own WIP. It was a historical fantasy with obvious magical elements, but I enjoy those when done well. This one had achieved a certain amount of acclaim, so I had high hopes, despite some scholarly differences with the version of the world as I encountered it in the first few pages. And then we got to the deal-breaker. A female character, one who the signs pointed to being the primary love-interest, was encountered by the main character. The female character was described as extraordinarily beautiful…and blonde and blue-eyed. She had a local name, and was heavily implied to be of local ancestry, but she was clearly being described as white.

Ancient Egyptians, like modern Egyptians, were brown and black people.

That’s all there is to it. I have never heard of an authentic case of an ancient egyptian being blonde haired or blue-eyed. Some of them had lighter brown hair, a few are believed to have had green or hazel eyes. But they’re people of color as we say now, not white. It’s doubtful the average Egyptian would even have SEEN very many truly pale people. Blonde hair and blue eyes would have been so unusual as to elicit not just comment, but probably also a certain amount of superstition and perhaps even suspicion.

There are two issues here, historical accuracy and representation. Both are tightly intertwined, but they are separate. To trounce on historical accuracy in order to take away some of the all-too-small percentage of representation enjoyed by people of color is really rather reprehensible. I didn’t actually continue listening to the book, but shut it off immediately in order to preserve my blood-vessels. Perhaps the author found a way to justify this deviation within the story. But I doubt he would have found a satisfactory justification for stealing representation from a dramatically under-served segment of the reading population.

Representation is important for it’s own sake too, even if you need to trounce on historical accuracy to achieve a wider range of it (which you usually don’t, for the record). Representation for oppressed and minority populations is hugely important, both for the people who are represented, and for everyone else. Stories tell us who we are as humans, and if we consistently see characters represented and portrayed in very narrow parameters, we start to believe that’s all there is to humanity in the real world. If you can’t see why this might be a bad thing for all concerned, then I’m afraid there’s not much else to say. We need a wide range of characters. People need to see themselves in stories, in a variety of positions. And people from the dominant groups in society need to see other people, people who don’t look like them, in a variety of stories. We need it as people, and as a species.

So, I will not be reading any more of this author’s work. I’m sorry I bought the audio-book, and feel like I wasted my money. Some authors deserve a second chance. Some don’t.

On the bright side, this did inspire me to work all the harder on my own novelization of this particular Ancient Egyptian village. Mine will be bigger, and better, and truer, and better at representing the amazing badassery of the villagers.

I hope.

Even the Best Books Aren’t Perfect

Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold is one of about half a dozen “comfort reads” that I return to repeatedly. It’s a sort of prequel to her space opera series, The Vorkosigan Saga. Really two books combined, it details how Miles Vorkosigan’s parents met, married, and the events surrounding his conception and birth which heavily influenced who he was in the series. But much as I love Miles, I don’t read it for him. I read it for Cordelia, Miles’ mother. She’s an amazing woman, one of those characters who help me define who I want to be in life. She falls in love with an “enemy”, leaves her planet and family to be with him on his (to her) backward and barbaric planet, and is dropped into the highest levels of politics, civil war, intrigue and assassination. Through it all she maintains an outward calm, and dispenses wisdom, kindness, and common sense to all those around her. All while being completely bad-ass, and without being even a little bit Mary Sueish.

But as much as I love, adore, and continually re-read this book (and many other Bujold books too), there are a couple of problems with it. There are two big ones. The first is a lack of racial diversity, but that’s not really what I want to talk about today (it’s an important point, and worth noting, but not one I usually feel qualified to write about. I’m sure others have written about it somewhere on the web however).

The other problem is also an issue of representation, but it’s an issue of sexuality not race. There’s a scene where a political enemy of Cordelia’s husband Aral is trying to blow up their (very happy) marriage by telling her “scandalous” things about his sexual history. The enemy misjudges his target pretty thoroughly, as what he (and much of the Barrayaran society) considers scandalous, Cordelia considers entirely normal and perfectly logical. Particularly in the realm of sexuality and gender roles. The whole scene is a couple of pages, and it’s generally clever and wonderful and satisfying in that “ha! take THAT you unmitigated ass” sort of way. But right in the middle is this:

He paused, watching Aral, watching her watch Aral. One corner of his mouth crooked up, then the quirk vanished in a thoughtful pursing of his lips. “He’s bisexual, you know.” He took a delicate sip of his wine.
“Was bisexual,” she corrected absently, looking fondly across the room. “Now he’s monogamous.”

And there’s the problem. Here, written bluntly out in black and white is an incredibly bi-phobic statement, one which is often used by narrow-minded people of all sexualities to justify to themselves why they won’t date/marry/love bisexuals, no matter how delightful the person might be otherwise. They want a monogamous commitment. Bi people aren’t capable of commitment, or we’re greedy, or we’re born cheaters, or whatever.

This is all complete tripe of course. Bisexuals are monogamous, non-monogamous, equally attracted to both sexes, or attracted to a whole range along the gender spectrum, or mostly attracted to one gender with the occasional crush on the other, or sometimes even asexual (though then they’re usually referred to as bi-romantic I believe). We can be bisexual without ever experiencing a relationship or a sexual encounter with one whole gender. There is no one way to be bisexual. But the important point here is, bisexuality and monogamy are not mutually exclusive. Lemme repeat: Bisexuality and monogamy are not mutually exclusive. 

Nor is bisexuality something you “used to be.” Bisexuality is not a “phase” we grow out of. This myth stems from the tendency for lesbians and gays to identify as bisexuals on their way to their true sexual identity in an effort to soften the “blow” to those around them. But they’re no more bisexuals than closeted LGBT people are straight. And their misappropriation of the label doesn’t negate the truth of it as an identity for actual bisexuals, and I sure wish people would quit trying to use them as examples to prove it’s all a phase and we’ll grow out of it, one way or another. Thank you, but no I won’t.

One of the things that makes me saddest about this little bit of ignorance (for, given her writing on other topics relating to sexuality I do believe this bi-phobia grows from ignorance on the author’s part, not malice) is what a missed opportunity it is. Here Bujold has set up a major supporting character from a very popular SF series, and he’s bisexual. But also happily married, successful, and his life is not ABOUT bisexuality. It informs his past, which has repercussions on his life during the course of this book. But with this one line, she completely negates all the good that was possible. She blatantly states that his bisexuality was a “phase” and he no longer “counts” as bisexual because he’s monogamously married to a woman. It’s such a tiny mistake to have made, and yet so very damaging to a certain portion of her readers.

This is one of the things that terrifies me so much about writing. If one of my favorite authors — a woman whose writing I admire and wish to emulate and a multi-award winning novelist — can make such an egregious mistake in representation, then what’s to keep me from making one just as bad? I want to write good representation in the characters I create, but I often feel paralyzed by doubt. I read and read and read stories and theory and advice by those whose lived realities I would like to reflect in some way in my fiction. And yet it is still possible, nay even probable, that I’ll make a misstep as grievous as this one, or perhaps even worse.

Writing is a scary business, especially when writing from a perspective not your own.

You May Have Noticed I’m a Little Nerdy…

So, those of you who follow me on Twitter or Tumblr probably have already caught on to what I’m about to say, but I thought I’d do a longer post here. This is my own little corner of the web, after all. Anyway, you may have noticed in the past that I’m a little nerdy. *pause for Readers to get over their surprise*

I know, shocking. But one of the ways my nerdiness expresses itself is through gaming, though I’m not as much of a gamer as…say…my husband (just for a not-randome example). So, what better way to express said gamery-ness than by starting up a game company with my husband and friends? The answer is…no better way.

At least, no better way if you like creating things and playing games. Both of which I do.

All of this is to say, one of the new big projects in my life is a game company called Roan Arts. It’s still in its infancy, we’re just getting off the ground, though the concept and seed of Roan Arts has been around for several years now. It’s truly the creation of our good friend James Weimer, the CEO, but we all believe in the company and are working hard to make it a success in a difficult but booming industry.

So what am I doing for the company? A lot of things really. I’m doing a little bit of social media (and later media) outreach, a little game-testing and game-design, and a whole lot of writing. I am literally writing the lore for our first board-game release right now (well, ok, right this very moment I’m writing this post, but that is my current project). And yes, that’s as mind-blowingly awesome as it sounds. The first installment is available on the Roan Arts DevBlog right now (go read it!)

So, in the future this means there will be the occasional post here about Roan Arts/Gamery type things, there will be some of my fiction appearing in places other than this blog, and my posting will probably be as erratic as always in this space. But never fear, I’ll never fully abandon this little blog! I just wanted to get an update going on what’s happening around here!

“The Ape Who Guards the Balance” Re-read

Warning: Massive spoilers ahead. If you don’t want to know who dies in this book, don’t keep reading. 

'The Ape Who Guards the Balance' by Elizabeth Peters

‘The Ape Who Guards the Balance’ by Elizabeth Peters

This one has a lot going on in it, aside from the main mystery. The main mystery is pretty straightforward, simply the pursuit of the usual suspects who are antiquities thieves in and around Luxor. Amelia’s old nemesis/admirer Sethos is back on the scene, though he doesn’t appear to be involved with her current troubles. At first.

There are other, more personal plot issues happening however. We hear quite a lot from Ramses, in the form of Manuscript H, in this volume. He is more passionately in love with Nefret than ever, and in greater pain because of it. He even begins to be jealous, and in fact suspicious that she and David have fallen in love, based on half-overheard snips of conversation which he entirely misinterprets. But we’ll be back to David in a minute.

Old friends and enemies show up in this one, including Sir Edward Washington, who helps to guard the family while they’re under attack. Layla, a native woman who was a subordinate of Bertha returns, and even Walter and Evelyn make an appearance on the scene with their daughter Lia (short for Amelia). Which brings us back to David. For it seems he and Lia have fallen madly, passionately, deeply, and entirely socially unacceptably in love. This precipitates an ugly but entirely predictable (for the time-period) family crisis. The lines along which the two sides are drawn are rather interesting, but everyone knows the most important opinion is Amelia’s. If she approves the match, everyone else will fall in behind her (or she’ll make them do so). And if she doesn’t, that’s the end of it. Amelia, for all her enlightened views on women and other downtrodden sorts, runs right into her own deeply buried prejudices, the sort instilled by a deeply, viciously racist and classist society.

Peters does her usual stellar job of exploring the difficulty of facing your own ugly side. Naturally, Amelia rises to the challenge and exterminates (as much as she can) these ugly feelings, consenting to David and Lia’s engagement. One of the things that really helps her though is her close friendship and love for Abdullah, David’s grandfather. Abdullah is actually not much happier about the love-tangle than Lia’s parents. His discussions with Amelia on the subject, and his continued devotion and gentlemanly demeanor toward her help her realize how very without foundation her objections are. But the true clincher is when Bertha, her old nemesis, after an unsuccessful abduction attempt, surprises them all and fires a gun at close range toward Amelia. The nearest help is Abdullah, and he does the only thing possible to save her, which is step forward and take the bullet himself.

This scene moves me to the point of tears every time (I’m actually tearing up just writing about it, and in the middle of the Public Library too!). Abdullah dies in Amelia’s arms, surrounded by the entire family, his and hers. His last words are to Emerson, a warning to watch over Amelia, because “She is not…” What she is not is never said, but Emerson understands perfectly what he means.

*Brief intermission for the writer to compose herself.*

On the archaeological side, we are introduced to Mr. Theodore Davis, a wealthy dilettante. He is excavating in the Valley of the Kings, near the Emerson’s own, rather less exciting excavations. His pig-headed, short-sighted, uneducated approach to excavation is motivated entirely by greed for “treasure” and a disregard for all historical knowledge. This, predictably, rather drives the Professor to rage, particularly when the excavators turn up a new tomb for Davis, with part of it’s contents intact and several mummies. The tomb is KV55, an actual tomb and the contents described are the actual contents of said tomb. Peters fudges a few of the details of the excavation, to include it within her plot and allow the Emersons to be there, but by and large her description is thoroughly accurate. Davis insists that he’s discovered the mummy of Queen Tiye, though all the knowledgeable archaeologists (i.e. the Emersons) disagree entirely, and some are rather of the opinion that perhaps it was her son, Akhenaton, who was interred there.

This volume of Amelia’s adventures ends with her and Emerson making a survey of sites in need of excavation in order to determine where to begin excavating the next season (and several seasons in the future). The final scene is an entirely touching little scene with Ramses and his mother, where she asks him to accompany her to visit Abdullah’s grave.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Twisted Love

This past week’s flash fiction challenge from Sir Wendig was a Valentine’s Day themed one called Twisted Love. It does what it says on the box, and any genre was welcome. So I knew I needed to write about a character from my historical fiction novel. She’s one of the antagonists (sort of) and this is the only bit of writing I’ve done from her point of view. As an aside, I really recommend writing snippets from another character’s point of view which will not be in the final novel. Writing this little piece (which ties in closely to a very pivotal scene in the book) really clarified and expanded some things, and helped me understand the motivations of one of the supporting characters. That greater understanding then helps to inform my writing when I’m working with her in a scene. Which in turn gives her and the scene greater depth and reality. So as much as I generally just enjoy writing for the Flash Fiction Challenges, this one also helped me with my main WIP, which makes it even more valuable. 

Here it is: Twisted Love
~~~~

She crouched behind the small decorative pyramid attached to a House of the Ka, her fists clenched and her stomach  roiling with a mixture of desire and hatred. Her onyx-hard eyes followed the two people walking hand-in-hand among the monuments for the dead. They always slipped away together to come here. She always swore she would no longer follow them, but somehow, time after time she found herself in this same place where they came to be alone. She had never yet been able to watch them once they were truly alone, but she could picture it. His hands would caress the girl’s soft brown skin, his lips explore her sensitive spots, breath tickling and warming, hearts beating together as he tasted her on his tongue.

Henutmire shook her head to rid herself of the painfully arousing images, whimpering softly in her throat. It should be me.  The thought was seductive, no matter how often she told herself it was impossible. She peeked around the corner. The couple had disappeared into one of the chapels nearby. She ought to creep away. She had no business here. Her love was not returned, and there was nothing she could do here except make herself miserable. Yet still she stayed, knees bent painfully and back prickled with sweat from the glory of the Sun-Boat.

She would go. This was madness, beneath her to stay here in discomfort hoping for some scrap of sound or glimpse of flesh to feed her lovesick imagination. She had too much pride to hang on anyone’s shadow like this. Her father was rich, a Foreman of the Gang, and she herself was destined for Training to Serve the Golden Goddess. Who were they? Nobodies. Just kids, playing at love. Hapiwer’s grandfather might be rich, but he himself was nothing. And Meretseger was the daughter of a faithless whore. She was less than nothing.

Henutmire rose and turned to go back down the hill toward the Village when she saw something that stopped her in her tracks. A man stood near the gate, looking about as if he had lost something. She recognized him immediately as the father of Hapiwer. Mery-Sekhmet, a successful man in his own right, and yet there were all those rumors about him. Rumors about women. Especially about Meretseger’s mother. Henutmire didn’t know their truth, but the sight of his broad figure in its shining white kilt and festival jewelry raised a horridly beguiling thought in her mind. What if Meretseger and Hapiwer were siblings? What if his father discovered them together? Would he tell them? Would they stop sneaking away like this, torturing her, if they knew? What if she told him where his son was, and with whom? No. She couldn’t.

Yes. She would. Before she had time to think, she was down the hill, her feet answering for her heart. She would tell him where his son was, and he would break up their romance. Then Meretseger would be free. Perhaps, in time, Meretseger would find a new love. Perhaps that love would even be Henutmire. She suppressed the swirl of longing that threatened to overwhelm her, concentrating on this first step. She must show Mery-Sekhmet the way. Later, she could set about wooing her beloved. Surely, with Hapiwer out of the picture, she might have a chance.

When a Favorite Author Lets You Down

We (Readers) all have favorite authors, those people who wrote the books which speak to our soul or draw us in until we couldn’t put the book down even if our hair was on fire, or simply kept us entertained for the desired amount of time. Within that subset of authors, most of us have a further subset which could roughly be titled “Beg, Borrow and Read Everything They Publish.” Even if we have books by the authors on that list which we really didn’t care for, we’ll still eagerly await a new book, with the reasonable certainty that it’ll be a new favorite by the last chapter. After all, maybe they let us down once (or even more than that) but the statistics show that we just really click with their writing.

Every once in a while though, a Read Everything Favorite Author doesn’t just put out a book that you didn’t care for. Sometimes they really let you down, and the book is just objectively bad. Poorly written, poorly plotted, disappointing at the end, and generally less than enjoyable. The sort of book that leaves me thinking “I can’t believe I skipped sleep for this” when I put it down. This sort of thing is a risk with any book of course, but with a favorite author it’s usually less of a risk, so it feels like a bigger betrayal when it happens. Of course, because this is an All Time Favorite Author, I can always find an excuse (They’ve been writing that particular series a long time, they’ve had personal difficulties lately, they’re mid-career and not getting as stringent editing now, etc). I will far more easily forgive an unenjoyable reading experience from an author I’m already a fan of than from one I’ve never read before, or only read once or twice.

I recently had this experience. I read a book by a Favorite Author, set in one of the aforementioned Author’s worlds which I generally greatly enjoy. It is one I’d tried to read before (and thought I actually had, but I’m fairly sure I hadn’t, or else I blocked the memory of it because it was so bad). There were so many bad aspects. Plot contradictions within the same chapter. Sloppy editing, such as the use of “actually” twice in the same sentence. But the biggest let-down was the ending, which was definitely rushed and unsatisfactory. But at the end, all I could feel was sad. Sad that something I had looked forward to was such a disappointment. Sad that the book was attached to the name of an author who I love and respect, and someone might judge her entire body of work on said book. Sad that characters I enjoyed were shackled into such a poor frame.

Disappointment is a risk whenever you pick up any book. This uncertainty may be discouraging to some who steer clear of reading unfamiliar books entirely. I’ve certainly felt the pull of the “safe” route. But when we do that, we also miss the chance to be transported and transformed by a great new book. Books are a bit like roads that way. There’s no knowing where they’ll sweep you off to. But for all that, the wise Hobbit steps through the door anyhow.

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