Today is the release day of DUSKFALL–debut novel of the awesome Christopher Husberg. This is one of my favorite epic fantasy novels ever. I love the genre, but I put down far more of the books than I finish, because of the epic fantasy tendency toward slow pacing and bloated description. DUSKFALL is a novel that moves, the characters are compelling, and the world is awesome and well-drawn. Seriously, you should read it right now. But in case you need more convincing, here are my three favorite things about it.
Not counting the gorgeous cover, of course:
#1: DUSKFALL has women in it.
Okay, this seems like it should be a given, right? But SO many of the epic fantasies I pick up have a) no women who are not love interests, b) no women who are side characters, or (sometimes and!) c) only women who are spoken of by other characters/treated by the narrative in condescending, objectifying, or gender typical ways. This might be better than our Tolkein roots in which there are almost literally no women, but not by, you know, a lot.
The women in DUSKFALL, on the other hand, are full characters with their own motivations and goals. I love each of them for different reasons. Their actions serve their own character arcs. These characters are not always “likeable.” I never felt like they were token. They felt like people who happen to be female as opposed to women who are written as if femininity is the foremost (or only!) aspect of their character. They were all different from one another! There are romance arcs, but they’re secondary to the central character arcs of each of the women. Winter, especially, had one of the most horrifying and compelling arcs I’ve read in a long time. AND, while the book doesn’t go out of its way to call attention to the fact, as main characters the women outnumber the men. All without changing the tone of the dark epic fantasy book which will surely still appeal to male readers, probably even as a primary audience, given the state of the genre.
It’s shameful that this makes the list of my very favorite things about this book, but this was the best handling of female characters in an epic fantasy that I have perhaps ever read. It made my inner feminist do a happy dance. For real.
#2: I want to avoid spoilers, but there’s an addiction story that was the best handled portrayal of addiction that I have ever seen in fiction. I generally avoid drug narratives in books and films, because glorification of drug use often makes me feel physically ill. This one, however, was so artfully done, I felt incredible empathy for the character, though the behavior of this character was truly classic (and rightly terrifying) addiction behavior. There was a scene near the end of this arc that was at once awful and incredibly powerful. This is fiction at its best–dealing with darkness in realistic ways without stumbling over messages or glorifying illness. I wish I could say more but…spoilers.
#3: It does things that I thought couldn’t be done, and does them well. DUSKFALL, to my great surprise, had not one but three elements that are hard to pull off in new and interesting ways: amnesia, vampires, and elves. I didn’t know it was possible to sell a book with elves in it anymore, but these elves work wonderfully. (And kind of Vvardenfell-esk, which puts them close to my heart.) The amnesia is plausible, well-structured, and generally well-written. And the vampire was just plain awesome.
I limited myself to three things, but if I was going to pick a fourth, it would be how much more story there obviously is to be told. It sold in a five book deal…and I wish I had the sequel already. And the one after that. And the one after that. And the one after that.
But hey, if you haven’t read this one yet, you still get to read it for the first time. Lucky you. Get to it.
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.
It’s been a while since I did one of these, but this post is part of an ongoing series of how I get writing done at home with a child. Insert standard disclaimer about how this probably only works if you are me and have my child, but before I had kids I was told I couldn’t write with little children and would never get anything done. This is my way of sending a more hopeful message out: if you’re me, it’s possible, so maybe it will also be possible for you.
When my daughter turned two, getting work done at home became immeasurably easier. Because I started letting her watch TV.
Yes, I became THAT mom who uses the television as a babysitter.
But here’s the thing. She’d given up napping, and was sleeping WAY better at night for it, so it was clearly what she needed. But she wasn’t actually ready to interface with people all day without getting seriously grumpy. So we instituted a one-movie-per-day policy. She got 90-120 minutes of screen time which doubled as downtime, and I got the same to write in peace and without interruption.
And it worked beautifully. My own guilt kept me from letting her have any more screen time than that, but in that many minutes a day, I could keep up a work pace that I was comfortable with. Plus, my child fell in love with Miyazaki movies, which was an added bonus.
After she turned four, things changed a bit. I wasn’t quite prepared for this, but while for my three-year-old I was the favorite person and preferred playmate, my four-year-old would much rather play with her friends. For hours.
Suddenly I found myself with tons of time on my hands where all I had to do was be on hand to help solve problems and provide snacks–and we weren’t even watching movies anymore more than once a week.
Coupled with this was a realization I had. I’d always thought I couldn’t write at night because I am braindead at night. But I went through a couple months where for physical reasons I was braindead ALL the time. And I discovered something invaluable: the quality of my ability to think doesn’t actually affect my writing ability at all. This may be because I’ve been writing for sixteen years now and it’s all become muscle memory. Or maybe I always could have done this, and I was just telling myself I couldn’t. (As a sidenote, it’s amazing what I can do when I stop telling myself that I can’t and just do it already.) But I would get into the evening hours and my thought process would go something like this: I am tired. I cannot brain. Tired brain cannot write. Wait. When will my brain not be tired? Crap. This is all I’ve got. Tomorrow, it will also be all I’ve got. Next week? Same. Guess I better write anyway.
So I started getting work done during the day while my child was happily occupied AND at night when she went to bed.
Thus followed the most productive writing months of my entire life. I got so much done. It was liberating and exhilarating.
We’re in for a whole new adventure, guys. Stay tuned for the Mommy Writer, part 2.
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.
While I was really looking forward to publishing BOYLESS, I dreaded the process of approving a cover. The beauty of this cover (and all my covers) is due to the wonderful work of my cover designer Melody Fender. But usually when we begin work I send Melody not only the book, but also a lightbox full of stock photos I’ve collected as a jumping off point, and a description of any ideas I have. Often (very often) we go in a totally different direction, but at least it gives us someplace to start. As Melody puts it, “it lets me see what’s in your head.”
But for BOYLESS, all that was in my head was a list of what I didn’t want.
The main character of BOYLESS is overweight. She does not, as some early readers suggested, merely imagine that she is overweight. She is actually what the BMI would classify as obese. (I’m not going to even get started about what I think about the BMI and this classification, and instead let the fact stand.)
In my head, Bryn and Logan look something like this:
Isn’t she cute? Overweight and awesome. This is the Bryn that I wrote about.
But that photo above? It represents one of only four or five photos I could find of cute couples where the girl is overweight. Most of the photos that claimed to have overweight girls in them either had girls who were a) not actually overweight, just not Vogue models or b) were insulting, “humorous”, or otherwise offensive. What remained were a very few images like this one, which is a snapshot.
NOT a cover quality image.
This made me intensely angry. Because I wanted to put a picture of my main character on the cover, like my other contemporary novels. But mostly because it’s ridiculous given the sheer volume of photos of happy couples on stock photo websites that there isn’t a wider range of body types. Every once in a while I would make another pass, sure that the photos I was looking for must be out there somewhere.
But they weren’t.
I thought seriously about trying to create a photo of my own. But when I thought about the added complexity and expense…I just didn’t have the resources to hire a photographer, pay (let alone find) models, pray that the pictures came out right the first time, etc.
No. I’m an indie author, and I am limited to what stock art provides. But I didn’t know what we were going to do, so when I sent the info to Melody, instead of a list of ideas, it read like a big long list of what I didn’t want.
Here are a few of the things I told her:
I wanted the cover to match my other contemporary novels, which meant no drastic changes in style, like going illustrated a la the cover of Dumplin’. We needed to find a photo that would work. Also, BOYLESS is a romance, so I wanted a couple on the cover.
However, I absolutely did NOT want to put a skinny girl on the cover, because that is so insulting to my character.
Other things I didn’t want to see:
-clothes that indicate size that are not on a person at the time
-images prominently featuring my character’s butt
(This list brought to you by actual covers by New York publishers. Ugh.)
In the end, this was my take home:
“I don’t know that an appropriate image exists. It’s really annoying because by avoiding putting Bryn’s body on the cover it’s adding to the idea that no one wants to see an overweight body, but there are no appropriate photos of bodies available to PUT on the cover. Stupid fat shame culture. Stupid airbrushed people.”
I closed the email saying this might be an insurmountable problem.
And you know, with my resources, it really was. Maybe I should have tried harder. Maybe I should have done it differently. But in the end, my cover designer created this cover, and it’s gorgeous.
I am so, so happy with Melody’s work. The cover fits the book, nails the genre, and is a great advertisement for the story. (And the boat scene remains my very favorite in the entire novel.)
A part of me, though, will always be angry on Bryn’s behalf, and, really, on behalf of all women, that we didn’t have the option of using a cover quality, market appropriate shot of an overweight girl as part of an attractive couple. Because, guys, this is a thing that exists in real life. Guess what? Fat girls are loveable. And have men who love them. And therefore real life romance stories that don’t involve makeovers or weight loss. That’s why I wrote this book–because I think our media should reflect that reality, and the fact that it doesn’t just makes me sad.
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.
Today I am excited to finally announce the release of my contemporary young adult romance novel, BOYLESS!
I’ll have more to say in the coming days about the cover, but today I just want to share it with you, in all its glory:
What’s it about? Here’s the back cover copy:
Nothing was going to ruin Bryn’s boyless summer. She was all set to have a fantastic experience working at all-girl Camp Timberpine, away from the outside world, away from her food-obsessed mother. With no boys around, Bryn was no longer the bottom of the totem pole of desirability. She was only River, art counselor, still fat, but without the constant reminders that her body shape took her right out of the spawning pool, like a salmon who couldn’t swim upstream.
And then he appears—the camp director’s son, up for the summer to build the camp a new outdoor stage. Logan is more handsome than Bryn would like to admit–and he’s also a threat to all of Bryn’s summer plans. As the other counselors throw themselves at him, Bryn knows that any one of them might be the lead in Logan’s summer romance. Even worse, Logan seems to have pegged her as the safe girl—the one he can hang out with without getting constantly hit on, and no amount of Bryn’s caustic sarcasm will get him to leave her alone. In fact, he almost seems to like it.
Bryn’s hope for a boyless summer rapidly turns to anything but. But could Logan ever be interested in her as more than a friend? And can Bryn let go of her fears and give romance a chance?
(And for those who are wondering, yes, the sequel to A Thousand Faces is coming. It’s in edits AS WE SPEAK! It’ll be out in the next few months.)
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.
I have been so happy to have SKIPPED back out in the world again. This was the book that made me a published author, so it will always have a special place in my heart. Thanks to everyone who’s read and shared it. The listing with the new title and cover doesn’t have any reviews yet on Amazon, so if you’ve read the book and feel inclined, I’d love it if you’d pop over and leave one.
If you’re new to the book–and it’s been a while!–I thought I’d re-share some of the things I wrote about it back during its release in 2012.
- Here’s a post on John Brown’s blog where I talked about where I got the original idea for SKIPPED and how I turned that idea into a novel.
- And a piece I wrote for the Macteen blog about how I like to write about things that disturb me, and how that played into Ricki’s story
- And last, a post for Mary Robinette Kowal’s ongoing series, My Favorite Bit, where I talked about what I was most proud of in the book.
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.
Last weekend I was talking to a friend of mine who had just gotten some devastating news regarding one of her novels. We talked at length about how she should respond to this news, but as the conversation went on, it became clear that there were two problems at hand. The first was what she should do professionally to solve the problem with her book. And the second was, how could she continue in this business when every time hard news arrives, every time a book is finished on sub without selling, every time her hopes are dashed by rejection or failure, she can’t help but fall apart?
I’ve been there. In my now-sixteen years writing books, I’ve had a lot of disappointments. I’ve cried a lot of publishing tears. I’ve spent years and years wanting to quit. I’ve been completely and utterly miserable with my work and all the outcomes that came from it.
But now I’m happy.
And I’m not any more successful than I was when I was miserable–in fact, by some measures I am less successful.
And as I tried to deconstruct why that is–both to help my friend and to understand it myself, this is what I realized:
I am happy even though I am no more successful than I was because my success never was relevant to my personal happiness. I only believed that it was, and it was this false belief, not my failure, that made me miserable.
When you’re in the early stages of your career, writing and working and dreaming, it’s easy tie your personal happiness to the future of your career.
I will be happy when I finish the book. But you do, and it’s not enough to make you happy.
I will be happy when I’m ready to query. But you do, and you’re more nervous than ever.
I will be happy when I get partial requests. But you do, and the “hope” that you feel makes you even less secure.
I will be happy when I get full requests. But you do, and it doesn’t make you happy. You want more.
I will be happy if I can just get to where agents are writing to me personally, not sending form letters. But you get there, and it’s still not enough.
I’ll be happy when I sign with an agent.
I’ll be happy when I get a book deal.
I’ll be happy when I get another book deal.
I’ll be happy when I find another agent.
I’ll be happy when I see my book in the bookstore.
I’ll be happy when I get fan mail.
I’ll be happy when I win awards.
I’ll be happy when I make a best seller list.
I’ll be happy when I hit #1.
But you can do all these things (and if you do, yay for you!), but they won’t make you happy all by themselves.
Because your success or failure was never relevant to your personal happiness.
Here is the truth, going with the agent example: you can enjoy working with your agent, you can benefit from it, you can be grateful for it, you can profit from it–but your personal happiness, security, confidence, and self-esteem are not going to increase by signing with an agent. Why? Because having or not having an agent was never a factor your personal happiness, security, confidence, or self-esteem. Those things come from other sources, and not from having or not having an agent.
I am happy now (and was miserable then) because I retrained my brain not to tie my happiness, self-worth, or the value of my work to publishing outcomes. I had to, if I wanted to survive. This is the truth about the industry: it is a hellish roller coaster that chews up and spits out basically everybody. Even the very most successful authors I know have had their editors and agents leave the business at inopportune times, have lost or needed to leave an agent, have had books orphaned or abandoned by their publishers, have waited for years on end for business deals to move that never do, have had book after book rejected. Not every bad thing happens to everyone, but if you last long enough in this business, some of them will happen to you.
And, for me, the key to surviving, to continuing to write books and seek publication (both traditional and indie), and to damn-well be happy while I did it was to stop telling myself the damaging stories about happiness and replace those stories with healthy ones.
I’m happy, now, because I have healthy beliefs about what publishing can and cannot do for me. I have healthy beliefs about what I can get out of publishing and out of my work, and I don’t ask it to carry the burden of my happiness, self-worth, value, or other voids that publishing can never fill.
It’s a job. And it’s unfair to ask any job to take on that burden.
What follows are some examples of the thoughts I used to replace the unhealthy ones. I don’t know if they will be helpful to anyone but me, but I thought I would throw them out there just in case. Anytime I find myself feeling crushed by a failure, or feeling undue anxiety about the performance of a book on submission, during publication, or otherwise, I know I’ve lost my center. And I return to these stories, which, for me, are a balance of hope and realistic expectations.
- I hope that my book sells to a good publisher, because a publisher can potentially open doors for my work that I cannot open myself. I hope that my book sells to a publisher and is offered a good advance because the money would benefit my family, and it would be a privilege to work with a good editor on my book.
However, if my book sells to a publisher it will not mean it is a good book, because whether or not a book sells is not relevant to its value. There are many books of poor quality that sell; there are many books of great quality that do not. If my book does not sell, it will not mean that it is a bad book. A publisher has the power to decide whether or not they will offer to publish my book and how much money they will offer, but not whether or not my book is of quality or has value.
- I hope that I will be able to work with–or continue to work with–a good agent, because I think that having an agent is valuable to my career, opens opportunities I would not otherwise have, and helps me to maximize my product and earning potential as a writer. However, signing with–or retaining, or pleasing–an agent will not make me feel like a real writer, because having–or keeping–an agent is not relevant to my self-identity as a writer.
Losing or being rejected by an agent does not make me a hack, or a bad writer, or a hopeless case, because having–or being liked by, or keeping–an agent is not relevant to my value as a writer. I hope to have a long and healthy relationship with an agent. But if I do, I will be about as happy as I am now. And if I don’t, I will still be about as happy as I am now, because having an agent is not a contributor to personal happiness.
- I would like my book to sell well because I want to share it with readers–that’s why I wrote it in the first place. Also, I hope it will sell well because I could use the money for my family, and to facilitate my continued work. However, good sales will not make me happy, because book sales are not a relevant factor in my personal happiness. Poor sales will not destroy my happiness because book sales are not a relevant factor in my personal happiness.
Whether my book sells well or not, I will be about as happy as I am right now because my happiness is influenced by other factors in my life–not by my book sales. I hope my book does well, but whatever happens, I will be okay. Book sales do not have the power to make me okay, or to make me not okay.
- I work hard on my books because I get a sense of accomplishment out of the work, because I feel better when I am productive, and because I get a sense of satisfaction out of a completed product. Therefore I will write today because I want writing to be done, and because doing so will help me progress as a writer. But I am not going to do it because I think it will give me control over my life, or because I think the external results (acceptance, sales, awards, etc.) of my writing will make me happy, because the external results of my writing have never had power to make me happy, and producing words only grants me power over my ability to produce words, and not over any other aspect of the industry, my life, or my career.
- I have no control over the outcomes of my efforts, and that is okay, because outcomes have no power over my personal happiness. I do have control over my personal thoughts and actions, and that’s good, because my personal thoughts and actions do have an influence on my personal happiness.
I’d like to be clear that I have not abandoned hope. It’s so tempting to try to squash hope so that you don’t feel disappointed, but this really isn’t a path to happiness either. This is because I’m not sure it’s possible to write a novel without some hope for its future. The key is to have that hope without heaping unnecessary burdens on top of that hope–hope that publishing will fix you. Because it can’t, and it won’t, and asking it to do so isn’t fair to anyone, especially yourself.
After reaching a breaking point–a rock bottom where I couldn’t imagine where I would find the creative energy to write another novel, I had to take a hard look at what writing and publishing were adding to my life. And this is what I learned:
For me, writing books does affect my personal happiness, because the work and the stories are important to me. The sense of accomplishment I get out of finishing difficult tasks, overcoming obstacles, carving out time, solving plot problems and creating a novel I am proud of gives me confidence and a sense of progression and identity that I don’t get out of any other work that I do in my life.
I am proud of my work, regardless of the outcomes in the publishing industry. Continuing to write books sometimes frustrates me, the results often disappoint me, and the work itself is frequently difficult. But the work I do in my own time is under my control, and is relevant to my personal happiness. I experience that happiness best and most fully when I focus on my own work, and do not hand power over my happiness to external factors that are out of my control.
And, finally, my work, in the end, is only one small part of my general happiness. In truth, the grand majority of my happiness comes to me through my family, through my faith, through self-care, through service to others, through my friendships, through play, and through healthy living.
When I do mental housecleaning and make sure that the stories I am telling myself are healthy ones–even if it means repeating that story to myself each and every time I sit down to write, each and every time I interact with the industry, each and every time I turn on the internet–then I’m able to be happy, no matter what happens external to me. When I am centered in healthy thoughts, assigning my happiness to things that can actually contribute to it and not mirages that are not relevant, no failure can destroy me.
It’s not easy to learn to think differently. Doing so takes a lot of work (and, in some cases, a therapist. And, if the problem is clinical, sometimes also medication, because some negative thought patterns are actually symptoms of mental illness.) But for me, anyway, learning to change my own beliefs gave me control over my own work in a way that I’d never thought possible. It allowed me to continue working, and not quit. And I did so not because my worth hinged on it, but because it’s what I wanted to do.
I’m happy now, and I wasn’t before. And if I never achieve any more success than I have at this very moment, I can be satisfied with that.
And that, friends, is real happiness– the kind that lasts.
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.
Today I am happy to announce the re-release of my first published novel, complete with a new (old) title and a brand new cover.
There are a few changes in this edition, now available at Amazon in print and ebook, and also at most other e-book retailers. (See links below.)
Skipped is actually the original title of the book, which was changed to Chasing the Skip by the marketing team at my publisher. I’ve always preferred Skipped because of the multiple meanings–Ricki, the main character was skipped out on by both her mother and her father, and to me, the title (and story!) was always mainly about her. Then of course there’s the skip she and dad are chasing, who plays a non-trivial role in Ricki’s arc. Plus, I’ve always thought the Chasing part of the title made the book sound a bit too much like romance, which it isn’t. More on this below. All of this meant that when it came time to do a new edition of the book, I decided to roll back to the original title, and I’m excited to finally get to release the book this way.
As many of you know, publishers design covers, often with little to no input from authors, and they own the rights to those covers. Because my publisher wasn’t involved in this edition, the book had to have a new cover. I was excited about the opportunity, however, because I’d always wanted to put a cover on this book that looked more like a character story and less like a romance. (I love romance! Some of my books fall into this category! But this one doesn’t, so I worried I was disappointing readers who expected one thing from the cover and got something very different when they read the book.) This beautiful cover was designed by the amazing Melody Fender, and I think she did a great job expressing the tone of the book.
Ah, the content. I changed very little when I was reformatting this book–if you’ve read it before, you might not even notice that anything is different. There were a few extraneous dialogue tags that I cleaned up in layout, but that’s about it.
I went through the book and removed all of the more offensive swear words, doing my best to express the same sentiment in other language.
Let me go on record that I don’t have a problem with swear words in books, especially when they’re used sparingly and to good effect. I still think that the way I used those words in this book was artistically legitimate. When you’re writing about fugitives running from the law, their language is probably not in reality going to be squeaky clean, and I think that’s okay, because it’s an expression of character.
However. After I released the first edition of this book, it became clear to me that many people did not agree with me. Which was their prerogative–I know I can’t please everyone, and I’d be foolish to try. But I received several emails from people who loved (loved!) my book, but told me that while they wanted to recommend it to others, they couldn’t because of the language content.
That really hit home to me. Artistically legitimate or not, it’s not worth it to me to include heavy swear words if they offend my audience to the point that my books can’t spread by word of mouth. I had some tough conversations with myself about whether my choices were the right ones.
And I decided that, for me, they weren’t.
It’s been years since I made that decision, but it’s taken this long for me to have the opportunity to correct the problem. In the meantime, while my other books still contain mild swear words, I’ve steered away from the harder ones, choosing other language to reflect the same sentiment. And now, I’m happy to finally be able to correct the problem in this book. And I’m happy to say that I don’t think altering the language in those two or three places in the story hurt the narrative any. I’m just as proud of this version as I was of the last one.
And if you’ve been avoiding telling people about this book because of the content, please. Spread the word.
Where to find Skipped:
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.
This book is a little different from the others I’ve released. It’s a science fiction spy thriller about shape shifters, and it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve written. I’m delighted to finally get to share it with you.
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.
My friend Katherine Cowley has a story coming out in the Steel and Bone anthology,
and asked if she might do a guest post about differences in the way we think and how
those differences can be our greatest strengths. She has some beautiful things to say, and
I'm happy to have the opportunity to host them here. Hope you enjoy. Art: “Color Cave in the Sea of Synesthesia” by garlandcannon via flickr, Creative Commons license All of us have differences, things that set us apart. It’s a common observation that in high school people either hide those differences to try to fit in, or they flaunt then. High school and its social angst aside, our differences can be frustrating, even challenging.
A few years ago I was part of a writer’s group. We spent hours every month at Whole Foods discussing writing and life. Our conversations touched on things which helped me through some of my later struggles. Many in the group had experienced depression at one point or another, a mental illness that is more common among artistic people than among the general population.
(According to Swedish researchers, it’s even more common among writers).
One of my friends spoke of her struggles with anxiety and described her panic attacks.
About six months later, I was at home, stressed, and suddenly my heart started pounding uncontrollably. I couldn’t breathe, my body shook, and I felt like I would die. Because of my friend, I knew it wasn’t a heart attack: it was a panic attack. It was also in my writer’s group that I first heard of synesthesia—a condition shared by three of those in the group.
Art: Synesthesia by FitoComics via Deviant Art, Creative Commons license According to Science Daily, synesthesia is “a neurological condition in which two or more bodily sensations are coupled.” There are currently more than sixty known types of synesthesia. By some estimates, one percent of the population has some form of synesthesia. One of the common forms of synesthesia relates to color. Someone might associate each letter or number with a different color (“A” might always look red). In some forms of synesthesia, different numbers inhabit different spaces, and could be perceived as closer or farther. Other people with synesthesia hear shapes or taste sounds. Recent research demonstrates that “synesthetes have stronger connections between different brain areas…Those connections lead to a triggering effect, where a stimulus in one part of the brain would cause activity in another.” When I started drafting “The Clockwork Seer,” I never set out to write a character with synesthesia. It was not in my outline. But as soon as I wrote the first paragraph I realized that synesthesia was what made Medina different than those around her, more so than being a seer and having a typewriter in her hip. Because of her synesthesia, she connects people, experiences, and emotions with tastes and smells. And because Medina has synesthesia, whenever her clairvoyance strikes it overwhelms her, the images, tastes, smells, and sounds becoming so magnified as to be crippling. As a result, her friend the Tinker installed clockwork parts in Medina’s body which dampen the effects of her visions. Medina lives on a large, highly populated island, isolated from the mainland. Due to geography and perhaps geology, most of those living on the island finds themselves with an island gift, though Medina has one of the larger ones. One of the perennial questions on the island is are these gifts, or are they actually curses? Medina tends to side with the curses theory. At the beginning of “The Clockwork Seer” she wishes that she were normal, that her visions would leave her alone so she could live a normal life. And don’t we all at times?
Art: Microglacier by Jason Samfield via flickr, Creative Commons license I spent several years suffering from depression of different levels of severity. I remember giving my toddler a box of yarn to play with (in other words, tangle). I would curl up under a table and cry for hours, wishing the pain would go away, that I could be normal, or at least even a glimpse of who I used to be. Depression treatments, books, speaking with a counselor, and medication, are all a bit like Medina’s clockwork parts, and make it possible to survive with a mental illness. Yet Medina’s synesthesia and clairvoyance are only partly curses. They are a beautiful component of her, which give her advantages. It is the same with depression and other mental illnesses. A 2003 study by researchers from the University of Toronto and Harvard showed that creative people “appear to be more open to incoming stimuli from the surrounding environment” and less able to ignore or shut out stimuli. That’s a trait that is also associated with psychosis, yet can be beneficial for a writer or artist. Psychology professor Jordan Peterson explains, "The normal person classifies an object, and then forgets about it, even though that object is much more complex and interesting than he or she thinks. The creative person, by contrast, is always open to new possibilities." Creative people have much higher rates of bipolar disorder or manic depression, but this also gives them a larger emotional range which studies propose may aid in creativity
(a different study proposes a genetic link between these disorders and creativity).
Art: Intermezzo Abstract by Peter & Ute Grahlmann via flickr, Creative Commons license One researcher, Simon Kyaga, explained, "If one takes the view that certain phenomena associated with the patient's illness are beneficial, it opens the way for a new approach to treatment. In that case, the doctor and patient must come to an agreement on what is to be treated, and at what cost.” One of my good friends can’t write when she is taking depression medication. The medication eliminates the emotional range she needs for her stories, and her drive to write. Other friends manage their illnesses and write better when they are taking medication. While I am grateful I no longer face depression on a daily basis, I can’t look at my experiences with depression from an attitude of regret. They are part of who I am. Depression made me willing to put my characters through hard things, it taught me about emotion and desire, and it gave me a need to write and make meaning out of life. I still have days when I wake up and can feel the chemical imbalance in my body. I feel worthless, even though cognitively I know it is not true. On some days I feel depressed even when I practice dozens of self-treatment approaches that normally work on me. On very hard days, I remind myself, “I feel deeply. I embrace every feeling, every experience, for it will help me tell stories.” We can flee from the things that make us different and try to hide them from others or ourselves. Or we can let our differences be a part of us—manage them, prevent what is preventable, cure what is curable, but realize that the things that give us struggle can give us much more than just that.
One of the reasons I love being a part of the anthology Steel and Bone is that each of the stories addresses things that make people different. It’s a common trait in the steampunk genre as a whole. Yes, there are standard steampunk tropes: cool, steam-powered machinery, gears and gadgets, punked-out Victorian costumes, automatons and the like. Yet steampunk also addresses deep, rich questions: Can I control my fate or overcome my circumstance? Am I my limitations? What sacrifices are necessary for progress? Is the status quo the ideal? When I write and read steampunk, it gives me hope that my differences will not cripple me, and that perhaps I can use them to my own advantage. Steel and Bone is a collection of steampunk short stories and novelettes. It will be released on Saturday, June 27th, 2015, as both a print book and an ebook, and is available for preorder.
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.