Andrea G Stewart

Art and Writing

Writing Process Blog Hop

I've been tagged by Bob over at The Doors to Everywhere!  Bob is a YA author and is a member of my in-person (*gasp*) writing group, Stonehenge.  He writes sci-fi adventure, wherein the kids don't just save the universe--they save one another.

1. What are you currently working on?

I’ve got a dark fantasy novel, Windrider, which I’m currently in the process of revising and cleaning up.  I’ve been describing it to people as The Other Boleyn Girl meets Breaking Bad, with dragons.  I’ve got an urban fantasy series, Changeling Wars—the first book needs one more pass, and the second is in-progress.  Sillier, lighter fare than my usual.  And I’m very excited for the next epic fantasy I’m working on, entitled The Bone Shard Daughter.  I’ve been throwing a lot of “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” ideas at it.  For now, my lips are sealed!  Errrr…my fingers are taped together?  Hmmm…not sure the equivalent for typing…!

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?

I wouldn’t really presume to say that it’s that much different.  I can say that I like to deal in non-Western European fantasy, but other authors do the same.  I can say that I write complex, complicated characters, but a lot of other authors do that too.  I like poetic language, I like immersive description, I like worldbuilding.  Again, I am not the only one.

I think the one true way in which my work is different is that it is my work.  It will always be colored with my perceptions.

3. Why do you do what you do?

Is “I’m not entirely sure” an acceptable answer?  I’ve been writing since I was a kid.  I love creating stories, characters, worlds.  I love reading, I love to be immersed.  I guess I’ve always wanted to be the one on the other side, pulling the puppet strings.

4. How does your writing process work?

I’ll just cover novels, since short stories are an entirely different beast for me.  I get an idea, a concept.  Sometimes it’s inspired by something really mundane, like Marina finding a bone shard in her Chinese food.

A lot of them die out when I realize they are DUMB, but some keep germinating.

I start researching, picking up other ideas and sticking them onto the first one.  At some point, I’ll usually dash out the beginning couple scenes, just to get a feel for the voice, the characters, the world.  I create a character and world sheet, and add to it as I see fit, but they’re usually only 1-2 pages each.  Most of it, in the beginning, just grows in my head.

I daydream for at least a year before writing the outline and starting the project in earnest.  This may sound like a long time, but I’m always drafting or working on something else while I’m daydreaming about the new project.  I find it takes that much percolation time for the world and the characters to feel real and developed.

Completing the outline usually takes a couple weeks, and then I like to draft in a mad rush—usually a few months’ time.

And then I let it sit for a bit and I procrastinate and I become a ball of anxiety about how I will NEVER be able to get the draft into shape.

I start revising.  My worst fears are true.  It’s horrible, it’s awful, I’m paralyzed by indecision and appalled at my own ineptitude.  And then 1-2 weeks in, I hit my stride and start to feel like it might just work out okay.  I make a list of all the things I need to change and where (lists are great and very, very calming).  I change them.  One day I wake up and I’ve got something I can send to beta readers.

That pretty much covers my process.

Tagged:

Matt Maxwell A writer I met at FogCon who also lives in the area.  He did a reading in the same time slot as me.  Very surreal, fantastical coming-of-age story.

Drew Rhodes I also met Drew at Stonehenge.  He writes some very fun, funny stuff.

Richard Crawford Richard is pretty much one of my favorite writing people.  Read his stuff, it's funny and creepy and awesomely weird!

Food, Identity, and Culture

This past weekend, I got together with my family. My sister and her boyfriend have finally moved back to the states from China, and I’m ecstatic. We all shot emails back and forth regarding our Saturday night dinner, figuring out who was making what dish and what would blend well together. There were eight of us: my mom and dad, my brother and his girlfriend, me and my husband, and my sister and her boyfriend. I grew up in a family where food was an Important Thing. The kitchen is where everyone gathers for prep work, where we talk about what’s going on in our lives, sometimes with a glass of wine. It is constantly busy, and noisy, smelling of caramelizing onions mixed with the faint scent of whatever was put into the oven at the start of the whole process. Someone is always hovering on the edge, asking, “What can I do to help?”

Crowding in the kitchen, making all the foods.
Crowding in the kitchen, making all the foods.

The dinner table is almost sacred. When I was a kid, we dropped everything to sit at the dinner table together. At Christmas and Thanksgiving—times when we got together with my aunts, uncles, and cousins, dinner became a production. The adults were the foremen, corralling us kids, instructing us to cut this or grate that. I still remember my mom teaching me how to fold dumplings, how to make sure they were sealed properly so water couldn’t get inside.

My sister watching in amazement as my dad shaves bonito flakes for dashi.
My sister watching in amazement as my dad shaves bonito flakes for dashi.

At the important dinners, there was always some sort of fish. Always always rice. There would be so many dishes that you could only take a sampling of each. All the kids would be banished to the children’s table, where we could poke and tease each other and make fart jokes in peace. On my mother’s side, there were ten of us cousins, all close in age.

Food is a part of who I am. It is memory, and culture, and family.

We then used the dashi to make chawanmushi!
We then used the dashi to make chawanmushi!

I try to be conscious of this in my writing. Who is making the food? How elaborate is it? Can they procure all these ingredients in their environment, or do they import some of them? Who serves the food, and how do they eat it? Who do they sit with and are there any before or after meal activities?

I feel like these things can be so revealing, not just for a culture, but for families and individuals as well. In my current WIP, a good deal of the world is populated by the eisseth, a large, winged species. They have grasping arms, but they walk on their feet and the padded tarsals of their wings. They consider themselves culturally superior to humans. Their food reflects this—it is elaborate, multi-layered. Airy pastries, meats in wine and fruit sauces, glazes. During a diplomatic dinner, one of my eisseth characters takes a good deal of smug pleasure in pointing this out to my main character. For the eisseth, it is another justification for their invasion of human lands.

sous vide steak, miso-glazed eggplant, bacon-wrapped scallops, chawanmushi, and more...!
sous vide steak, miso-glazed eggplant, bacon-wrapped scallops, chawanmushi, and more...!

We had a lovely dinner on Saturday night, which took way too long to prepare, and was devoured way too quickly. My brother’s girlfriend remarked that every time she comes over, it seems there is a hidden dish—something that appears at the very last minute, making the dinner even more elaborate (in this case it was sous vide steak and cabbage with sun-dried olives). We decided, through a random spinning of a knife, which of us got to pick the Star Trek: TNG episode we would all watch (my sister picked “The Inner Light”) after dinner.

Getting our Star Trek on.
Getting our Star Trek on.

For us, food is a centerpiece. It is a collaborative process, something we all work on together and which we all get to enjoy. It is a reason to gather, to spend time together, and to linger in one another’s company.

Bonus photo of the husband wearing the hat my mom lent to him for our afternoon hike. Because, hats. And pandas.
Bonus photo of the husband wearing the hat my mom lent to him for our afternoon hike. Because, hats. And pandas.

The Day I was Accidentally Sexist

Update: Two of my friends have written follow-on posts. The Day I was Accidentally Racist by Tina Gower and The Day I was Accidentally Religiously Offensive by Rebecca Birch. Read on for further mortification. May we never be accidental bigots again! I was terribly shy when I was younger. I had a phone phobia, was convinced I was the most awkward person in the history of the world, and blushed when people I didn’t know spoke to me.

I took Spanish in high school. I remember my teacher, Mrs. Pigage. She was tough, outspoken, and fun. I liked her, and earned good grades. On the rare occasion, I dared to raise my hand to answer questions.

For those who are not familiar, Spanish nouns are either masculine or feminine. In my textbook, the words that could be either were denoted with parentheses. For teacher: maestro(a). “Maestro” would be a male teacher, “maestra” a female teacher.

We had a list of vocabulary words, and were going up and down the rows, saying what each was, or what we thought each was, in English. This time I had no choice as to whether I was going to participate. I prepared by counting down the list, seeing how many people were ahead of me, and focused on the vocabulary word that would be mine.

This one was to be my undoing: “ama de casa.” That was it, quite simply. No parentheses.

When it came to my turn, I said, “Housewife?” My teacher stopped going down the list. My cheeks, already flushed from having to speak aloud, began to burn as attention focused on both me and her.

With a fair bit of gravitas, she explained that men could also stay at home and watch over the house. And then she pointed out that I was a woman, and that it was sad that I would think this was an occupation limited strictly to women.

I felt like my chest was on fire and about to cave in. There were no parentheses! I thought there was another, different word for house husband, I truly did. I knew that men could stay at home as well as women. My parents would have been ashamed if I actually thought that staying at home was solely the domain of women. Oh no, I’d just shamed my parents, casting aspersion not only on my own beliefs, but on theirs as well. I wanted to sink into the speckled linoleum floor.

I didn’t say anything, partially because I was so shy, and partially because denying it, after my teacher’s speech, would only make me look worse.

Here I was, with multiple pairs of eyes on me, and me imagining what they were thinking. “She’s prejudiced against her own sex!” “What a backwards young lady!” “Freak!”

Did no one else notice that there were no parentheses?? No one said anything.

I wish my teacher had asked if this was truly what I meant—that only women could stay at home—instead of assuming this was my intention. It would have saved me a lot of embarrassment. Thinking about it still makes me feel a little mortified.

I probably shouldn’t care what you think, and you likely don’t remember this day at all, but if you’re out there, Mrs. Pigage…I promise you I’m not sexist.

The Virtues of Playing the Long Game (or Wherein Writing is a Lot Like Gardening)

Five and half years ago, my husband and I bought our house.  The inside was nice, yes, but it was the backyard we were excited about.  We had big plans, HUGE.

We were going to start a garden.

It would be the awesomest, most beautiful garden ever, producing large, ripe fruits and vegetables, humming with bees.  People were going to pin pictures of our garden all over pinterest. We were going to have so much food we’d fill our pantry with canned goods. Our neighbors would all look upon our yard and know where they would go in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

Disclaimer: Not our actual garden

Years and years before that, I had a different grand plan.

I was going to write a book.

And yes, it was going to be the best book ever.  I had no idea of the steps between writing “The End” and getting it on the shelves, but somehow, a divine finger was going to part the clouds, point to my book, say, “This one,” and it would become a bestseller.

Alas, as might be expected when pairing lofty goals and boundless optimism, reality and my expectations did not align.

Take, for instance, growing oranges.  I live in California.  People plant orange trees on the side of the road, neglect them, and they still drop oranges like they’re waste products and not food.  Oranges squished beneath car tires and wayward feet on the sidewalk.  So it should have been easy, right?

We killed our first orange tree.

We’d removed a sapling from our lawn and replaced it with an orange tree.  At the hardware store, our hopes were stoked by little trees in little pots bowed beneath the weight of their oranges.  We watered our tree, we fertilized it, and the thing just up and died.  We couldn’t figure it out.

So we bought another one and put it in the same spot.  This would work, surely?

This time, as the leaves began to wither and drop, we took pity on the poor thing and posted it on craigslist for a person with a greener thumb to care for.

We started to research and talk to others.  Turns out that our house sits on a bunch of clay, and putting an orange tree straight into the ground here, where the water would sit about its roots, was a death knell for a tree that liked to be soaked and then dried.

We still lusted after oranges, but it was going to take a lot more work than we’d first anticipated.

So…putting a tree in our lawn was out of the question.  But we could put a tree in a raised area, and fill it with soil that would drain.  We had raised circular beds against our fences, but they weren’t tall or wide enough to accommodate an orange tree.  First step?  Making them bigger.  My husband did the painstaking work of clearing the area around the beds, moving the cement blocks to a wider radius, and topping them off with another layer of blocks.  Second step?  Purchasing loose soil in bulk.

We spent a weekend carting that dirt around and filling up our new garden areas.

At last, it was ready.

Secure in our new knowledge, and eager to reap the fruits (ha ha, get it?) of our labor, we shelled out the big bucks and bought a more mature tree.  It was larger than those puny hardware store orange trees, so we were bound to get oranges the first year.

When the tree bloomed and the oranges began to form, we were ecstatic.

And then these little green oranges started to drop off of the tree.  What was happening?  Our tree was bigger, in a better spot, and we were giving it so much more attention than the tiny hardware store trees got.  Why did they produce oranges and ours dropped them?

IT WASN’T FAIR.

We began to go a bit mad.  Were we watering the tree too much?  Too little?  How much did our neighbors water their trees?  Their trees had fruit.  Was our tree missing a nutrient?  Our neighbor gave their tree extra iron, would extra iron help?  Was it too windy?

The next year, the green oranges grew a little bigger.  Again, they all fell off.

By this time, we began to feel a bit resigned.  Well, it had happened last year.  What had we expected, really?  The leaves were green, the tree was growing—we’d taken good care of it.  Something was going on here, some nebulous “other” that we couldn’t control.

In the distant past, my seventh-grade-self finished a 30K manuscript.  It was the tale of a horse and a falcon charged with finding a new king for their magical land (of which the horse was the only non-magical inhabitant).  By the end, the horse got his powers, and the journey made him into the king his country needed.

It was terrible, and adorable, and really really bad.

I started and stopped several other manuscripts through the years.  I wrote a short story that I thought was amazing, sent it to a magazine, and received my first bitter taste of rejection.  I did a lot of research, joined writing groups, critiqued others’ writing and used what I learned to examine mine.  I completed another manuscript, which I truly thought was The One.  It garnered over eighty agent rejections before I trunked it.

I began again.

And in the year leading up to my first story sale, I went a bit mad.  What was I not doing that everyone else was doing?  How could I break through?  If so-and-so published author stood on their head and hummed “Mary Had a Little Lamb” should I also do so?  I still wrote, but I grew resigned, my bright and fluffy dreams of insta-bestseller dulled.

Some people out there could write things and sell them.  I was not, apparently, one of those people.

And then, after all those years, I suddenly was.

The third year after planting our tree, the oranges stayed on.  They grew orange, and large.  We held our breaths and researched when to pluck them.

We plucked them.

They were delicious.

Oranges
Our actual oranges in front of our actual tree. Proof!

Publications!

I'll be adding a bibliography section to my website soon. In addition to my story, "Dreameater," in Writers of the Future Volume 29, I have another story out and a couple more forthcoming.  And I always have stories in the submission pipelines. I have "A Spray of Bittersweet" out in the e-book and print versions of the When the Hero Comes Home 2 anthology. I've been reading the book myself, and it's a lovely collection. The theme is wonderful, and it’s explored in a number of different ways.  Mine is about a wife who is left behind.  When her husband returns, she must deal with his reluctance to speak of what happened, her own secrets, and those who would ask him to be a hero, again.

"The Unchanging Nature of Stones" will be out, in print and online (free to read for two months!) starting November 1.  It will be posted on the Galaxy’s Edge website.  I don’t really know how to describe it other than it deals with love, change, and loss.  Sometimes the ones who most resist change are those that ultimately change in the most extreme ways.

And there’s "The Dreams of Wan Li," which doesn’t yet have a release date.  It will be available at Beneath Ceaseless Skies sometime in the next several months (I’m guessing?).  A boy grows up in a magical opium den, where the smoke allows a person to live their dreams, at least for as long as they have money to pay.

So that’s what I have out and about and forthcoming!  I’m hopeful I’ll have more to add in the next few months.

 

WOTF Workshop Week

I know I'm a little behind (okay, a lot!) in posting this, but there's something about the workshop that makes you just want to come home and write like mad.  So I did.

I can talk about my winning story now!  It's called Dreameater, and is a contemporary fantasy about a girl, Alexis, whose mother craves and devours dreams.  At its core, it's the story of a girl and her dysfunctional parent.  You can watch me blab about it on Good Day Sacramento here:

[embed]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y76NSfOowEI[/embed]

On to the workshop!  I kept a pretty good journal the first two days, and then it devolved into one-word notes, so you'll have to forgive the sparseness and non-specificity of the latter days.

Day 1

I got up early to go meet John Goodwin at the TV station to film my first interview for WOTF...live.  I was terrified, but it seemed to go okay in the end.  After that, my awesome husband drove me to the airport, where I met up with Tina Gower (Smith)!  I mean, just look at her website.  It's all shiny and stuff.  We chatted and gossiped about all of YOU on our way down to Los Angeles.  We were met at the airport by someone from Galaxy Press, and given a ride to the beautiful Loews Hotel in Hollywood.  In the van, I met my roommie-to-be, Alisa Alering.

Alisa, the tall! Also, Hollywood Boulevard.

Once at the hotel, I got to meet Joni Labaqui, the contest administrator, in person.  She is so pleasant, and just a joy to talk to.

After lunch at the Mexican restaurant in the mall next door, we settled in the lobby to stalk wait for our fellow winners.

That night, once we'd all arrived, we gathered in the hospitality suite to have all our questions answered.  At least, that's what the agenda said.  There, we met Tim Powers (and his ubiquitous Coke can).  I think most of us were too in awe and shy to ask a ton of questions.  But we also met three winners from prior years: Meghan Muriel, Brad (freaking) Torgersen, and Jordan Ellinger.  Wonderful people, all there to ensure we got the most out of the week.

Tim Powers is one of the most fun and fascinating people you will ever meet.  He regaled us with a story about Philip K. Dick, and assured us that out of all the judges, his advice was the most correct.  After that, it was time for a little late-night chatting at the bar, and finally off to bed, where I would toss and turn, wondering whether or not it was morning yet because I was ready to get started!

Day 2

We all met in the lobby at 9AM so we could all walk over to Author Services together.  There, incognito on the left, is Marilyn Guttridge.  I haven't found her website yet, but she is our youngest writer winner ever!  She was 17 when she wrote her winning story.

We met the extremely kind and insightful Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland.  Seriously, read his Daily Kicks), and began our workshop.  Tim and Dave took turns lecturing us about setting, character, dialogue, and plot.  Took copious notes and tried to absorb it all.  We broke for lunch, went to a cheap, quick spot (Shelley's Cafe) that Tim recommended, and continued the workshop until 6PM.

SO MUCH INFORMATION crammed into our tiny brains!

We also received our objects for our 24-hr story.  Mine was a CD with a crack running to the middle.  I immediately began thinking of its rainbow hue, and how it was a broken conveyance of information.

Stephen Sottong scoped out what the illustrators were doing.

At 6PM us writers went to dinner at an Italian place in the mall (which was lovely).  All this while we exchanged war stories about trying to get our work published, things that worked, didn't work, and letters we got from editors.  I may be biased, but I thought our group was sort of amazing.

Chatted in the bar with prior winners and other writers until about 10 and then turned in.

Day 3

This was the day we prepared for our 24-hour stories.  We had our objects, and it was time to head to the library.  We were gathering three elements to stimulate our imaginations--our object, library research, and a conversation with a stranger.  Inside the library, we all split off into our separate corners.  I ended up researching African tribes and storytelling.

We took a break for lunch, some of us at the Pig n Whistle, where we discussed and speculated on the Gold Award.

Alisa, Tina, Christopher Reynaga, and I were the first place winners for our respective quarters, and were under consideration for the Gold Award.  The former winners (Laurie Tom was kind enough to drive in to join us) informed us that it was tradition for the Gold Award winner to take the other first place winners out for dinner.  Sounded good to me!  Any which way, we all won.  Even though we'd already won.

After lunch, it was time to face our greatest fear--conversation with a random stranger.  We walked back to the mall, and then split up.  I wandered about aimlessly before spotting a middle-aged woman sitting alone at a table in the courtyard.  I asked her if I could sit down, sat there silently (awkwardly) for a moment, and then asked if she lived in Hollywood.

It turned out she was visiting her daughter and before I knew it, she was telling me about her home country of Armenia, and about the Armenian Genocide.  More material for my story!

At 4:00 p.m., we started our 24-hour stories.  I set up in the lobby until some lady started playing the piano, and then I retreated to a spot near the meeting rooms.  That night, some of us--Alex Wilson, Shannon Peavey, Alisa, and I (I think it was just the four of us...) went out for ramen.  We discussed what we were writing, how far we'd gotten, and our worries.

Day 4

More writing in the lobby.  I like to work around people, with some background noise (yes, I write in coffee shops).  I ended up scrapping what I'd written, since it was trending too long.  I started the story later, and it began to pull together in the way I wanted.  After a quick lunch at Shelley's, I finished my story at a trim 3900 words, and did some quick editing.

We handed in our stories at 4:00 p.m.  We'd all finished them!  Eric Cline's was even upwards of 7000 words.  And I read it later and it was absolutely fantastic.  A bit intimidating, no?  Dave and Tim professed that they would choose two stories to group critique by throwing them all down a set of stairs--the two furthest down were the winners--while we wondered how aerodynamic our stories were.

And then it was time to see our illustrations.  We got to walk into the room downstairs and guess which illustration matched our story.  I found mine right away.  There was no guesswork for me.

I need to stop a moment here.  I'd meant to thank my illustrator, Lucas Durham, during my speech at the gala.  I was so flustered that I completely forgot.  He did an amazing job--not only was there no guesswork, but the painting so perfectly matched my story.  It was both ominous and beautiful, with little bits of my story peppered in so that I wanted to keep looking at it.  It was eye-catching at a single glance and invited the viewer to explore it further.  Did I mention it was in watercolors? Just gorgeous!  Thank you, Lucas!  It was better than I could have ever imagined!  I've been showing off my print of it to all my guests.

We had a bit more brain-cramming with Dave and Tim, and then we were given the two stories chosen to be critiqued.  I wiped a little sweat off my forehead when I found neither was mine.  One was Chrome Oxide's, and the other was Marina Lostetter's.

I read until I fell asleep.

Day 5

THE PRINTING PRESS.  It was a bright and early day on day five.  We met in the lobby at 7:45 a.m. for our trip to Bang Printing.

What can I say about this that the pictures don't explain a thousand times over?  Seeing our book come off the press was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.  Our book.  In print.  Shiny cover and all.  I flipped to my story and got a little choked up.  For me, it was step one in the fulfillment of a dream I've had since fourth grade, when I was flipping through the manual to WordPerfect (the old old one, with the blue background) in an attempt to learn how to indent paragraphs.

It was incredible.  Yes, I smelled the pages.

After the printing press, we had lunch, critiqued the 24-hour stories, and were lectured by the luminaries in the field.

We had dinner at a wonderful buffet place, with all the judges and winners and Galaxy Press staff.  I had the chance to sit with the wonderful Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and got to see her beautiful journal.  She is about 10000x more organized than I will ever be.

It was heaven encapsulated in a single day.

Day 6

More lectures!  We were shown the secret handshake of professional writers, told how to conduct ourselves at conventions, and had stimulating discussion about the new world of self-publishing.

We had lunch at Shelley's, the greasy diner down the street.  Tim Powers wanted to eat lunch there, and like hypnotized little ducklings, we followed.  I was lucky enough to sit next to Robert J Sawyer.  He is incredibly knowledgeable, approachable, and kind.

And then...MOAR lectures!

I took a ton of notes.  It's gold.  All of it.

We did our rehearsal at the Wilshire Ebell.  Our first view of the stage was breathtaking.  They really went all out with the decorations.

We did some rehearsing, with a water bottle as the stand-in for our trophies.

Herein lies a blank spot in my memory.  I believe we had dinner at some point, and hung out in the bar, chatting with the judges.  The bar was the late-night hangout spot to be, most days.  I think I scribbled some speech notes down.

Day 7

Gala day!  Us ladies headed over to Author Services in the morning to have our hair and makeup done.  It was pretty fun, I must admit.  I'm a low-maintenance kind of gal (I did my own makeup for my wedding), so it was neat to have someone put some real effort into my appearance.

We had lunch, slipped into our dresses, did some last-minute prep, and then it was off to the theater!

Once at the theater, we got our programs, a little Writers of the Future pin, and did red carpet photos and interviews.

Kodiak Julian seems to have politely avoided being in my photos, but she's right behind Shannon in this photo!

 

After our little meet and greet, we had dinner.  I was seated by Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson.  They've convinced me to try dictating stories.  I've gotten as far as dictating some notes--I'm warming up  to it!

The gala itself was incredible.  It began with Kimberley Locke (of American Idol fame) stepping onto the stage and singing a beautiful song about imagination, while people dressed as our characters danced behind her.  It passed in a blur for me--I was incredibly nervous and kept checking to make sure I had my speech notes.

Here's the video of the entire gala:

[embed]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7N83yrw4Hg[/embed]

If you want to cut to the video of my speech and Lucas's, it's here:

[embed]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mk2p8ROMyTU[/embed]

I managed to make my speech without too many fumbles (except forgetting to thank Lucas, sorry!), and sprinted off the stage.

Then it was time for the Gold Award announcement.  Tina's story, Twelve Seconds, took the prize!  I wasn't surprised--in the informal pre-gala poll I'd voted for her story to win.  It's lovely, and you really ought to read it.

After the gala, we signed books until our fingers fell off.  It was lovely!

Once we finished, we retreated to the hospitality suite for more socializing.  I ended up bowing out early to get some sleep, but I heard Brian Trent stayed until 3:00 a.m.

Day 8

The denouement.

Our time in Los Angeles was coming to a close.  We had a lecture from John Goodwin about how to conduct ourselves in interviews, while we were individually pulled aside for interviews.  That's putting things into practice!  Got me thinking about my answers to the most commonly-asked questions.

We watched a radio play of one of L. Ron Hubbard's short stories downstairs and did some pre-show socializing.

And then we had our last dinner together in our workshop room.

Afterwards, we hung out in the bar, where we got to hear Shannon sing opera!

Then, finally, to bed.

Day 9

The end of the best week and two days of my life.  We filtered out of the lobby and back to our lives.

But not before we got to hear Alex's stirring rendition of Writers of the Future: The Musical.  It moved me to write a 42-page story about life and everything, but then I burned it because nothing could ever be so beautiful as that musical.

The End...or is it?

A couple days after returning to my quiet life in suburbia, I received more packages than I've ever received at once.  It was like Christmas in April.

My print of Dreameater, my contributer's copies, my books on writing... This workshop is the gift that keeps on giving!

I would highly recommend that those starting out in the field of speculative fiction enter the contest.  I feel incredibly lucky to have won.

You can get Volume 29 on amazon, on B&N, and in most bookstores!  It's good, I promise.  It even got a starred review from Publisher's Weekly!

YOU GUYS, I have an agent!

Like most things in my life, it happened rather awkwardly.  I like to think that perhaps I’m charming-awkward, but I’m fairly certain I fall into the it’s-a-little-embarrassing-to-watch-you category of awkward. In total, I sent out 34 queries.  I had some partial and full requests, but no bites.  And yes, I’m a real slowpoke when it comes to querying.

And then I heard from Laura Lam (author of Pantomime) that her agent, Juliet Mushens, was looking for epic fantasy.  Everything I’d read about Juliet praised her to the high heavens.  I sent off a query + 3 chapters in December and she requested the full manuscript two days later.

In February, I got the email saying that she loved it.

Of course, I proceeded to scan the rest of the email, looking for the words “but” or “unfortunately”.  When I didn’t see them, I finally read the rest.  She wanted to schedule a call to discuss edits and representation, and I stopped in the middle of my breakfast and did this:

[embed]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlkL57rxZ7k[/embed]

We spoke later on that week, and I felt a little star struck and we discussed edits and then we hung up.  And she never said what I considered the magic words (I’m offering you representation!) and I didn’t clarify because I was too nervous.

So I did what I do best.  I bothered my husband.  “What does it all mean?”  And he groaned and rolled his eyes and told me I should have just asked.  Because I have a tendency to get overly optimistic, I decided not to get too excited this time.  It was an R&R.

I preemptively pulled my manuscript from submission to Harper Voyager’s Open Door.  They told me they’d had it marked for consideration, at which point I tore out my remaining lock of hair.

I began ruthless cuts, rewrites, and revisions to the problem areas of my book.

And then this morning, I got an email from Laura saying that Juliet had told her that she’d signed me.

Oh.  So I did what I should have done earlier, and clarified with Juliet.  I am officially represented by Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group!  I’m as happy as a puppy on a trampoline.

YES.  This happy.

The Post of a Thousand Plugs!

I’ve been very fortunate, over the years, to make the acquaintance of some wonderful authors.Their successes have astounded and inspired me, and lately they seem to be happening all at once.  These are all the books that are out and those with release dates.  I haven’t wanted to spam my facebook friends-list with post after post, so here they all are in one place, in no particular order, for your perusal!  I am so excited for all of them!  If any of these sound interesting, I encourage you to pick them up or place them on your want-to-read list on goodreads.

And don’t forget to leave reviews!

John Dixon – DISSIDENT, YA thriller, coming January 2014 Check your bookstores come January, and check your television.  Not only is DISSIDENT being published by Simon & Schuster, but it’s been picked up by CBS under the name INTELLIGENCE.  I’m not sure when the pilot is airing, but keep your eyeballs peeled!  Josh Holloway (Sawyer from LOST) is starring as the lead.  John is a member of our online Inkbots writing group (group blog coming soon!).

Laura Lam – PANTOMIME, YA fantasy, available now I picked up my copy last week and it is gorgeous.  I love my ebooks, but the paper copy of this one was too pretty for me to resist.  She’s been getting effusive reviews, including a comparison to Robin Hobb.  If you like circuses, well-drawn characters with secrets, and beautiful writing, get thee to a bookstore or amazon!  A negative review I saw of this book on amazon compared it to The Night Circus, which for me, is a selling point.  Laura is also a member of Inkbots.

Caroline Hanson – Valerie Dearborn trilogy, paranormal romance, beginning with LOVE IS DARKNESS, all three available on now If you like your fiction incredibly steamy, then nab these.  Fans of paranormal romance will find a lot to love between the pages of all three books—a sympathetic heroine, an irresistible anti-hero, and an interesting plot.  I met Caroline through Stonehenge, a local writing group.

Dan Rix – ENTANGLEMENT, YA thriller, available now It’s a page-turner with an interesting premise: every person in this alternate reality (with hints of sci-fi) has a half, a person who carries the other half of their soul.  Except the protagonist, Aaron.  Keeps you guessing all the way up to the end.  I met Dan at the San Francisco Writers’ Conference.

Sarah J. Maas – THRONE OF GLASS, YA fantasy, available now I began reading this book when it was up on fictionpress, waaay back in the day.  I loved it so much that I did a painting of the main character.  Check out the preceding novellas, available on amazon.  Wonderful work, with an extremely compelling lead character.  Celaena is an assassin with a heart of gold, but she’s also vain and impulsive.  A re-telling of the Cinderella fairytale.

Olivia Rivers – FROST FIRE, YA fantasy, available now This young author is still in high school.  I sometimes forget; she is so articulate and her writing such a smooth and easy read.  Read a good book, do a good deed.  Net proceeds go toward the Dysautonomia Youth Network of America, a charity that supports youth with medical conditions affecting the nervous system.  I met Olivia through Stonehenge.

Wesley Chu – THE LIVES OF TAO (or pre-order here), Science-fiction, coming April 2013 I think the blurb sells the book better than I could:

When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.

He wasn’t.

He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.

Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

How can you NOT want to read this, right??  Aliens, spies, and a nerdy dude who has to save the world?  Yes, please!  Wes is also a member of Inkbots.

Steve Yeager – CHICKEN NUGGETS, Science-fiction/Post-apocalyptic, available now Pulpy raptor-slaying with a heart.  Yes, you can have your blood and guts, and care about the characters dishing them out, too.  When high-tech food production goes horribly, horribly wrong, a mass of raptor-like chickens are unleashed upon the world, eating everything (and everyone) in their path.  I met Steve at Stonehenge.

Gabrielle Harbowy – Editor and Writer, lots of things, most recently WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME Gabrielle edits a number of authors you may have heard of (Philippa Ballantine, anyone?), in addition to writing her own work.  See the results of both in Dragon Moon Press’ anthologies – When the Hero Comes Home and When the Villain Comes Home.  I loved both of them.  There are some seriously good stories within (one of which is Gabrielle's!), perfect for a late night read.  I met Gabrielle at the San Francisco Writers’ Conference.

Alex Shvartsman – Editor and Writer, lots of things, most recently UNIDENTIFIED FUNNY OBJECTS I’ve had the pleasure of critiquing some of Alex’s short pieces.  In addition to writing, he pulled together and edited a star-studded humorous short-story anthology.  Check it out on amazon.  It received a positive review from Ms. Tilton at Locus (and this lady is a tough critic!).  I met Alex through the AbsoluteWrite.com forums.

R. A. Gates – PUCKER UP, YA urban fantasy, available now I believe I mentioned this book before.  A fun read with a magical road trip that goes hilariously awry.  Pick up her short piece, The Tenth Life of Mr. Whiskers, to get a feel for her work. I met R.A. Gates through Stonehenge.

Lee Battersby – THE CORPSE-RAT KING, fantasy, available now If you want your fantasy fresh, new, and interesting, this is the book for you.  First off – the title, OMG the title.  This book doesn’t follow a young boy coming into his powers, or any grizzled veteran of war.  The protagonist is Marius, a man who loots battlefields for a living.  After a case of mistaken identity, the dead rope him into finding them a new King, or his life is forfeit.  Lee Battersby is a member of Inkbots.

Lee Collins – DEAD OF WINTER, western/dark fantasy, available now A gritty alternate reality fantasy, set in Colorado.  Cora and her husband are supernatural bounty hunters who are pulled into a mystery: what is killing the people in Leadville?  Described as True Grit meets True Blood, and a delightful genre-blender.  His follow-up, SHE RETURNS FROM WAR, was recently released.  Lee Collins is a member of Inkbots.

Lauren Stewart – HYDE trilogy (urban fantasy) and NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED (mystery), available now Okay, I semi-lied: the last book of HYDE isn’t out yet, but she’s working on it!  Lauren writes in a couple different genres.  Her Hyde trilogy is urban fantasy with a strong romantic element.  Her main characters—Mitch and Eden—both suffer from the same ailment: they each have another personality that lives inside them, one that has preternatural strength and no impulse control.  For lighter fare, pick up NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED, a mystery with a snarky female protagonist who investigates a murder in order to clear her name.  A real draw for me here was the fact that the protagonist grew up on a commune, and this informs her thoughts and actions.  I met Lauren through Caroline.

Kody Kline - THE SARAITHAN RISING (fantasy) and POETIC TRASH (poetry), available now The Saraithan Rising is a novella in the vein of traditional high fantasy.  This is the kind of stuff I grew up on.  Kings, knights, magic, and cool critters.  Betrayal and redemption.  In addition to writing fantasy, Kody also writes poetry (allegedly - he debates the title of poet).  His collection, Poetic Trash, was written when he was between the ages of 18-22.  I met Kody at Stonehenge.

Karen Blakely - SECRETS IN THE DARK, Middle grade fantasy, available now Portal fiction!  I loved this stuff when I was a kid.  As stated by the main character, "In our town, people still talk about that time twelve years ago — the year we were born — as THE STRANGEST YEAR EVER. Yeah, like that. ALL CAPS.  Turns out, only someone born that year can get through the secret doorway."  Dun dun DUUUUN!  Three kids trying to hide from bullies end up in a magical world--where saying the wrong thing can have interesting consequences.  I met Karen at Stonehenge.

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Please let me know if I missed anyone, so I can add them to the list.  I am notoriously scatterbrained; any omission was unintentional! Thanks!

Guest Post on Laura Lam's Blog

I have a guest blog post up on Laura Lam's blog about the process of short story submissions. Find it here.

I encourage you to also visit her general blog.  Her book, Pantomime, will be out February 5 through Strange Chemistry.  It's a YA fantasy.  Her first three chapters are available on her website and Strange Chemistry's website right now - so you can get a head start on the book!  Check out the amazing cover, the fantastic preliminary reviews, and the blurb.  It's going to be awesome!

I Won First Place in Writers of the Future!

Okay, wow.  I thought I would never be writing this post - the one where something finally gave way.  It's been a long and arduous road for me.  A lot of late nights meeting self-imposed deadlines, of toting the laptop or notebook places so I could squeeze in some writing time.  But this has been my dream, and dreams don't actually happen overnight (despite evidence to the contrary). Even after all the work, the rejection after rejection, I have never thought about or considered giving up.  And I'm so glad that it's paid off.

http://www.prweb.com/releases/LRonHubbard/Writersofthefuture/prweb10234166.htm

When I got THE CALL, I was working out, watching Once Upon a Time, and trying to keep my cat from bringing a massive rat into the house.  So when I picked up the phone, it took me a second to even register that it was THE CALL.  In fact, I cannot remember what I said, or what Joni said, for about a minute or so after she told me I'd won first place.  It was a surreal experience.  I'd spent so much time wondering what it would be like to finally break into a pro publication - I thought I would cry; instead, I was just shocked.

I can't talk about the story I submitted, but I will say that I am so glad it's going to see print, that it will be on bookshelves, that it will be read.

And I am fully aware that this is just the first step, and that things will only get harder from here.  I'm taking it easy for a week or two to catch up on some reading, and then I'm stepping up my game.

I've got plans, people, so stay tuned!

The Next Big Thing (Blog Hop)

Tag, I’m it!  The wonderful R.A. Gates tagged me for the blog hop – The Next Big Thing.  Her book is available on amazon here.  It’s a fun YA with a doesn’t-take-crap-from-anyone female protagonist.  In other words, you don’t have to hide her book from your daughters. What is the title of your book?

Loose Changeling.  I wanted something snappy and a little bit punny.  Thanks to my husband for the idea!

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Honestly?  We did a five words exercise at one of the writers’ groups I attend – WordForge.  Each writer picked a word, and we were all supposed to incorporate them into a 1500-word piece.  Unfortunately, I was the only one who completed the exercise, which made me very sad.  You hear that, WordForge people?  You made me cry!  Okay, not really, but I went home and complained to my husband.  You can all apologize to him.  Fortunately, those 1500 words became the start of the book.

I incorporated some things I’d been thinking about for a while.  I’d wanted to write an urban fantasy with a snarky, relatable heroine.  Nicole isn’t perfect, but she’d like to be, and the book starts with both the manifestation of her Fae powers and the implosion of her relationship.

What genre does your book fall under?

Urban fantasy.

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

This was the hardest question!  I haven’t really thought about it.  I actually had to browse random  people’s “hot actors” lists on IMDB to pull some ideas.

Kailen – Matt Bomer

If the actor’s pictures are anything to judge by, this guy may smile too much to actually play Kailen, but he looks the part.

Nicole – Lynn Collins

I saw her in John Carter, and was impressed with both her kick-ass attitude and the size of her biceps.  I kept rooting for her to put Taylor Kitsch in a headlock.  To my chagrin, this only happened in my head.

Owen – Adrian Grenier

I think he could pull off Owen’s cluelessness well.  And he has curly hair.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Errr…A sort-of-young woman must close the doorways between the mortal and Fae worlds while simultaneously dealing with the end of her marriage.

Hm.  That makes it sound way drier than it is.

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

I haven’t actually sent out any queries yet.  I’m leaning towards self-publishing, unless some amazing agent who is completely enthused about my book wants to sign me…?

*crickets*

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

I’m not actually sure…five, six months?  That’s if you take out the time I wasn’t working on it at all.  I was revising Lestoor’s Chosen at the same time.

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

Storm Front, Hounded, Moon Called—there are some similarities.  First-person POV, supernatural critters, some politics, and the start of a series.  I’d say Nicole is a little less level-headed than the protagonists in the aforementioned books and gets herself into more hawkward situations.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Technically, those five words from the WordForge people.  Four of them are still in the running!  I had to take out thaumaturgy, though.  It didn’t fit Nicole’s voice.

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

Magic!  Fairies!  Murder!  Snarky comments!  Mysteries!  Secrets!  Love triangles!  Well that last one is only semi-accurate, but you get the idea.  If you like ANY of these things you will enjoy this book!*

 

*Actual reading experience may vary.

 

I've tagged Robert Paul Gmelin, Dan Rix, and Steve Yeager.  I know Bob's is up right now, the other two will be coming in the next 1-2 weeks!  Check back!

The Good and the Bad News

Let's start with bad news. I was rejected by Angry Robot.  I weep!  I gnash my teeth!  Well, I was really bummed for a while after it happened.  But onwards...Lestoor's Chosen is still out on submission to agents, and I'm getting some interest.

In good news, I am almost finished with Loose Changeling!  I've learned a lot in the past year about what works and what doesn't work for me as far as writing and productivity.  I'm excited to be prepping this for queries or possible self-publication.

In other good news...I just got a call this morning that I'm a finalist for Q3 of the Writers of the Future contest!  Excited would be putting it lightly.  I love the story I submitted, so I'm ecstatic to see it receiving some recognition.  I'll keep you posted on the results!

Short Story on Amazon!

Here it is!  My short story, Dragon Maiden, is live on amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Maiden-Short-Story-ebook/dp/B009KB5348/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1349182846&sr=1-1&keywords=dragon+maiden+short+story

It will be up for free tomorrow, 10/3, and I'm running a promotion.  The first 10 people to write a review (good, bad, blah) and email a screenshot to lionfishfancies at gmail dot com (include your name and address) get a free 8"x12" print of the cover!  The print is without the title and byline, just a shiny piece of art on matte photographic paper.  U.S. residents only.

Dragon Maiden in progress

So...I've decided to self-publish my short story, Dragon Maiden. Here's the in-progress cover. Finishing up the brocade, smoothing out some of the shading, and then on to the dragon, finally!

Progress!

I meant to update much sooner, but at the beginning of July, I received a full request for Lestoor’s Chosen from Angry Robot Books, as part of their 2012 Open Door.  I’m stoked and terrified. I’ve been re-reading pieces of it and I alternate between thinking that it’s good and thinking that it’s absolutely wretched and why would they even request the full manuscript because it’s terrible and I should just forget it existed and move on to the next book.

I did some frantic rewrites of the beginning and sent it off.  Now it’s down to the looong wait.  I don’t expect to hear back for another three months, at the very least.  Five or six months is probably more realistic.  Meanwhile, I’m going through the agent-querying process.

Crossing fingers and toes!

One Year Later

A year ago, at the beginning of June, I decided that I wanted to be an author.  I mean, I've always wanted to be.  I'd written a completed manuscript in the prior years, and even got a little interest from agents (ended up trunking it).  But this was different.  No more diddling around, no more halfhearted goals.  I wanted to shoot for the moon.  Publication or die trying. A year later, I'm still not published.  But I think I'm a lot closer.

In that time I've: -finished writing the 150K rough draft of Lestoor's Chosen in 3 months -revised Lestoor's Chosen (bringing it down to 140K) -finalized a query letter and synopsis for Lestoor's Chosen -neared completion on the rough draft of Loose Changeling -written multiple short stories, subbed them, and received personal rejections from pro publications -received a full request on Lestoor's Chosen from my dream agency, got rejected, decided to rewrite the first 1/3 -made good headway on rewriting the first 1/3

I fell short on my ultimate goals, but I set the bar so high, I knew that if I got close, I'd still have done something worth being proud of.  I have worked a complex, and at times demanding, full-time job at the same time.  I've traveled.  I've helped my husband maintain our backyard micro-farm.  I still have a social life.  I play a lot fewer video games though, and watch less television.  I don't miss it much (okay, I miss Mass Effect a little).  I mean, if I could do this, so can you, right?  I'm scatterbrained, disorganized, and easily distracted (my husband can attest to this).

I have a good feeling about this next year, June to end of May.  I want to turn those personal rejections into a short story publication.  I want to pick up representation for Lestoor's Chosen.  I want to polish up Loose Changeling and write the rough draft for Windrider.  And then I'm going to dream big.  Really big.  I want to go back to my roots - 3rd person, multiple POV, epic fantasy with intricate, interlacing plots and subplots.  It's percolating right now, so I'll see where I am in a couple years.

Keep dreaming, keep writing, keep trying.  I think success in this business takes a ton of endurance, persistence, and a refusal to give up.

I'll tell you where that gets me in another year ;)

Distractions

Well, I haven't finished the rough draft of Loose Changeling yet, though I'm close. I've run into a number of distractions, some good, some bad.

Good?  I have some new revisions I want to make to Lestoor's Chosen, based on beta reader feedback and some of my own analysis.  People seem to like the first third, but have a hard time putting the book down once they get to the last two thirds.  They take a week or two to read the first third, and finish the last two thirds in a couple days.  So...while I'm happy I'm doing something right for the last majority of the book, there's still that pesky third that isn't quite up to par.  I want to make it hard to say "no" to.    So I've been writing notes, jotting down ideas, and re-outlining.  I expect it'll take me a couple weeks of intensive work to implement the changes I'm considering.

I've also been writing short stories.  I'm trying to pick up a couple publication credits before I start sending out my query en masse.  I'm to the point where I've gotten personal rejections from Daily Science Fiction, F&SF, and Clarkesworld, so I think I'm close.  I'll file this distraction under not-a-time-waster.  I also think honing my short story skills is making me a better writer.  Can't waste words when you're writing a short!

And then there's Words With Friends.  Damn you, Words With Friends!  I'm logging on to Facebook less just to avoid the temptation of clicking on it and playing some words.  So fun, and so terribly distracting.

How do you deal with distraction?

I like to go to the coffee shop down the street on weekends, where I can't get an internet connection because they changed the wifi password (and I haven't asked what the new one is).

What I'm reading right now: Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

Brain Dead

Last week was one helluva week.  I'm moving into the busy time at my day job, I had house guests, and I was occupied after work with finishing another round of revisions on Lestoor's Chosen.  I've been getting feedback from beta readers, which I've incorporated into the manuscript.  It's always interesting to see what people think.  Some of the criticisms overlapped, so those were no-brainers - fix 'em.  Different people had different things that bothered them, so I used my discretion.  And some criticisms contradicted each other.  I mostly left these things as-is. It is officially out on submission now, so here's hoping!

I usually write intensely every day, but I'm exhausted at the moment.  I suppose a couple days off from novel-writing can't hurt.  I'm very excited about finishing the rough draft of Loose Changeling.  I had to adjust the outline a couple times to fix plot problems, but I think it's solid now.  And I've been cheating and writing little snippets of Windrider.

I'm still working on some short stories.  I have a couple out on submission right now.  Got a personal rejection from the editor of F&SF a few days ago, and I'm hunting for another place to send that one.

I think in 2013 I'm going to move back to my roots and plan out a multiple POV epic fantasy.  Unless, of course, I can sell Lestoor's Chosen and they (the nebulous they) want the other two books.  Though it's a standalone, I've got two more swirling in my head.  Ah well, I can dream, can't I?

The Sting of Rejection

Every time I get a rejection, I think about what it means to grow a thick skin.  That’s what common wisdom says – if you want to be a writer, you have to grow a thick skin. I’ve been writing stories for a long time, and went through the submission process with my trunked novel.  So I’ve endured a lot of rejection.  Have I grown a thick skin?

I’d be lying if I said rejection doesn’t hurt me anymore.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes I get a rejection, shrug, and send it out to the next publication.  And then there are the times I get my hopes up.  At these times, rejection hits like a punch to the stomach.  I spend about five to ten minutes wallowing, lamenting my future failures, convinced I’ll never be good enough.  My cat slinks off in disgust, my dog tries to lick my face, and my husband is left bemused.

So maybe my skin isn’t as thick as it should be.

But after I’m done being ridiculous, I come back to the rejection, to the piece, and try to figure out where I went wrong.

I suppose, in conclusion, I don’t think it’s necessary for a writer to have a thick skin.  It probably helps.  I always feel better when I can shrug off a rejection rather than going the wallowing route. Still, I’m not going to stop dreaming just because it stings less when these dreams aren’t realized.  I think what’s really important is picking yourself up after a rejection, dusting yourself off, and getting enough distance to re-examine things with an objective eye.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, keep the rejections coming!

Aerin and Danae, in progress 2

Aerin and Danae Still working on this when I can find the time.  Have to deepen some of the shadows on her face, and I'm not happy with the lumpiness of the mountains on the far right or the tree-line.  Will have to fix it.  But the twins are shaping up to look pretty much how I imagined them.  I should probably do a painting of Leith and Edan as well - half-brothers and the other side of this equation.  Leith is the elder of the two brothers, "fair as a field of marigolds".  Edan is dark and the by-product of his father's adulterous relationship.

Though their backgrounds are complex, their dynamic is relatively simple.  Aerin and Danae have the more nuanced relationship.  Throw the four of them together, and this is where the story begins.