30 December 2014

A New Year Approaches

Source: Mikael's Playground
I'm usually on top of wishing everyone a good holiday before the holidays actually hit. This did not happen, so Happy Belated Happy Holidays! December is an action-packed month for celebration...but with it almost over, it's only natural to think of what's coming Thursday--a brand-new year.

 2015! 

As I do every year, I take a moment to explore a general focus for the coming year. I don't like to call them resolutions, because resolutions can be broken. But if I have an overarching theme, I feel more comfortable that I will be successful with what I'm working towards.

My major focus for 2015 will be to prioritize my own writing.

I knew when I graduated from Seton Hill that I wasn't going to get the same amount of time to focus on writing--that the ability to devote days and hours to fiction would never again come so easily. Now that I've been out of school for a year (I was actually taking courses at SHU until December 2013 so I could keep my financial aid) I realize I've let my writing fall by the wayside.

Disastrously so. 

Once I started teaching college English composition courses, I stopped working on my own writing and devoted energy--as I realize now, far too much energy--on my students' work. Of course I wish for my students to be successful, but after a couple rough terms, I've found that a lot of the attention I devoted to my students just didn't produce results. Often I spent considerably more time grading a student's paper than the student actually spent writing it, and the majority of my free time was devoted solely to grading. I've learned, especially after the term that just wrapped, that if I do not devote time to my own writing, I will be miserable. 

I want to be a productive writer. I have a lot of projects that I've been working on that have hit a standstill because of misplaced energy. I'm working on a fantasy trilogy, a comic series, the score to an animation project, and a short story I want to submit to markets. I also want to self-publish a separate title or two to get more of my work out there while I continue to seek agent representation. And I want to be able to do all of this while I teach at the college. 

"Langston Hughes 1936" by Carl Van Vechten
Source
I've realized the way I've gone about this has been all wrong. So I know I've got to make my own writing a priority and not turn it into "something I'll do when I have the time." This is how writers fail. And I did not devote decades of my life and thousands of dollars toward my education to fail. 

Every time I think of my goals and my life's purpose, I always think of  the poet Langston Hughes: "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up, like a raisin in the sun?" I know that if I do not feed my dreams, everything starts to fall apart in one way or another. I've got to keep my dreams nourished, and that means I've got to be strong and carve out time in my life every day to write. I've got to be strong enough not to make excuses and I've got to be strong enough to not feel guilty because I'm writing. 

That's my focus for this year. It's been an issue I've struggled with for a while, but since I've left graduate school and started teaching, it feels like it is more urgent that I make writing my priority. I'm going to do it...because if a dream doesn't dry up, then..."does it explode?"


Here's hoping all of you will make time for yourself and your dreams this new year. See you in 2015!



14 December 2014

Blog Design Bummer: nRelate bids farewell!

Advertisement, c. 1865 (PD)
Perhaps a year ago or so I was tired of using Linked Within to show "recommended posts" at the bottom of each journal entry on this site.

A large part of that had to do with customization: I wanted more control over how my site should look, and after doing some research, I chose nRelate to serve this function. Not only was it easy to add their html/javascript gadget to Blogger, but it allowed me several design options for how my images looked, how the headlines looked, and more. It also allowed ways to monetize sponsored content and also let you keep track of clicks and views...although, being a design newbie, not a lot of this mattered to me--I just wanted something that looked good.

Then I received a very brief email December 4th stating very simply, 

Unfortunately, we are retiring the nRelate platform at the end of this year.For those who are presently using our service, we will stop serving recommendations on December 31, 2014. For all users past and present, reports will be available for download in the Partners dashboard until January 9, 2015.  For those who are using our ad service, payments will be sent out on schedule in the new year. All nRelate services including our customer facing dashboards will be terminated, and you should sign up for an alternative discovery platform by the end of December.

I now have the joyful task of finding a decent replacement for my nRelate content bar, and I'm at a loss for what to do.

I'm hesitant to go back to Link Within, but I also don't want to spend money on a product when I'm making the lowest amount of money I've had in years...(read here  and here).  So far, the products that I'm finding on the web either charge money or are designed for Word Press sites...

And I briefly had a Word Press site. I didn't like it because of the amount of money I had to throw in to customize a webpage, but it looks like most of the widgets designed for blogs are Word Press.

Grr.

If anyone has any suggestions for a good content-widget formatted for Blogger, please let me know in the comments!

13 November 2014

Reality is a Harsh Mistress.

Source: Mikael's Playground 
I hate feeling this way about Nanowrimo and trying to balance work with work!

It's the end of the term for all of my English classes and the workload for both my students and myself have piled up.

I felt really confident going into Nanowrimo to work on The Step and the Walk--I even thought I had a solid chance of completing the book! But trying to balance teaching (my job) with writing (my job) has been exceptionally difficult.

This is what happened last year around Nano, where I let school work overwhelm me, and then my writing got brushed by the wayside.

Even if I wasn't completing in Nano, I'm discouraged that writing my book is still being left behind.

For those who work and write full time, how do you find the balance between the two? I feel the more time eats away from the book, the more I'm hurting my chances at success.

I have not found a personal, magical formula that allows me to write and teach writing at the same time.

Any suggestions?


30 October 2014

Proust Your Protagonist with Dark Poetess Stephanie M. Wytovich

Hysteria is the... protagonist (?!)... of the
Bram Stoker Award-nominated poetry
collection by Stephanie M. Wytovich.

Presenting 

Hysteria

It's a strange season. Halloween, that is. It's traditionally a time when anything otherworldly can happen, where time becomes even more immeasurable and abstract, where boundaries between the living and the dead blur. It's a time for the weird and wicked to come out and play.

I don't even know how to lead into this post. I've encountered an...entity...something that personifies primal emotion, panic, fear, and ecstasy. I'm not the same after meeting her, and I doubt you'll be the same if you keep reading.

Meet Hysteria.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Being trapped, isolated, having no way out. I like to think that all of my patients feel this way for in order for them to grow, they must know their greatest fear. They must shake hands with their misery, sleep with their shame, and in the morning, learn to accept their regret. It’s all part of their treatment. All part of getting better.

Where would you like to live?
I like to live right inside their heads, always there, always waiting. I want to be the first voice that they hear when they wake up. The last voice whose screams sing them to sleep.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Control. Complete and utter control.

The quality you most admire in a man?
I like a man who knows how to submit to a woman. And if he’s a masochist, oh, [laughs] then he’ll be very dear to me indeed.

The quality you most admire in a woman?
My girls need to have some fight in them.

Your favorite virtue?
Patience. One must have always a plan—a well-orchestrated plan—and one must be willing to wait for the opportune moment to attack. Patience is a subtle guarantee that you won’t get caught. And I never get caught. And neither do my patients.

Your favorite occupation?
I was born to be a nurse, born to cure the sick. I have a soft spot for weak people, and it’s my duty to make them strong. My asylum is a place for those to come and repent their sins, to create a new and improved sense of self.

And I am their muse.

Your most marked characteristic?
Some think I’m mad, but what they don’t realize is that there is a madness in all of us, a delicious madness that once brought to light is nothing more and nothing less than pure freedom. Madness is a blessing, and I feel bad for those who can’t accept it, or its gifts.

What do you most value in your friends?
I don’t believe in friendship. I believe in power.

What is your principle defect?
I have to wear a gas mask in order to breathe. Too many sick people where I am to trust the air.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
Losing my inability to think, to plot. Lobotomies are pretty frequent around here, and it’s always scary to think about what would happen if doctor and patient switched roles.

What would you like to be?
Immortal. Although, I must say, the devil and I are already pretty close.

Who are your heroes in real life?
People who aren't afraid to speak their minds, to be themselves. People who aren't afraid of the consequences of living. Those are the ones to be admired and they get my respect.

Who are your favorite heroines?
There’s only one heroine I know, and she’s quite lovely [laughs].

What is it you most dislike?
Ignorance. Don’t mock what you don’t understand, and trust me, there’s plenty that you don’t understand. The mind is a labyrinth and it should be walked through carefully for not everything is supposed to make sense.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
Mind control. I know, it does make me seem quite evil, but even nurses in a madhouse have to have fun sometimes. And while I love my patients, they’re such easy targets.

How would you like to die?
Die? My dear child, don’t you know that madness lives forever?

What is your present state of mind?
Ha! Is this a real question, or have you not been paying attention?

What is your motto?
Sometimes, I just like to hear them scream.

So scream for me, baby.

SCREAM.

~*~

(c) Stephanie Wytovich
Stephanie M. Wytovich is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, a book reviewer for Nameless Magazine, and a well-known coffee addict. 

She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction. 

Her poetry collections, HYSTERIA and Mourning Jewelry, can be found at Raw Dog Screaming Press, and her debut novel, The Eighth, will be out in early 2015 from Dark Regions Press. 

Follow Wytovich at stephaniewytovich.blogspot.com and on twitter @JustAfterSunset.


29 October 2014

Lily and Andresh: My Dearest

Beautiful artwork by deviantArtist Myra, aka Chengggg, of my characters Lily and Andresh, the leads of the Worldwalker series, which starts with The Name and the Key. 

(c) 2014 by Chengggg.
If you'd like to see more artwork from Chengggg, view her gallery here. If you'd like to see other artists tackle Lily and Andresh, visit that gallery here.

Support independent artists! deviantArt is a great place to connect with artists and commission work for your creative projects. I highly recommend it!

11 October 2014

Proust Your Protagonist with Rachel Robins

Meet Ava, the protagonist of Rachel Robin's
military urban fantasy, Ex Nihilo.

Presenting

Ava Raine

As some of you are aware, I'm an adjunct professor, so seeing various career reps and military recruiters on campus is pretty much the norm since ideally, students are in college to prepare for their future careers.

After the latest job fair, I heard this rumor about a new division in the Army, and then the word "monster" thrown around...I had try and figure out what was up with this. I don't really have answers for you, but I have Ava.

Ava has just too great of a personality to pass up for an interview, and although I couldn't get her to really talk about the "monster division" she's been drafted into, she was game for a good old-fashioned Proust questionnaire.

~*~

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Whatever the problem may be—having no way out. That trapped feeling, where there’s no hope for a better outcome and no way to fix whatever’s broken.

Where would you like to live?
If I were allowed, I think it'd be nice to be back in Phoenix. In a neighborhood not too far from my mom and my siblings. Maybe one of the nicer areas of Glendale or—if I’m dreaming big here—Verado.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
A thick slice of moist chocolate cake.

The quality you most admire in a man?
Sassy banter.

The quality you most admire in a woman?
Fearlessness.

Your favorite virtue?
Prudence. But I wish I was braver.

Your favorite occupation?
I remember a time when I used to dance...

Your most marked characteristic?
My scars. Or maybe my walk. It’s hard to say. Either way, you could easily pick me out in a crowd of 50, no problem.

What do you most value in your friends?
I don’t have many. In the few I do have, however, their kindness and consideration. Their willingness to help when I’m in need, like it’s a matter of course. Nothing big.

What is your principle defect?
In body, my right hip. In mind...I'm a coward.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
Having your arms and legs hacked off, then being trapped alone in a black abyss and what untouched skin you have is plagued by the sensation of spiders crawling. Where time and space is meaningless, your stomach never gets hungry, and there’s no need to breathe. Where the occasional whisper hovers just beyond the edge of comprehension. Where it’s impossible to sleep, no matter how much you want to. Where there’s no end, no beginning, and no way out. Where you go mad from the silence of it all.

Granted, shit like this doesn't happen often. But you never know. It could. And it would really suck.

What would you like to be?
Normal.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My mom is. It takes guts to finish raising your best friend’s children, but to have one of those kids end up like one of the freaks? And to still love it anyway—when keeping it means heavy taxation, threatened job security, and the hatred of all your friends and neighbors? I’ve never met a woman more selfless. I hope to be as strong as she is one day.

Who are your favorite heroines?
I dislike the implied sexism in this and the above question.

What is it you most dislike?

Dislike? Not hate? Or Fear? Well, I most dislike sweaty feet. There’s just a whole world of grossness associated with them.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
It embarrasses me to say it, but...I wish I were prettier. Life would just be easier if I were.

How would you like to die?
I should think that we all hope for a quick, painless death. I’m no different.

What is your present state of mind?
Spent—it’s been a rough couple of months.

What is your motto?
Mottoes are hard.

~*~

About the Book: When Ava Raine, a handicapped girl, is drafted to join the monster division in the US Army, she decides can’t handle it. But when her denial of her burgeoning abilities and her lack of control are responsible for almost killing two people the way she did to her boyfriend five years earlier, she now must accept the idea that she might not be entirely human and train alongside the monsters around her. Between honing her newfound abilities and Ava’s loosening grip on reality as the result of them, not to mention the sudden appearance of an unintentional victim from her past who wants her dead, she may not make it out alive.

Image (c) Rachel Robins
About the Author: 
Rachel Robins is a crafty one. She writes. She reads. She often meditates upon the many practical applications of unicorn byproducts in her daily life and diet. After all, they are an excellent source of sparkles. Rachel often uses her frequent crafting sessions as fodder for her writing, which comes in a variety of flavors such as urban fantasy, noir, horror, steampunk, dieselpunk, and of course, comedy. Robin Rachels is her sworn nemesis.

You Should Be Reading: Jennifer Loring

Available now from DarkFuse
and Amazon
During my time at Seton Hill University, I met a writer who would significantly shape not only my experiences at grad school, but my own writing: Jennifer Loring.

I met Jenn during my second residency at SHU when we were assigned to be critique partners for each other's thesis novels. It was one of those experiences where right at our initial meeting I felt like something special was happening.

We bonded over fairy tales.

Except Jenn and I bonded over the original stories--the twisted versions that included things like murder, torture, rape, and cannibalism, all combined with elements of the ethereal, magical, and otherworldly.

From my second term until our graduation from SHU, Jenn and I remained crit partners, friends, and confidantes. She's helped me out with my novel The Name and the Key and beyond that, she's been kind enough to blurb me on my freelancing site and has kept her eyes open for any opportunities that may come my way. I hope to someday be able to return the level of kindness and support she's given me. This post is one of many attempts to do so and if Jenn finds her way over here I hope my fangasms don't come across as too creepy.

YOU MUST READ JENNIFER LORING.


I am not speaking from a place of friendship. I'm speaking as someone who is very critical and as someone who hates to waste time on crappy writing. I will drop a book at any point in the reading if it doesn't work for me and I have no qualms with purging sellling books to get them off my shelves to keep my personal library a haven of quality.

I have a Jennifer Loring shrine in my iPad, and although I want Conduits to be the first tangible book in my physical library, I am saving that honor for Those of My Kind, Jenn's thesis novel from SHU, which will be released  March 2015 from dark fantasy publisher Omnium Gatherum!

Jenn's the type of writer who skillfully uses language that promotes cognitive dissonance, which I personally believe is one of the key definers, if not the actual purpose, of the horror genre. She can describe something as visceral and violent as being impaled, and as gruesome and detailed as she can be with it, she somehow makes it beautiful at the same time. Just when such a scene is on the verge of being unbearable, her prose elevates it and guides you to the next piece in the story.

Jenn also has such a deep awareness of mythic themes and symbols that no matter what's happening on the surface of her writing, her words are actually weaving together a deeper meaning. It feels like the hum of an electric current--it's been there and working all along, but you don't catch it until everything else is quiet.

This is exactly what's at work in her newest book, Conduits:
Mara is a Japanese-American girl with a history of personal tragedy. Though she still cuts herself to quell the pain, she thought the worst was behind her. But her boyfriend's sudden death, and a visit to one of the most haunted places in Washington State, sends her into a spiral of madness, landing her in a psychiatric ward. 
Already suffering from dreams of a strange, ghost-infested house in the woods, Mara begins to question the very existence of reality. She is forced to confront the truth about her older sister's death and the reason the ghosts have chosen her as their conduit. (Publisher's Description)
I am signal-boosting the crap out of Conduits. Yes, I'd like you to read Jenn's work in Mental Ward, Grimm and Grimmer, and her novella Beautiful Things, but there's something magical going on with Conduits:

  • She’s got a style and a strong authorial pen that makes reading this novella crackle. Whether she’s describing rain falling down a windowpane or the much darker act of deliberately cutting oneself in an effort to control the psychological pain through the physical act of bleeding, there’s a consistent beauty and elegance to her words that really appealed to me. Coupled with that is a wickedly strong story.
--Author Michael Patrick Harris in his review
  • “Conduits” is a book that is sure to keep the reader on edge throughout the story. Loring uses a lot of imagery in the book to express the confusion and fear that Mara is feeling and this also serves to keep the reader from settling into a comfort zone while reading the story. Instead, the reader always has a sense that there is something lurking around the corner, or on the next page in this case, but not knowing what that something might be other than the fact that it is sure to be something terrible. [...] While “Conduits” is a short novella, it is still a powerful story that packs a punch that will leave the reader reeling and thinking about the story days after the last page is read. 
--Josef Hernandez's review for the Minneapolis Books Examiner

I hope one day when I'm not overwhelmed with all things adjunct-related, that I may add my own detailed review of the book to the list. In the meantime, help out the author by reading the book and sharing your own review!


06 October 2014

Proust Your Protagonist with Ron Shannon

Meet British spy Christopher Weymouth
of the forthcoming adventure-suspense
novel, The Hedgerows of June.
Introducing

Christopher Weymouth

The other day I was sifting through old family memorabilia and discovered something that blew my mind. You see, the paternal side of my family all hail from Germany, and my grandfather fought in WWII before coming to the US with his wife and my dad, who was born in 1947. A lot of documentation from that time was lost during the war, but between my siblings and I, we have some of the essentials--birth records, marriage licenses, old photographs, etc.

Imagine my surprise when I found something extra dating back to WWII! I don't know how it came into my grandfather's possession; my guess was at some point when he was stationed in Paris to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier--but it looks like excerpts of a personal diary.  

As far as I know, my grandpa didn't use the journal for any ill will, like reporting its contents to his fellow officers. He and his family were fans of America long before the war started, having visited New York City just before my grandpa was drafted.  My guess is Grandpa found something sincere within Chris Weymouth's words that he could personally connect with.

Here's the mind-blowing moment I have to share with you: Weymouth's journal notes follow the French author Marcel Proust's, in that they ask a lot of the same personal questions for self-reflection. Proust wrote his journals in France in the 1890s, when such a level of introspection and sensitivity was lauded.  Self-questionnaires also became all the rage in England during the time period, and it seems Weymouth's notes are a unique connection between the past (19th and 20th centuries) and the present (21st century).  Here are his notes, unaltered.

~*~

I am Christopher Weymouth, the piano player at a small cabaret in occupied France. That is what everyone in my small village believes. In actuality I am a British spy responsible for getting bad information to the evil Nazi colonel, Landric Mueller.

What do I regard as the lowest depth of misery.
I have been undercover for so long I forget what I am doing and who I’ve become. That is until someone I know and care about is hurt because of my actions. I have suffered this kind of misery and I can tell you that I will never fully recover or find a way to wash it from my memory.

Where I want to live.
Since the beginning of this war I have dreamed of only one place, the English countryside and the estate my father left me. It is the place of childhood memories, good and bad. It’s where my father nursed a broken heart and where he raised me, an overly sensitive and capricious son. I can’t wait to go home.

My idea of earthly happiness.
Happiness can mean many different things to many different people, but the question specifically asks for my idea of happiness. I thought about having someone to love and for that person to love me. Yet, I know it’s more than that. It’s the capacity to give someone my love, whether it is romantic, friendship, or any other form. For so long I’ve had to hide whatever love I’ve been able to experience. I’ve lost the facility to love for fear of the damage it may cause. Did I ever possess the talent? I’m not sure, but to rediscover it would be my idea of earthly happiness.

What quality do I most admire in a man?
Without a doubt it is honesty. Not only in what he says, but in what he does. A man who says one thing only to do another whether from misguided obligation or duplicity is a man to fear and avoid.

In a woman.
Man or woman, the answer is the same for the same reasons. Honesty is the most admirable quality anyone can possess.

Favorite virtue.
I admire virtue, but I am often lost when discussing virtue. Patience is a problem. Yet, I am not ashamed when I become impatient. After considering the subject of virtue I must admit the one that always wins my admiration is humility. It is so easy to be proud. Is it possible, in this world of dreadful turmoil, to be humble?

Favorite occupation.
Musician. It provides for creativity and personal achievement. It offers the means to not only see the beauty in the world, but to contribute to it.

What I most value in a friend.
You don’t have to agree with a friend. In fact it is healthy to disagree and to debate. But when it comes down to it, loyalty is the most valuable aspect of any friendship. A disloyal friend is not a friend at all.

Most marked characteristic?
I hear and recognize accents. I can tell where a person is from by listening to how they enunciate certain words. I speak three different languages, but it’s the ability to recognize the accent that makes me a valuable asset in the intelligence arena.

Principle defect.
What I consider to be the greatest happiness is also my greatest fear. I fear loving another human being. It is a flaw that has developed with time and experience and it will take a serious effort to correct it.

What, to my mind, would be the greatest misfortune?
This is similar to happiness. What if I was to find that I am in love alone? What if I found the skill to love, but it turned out to be unreciprocated. This may sound terribly selfish, but I can’t help it.

What Would I Like to Be?
Yes, I would love to be a friend, a lover, but more than those, I would like to be a mentor. Such a position would be an honor, but probably the most difficult station to achieve. What an overwhelming responsibility.

My heroes in real life.
I can think of one, the American writer, Mark Twain. He perceived the world from an artist’s point of view. He found the humor in life. He also knew the tragedy of inequality, ignorance and greed. This war is the festering wound of such tragedies.

Favorite heroine.
Queen Victoria. Not a stranger to hardship, but brave. She was a true leader.

What is it I most dislike?
This damned war. The absurdity of this prolonged tragedy and the evil behind it.

Natural gift I would most like to possess.
I would most like to possess the appreciation of beauty whether in nature or mankind.

How do I want to die?
I should say something like in the service of my country, but that would not be true. I would love to die in the arms of a beautiful woman.

Present State of Mind.
I am sad, depressed, due to the loss of someone I cared about. I cannot help but think her death is my fault in some way. I am convinced I need to avenge her death, but I am not sure it is for justice or for me.

What is my motto?
This damned war. It’s a phrase I heard my mentor say, but I have taken it for my own. It is what I repeat to find the courage to keep going.

~*~

About The Hedgerows of June:  France, late June 1944. The town of Saint-Lô is an important Nazi transportation hub in occupied France and the experienced German Army is determined to defend it. An inexperienced American Army is equally determined to conquer Saint-Lô. The result is the Battle of the Hedgerows, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.

A British spy, Chris Weymouth, and an American expatriate, Mary McCorkel, meet at the home of Jean-Claire, an aging French Resistance operative. She tells Chris they have been given the responsibility to reunite four children with their fugitive parents in Saint-Lô. Chris is reluctant to take the dangerous mission, but Jean-Claire tells him he has no choice. The OSS has ordered Chris to get the children to Saint-Lô for purposes he is not permitted to discuss with Mary. Mary has her own secret reasons for making the journey.

Image (c) Ron Shannon
To get to Saint-Lô they must cross the treacherous French farmland known as the Bocage, or hedgerows, and what will soon be the battlefield. While staying one step ahead of the attacking Americans and dodging the defending Germans Chris and Mary discover their lives are threatened not only by the war, but also by the secrets and deceptions they are sworn to protect. 

Available October 18th at Amazon and Barnes and Noble! 

About the author: Ron Shannon discovered his passion for storytelling at a very young age: while listening to his teacher read the Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol to the overly-excited members of his sixth grade class. He studied at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey and graduated with the unlikely degree combination of accounting and English. Recently he completed his Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Ron lives, daydreams, and writes at the New Jersey shore.


04 October 2014

Writing Fantasy is like Writing Horror: You Can't Walk Away from the Dark.

Evil Looms and Good Approaches.
 By amdandy. Licensed from iStock.
Stephen King wrote that we crave horror movies because the genre is "innately conservative; even reactionary. [...]"
It is true that the mythic 'fairy-tale' horror [...] intends to take away the shades of gray [...] It urges us to put away our more civilized and adult penchant for analysis and to become children again, seeing things in pure blacks and whites.
I appreciate that King throws out the reference to fairy tales in his quote, because it helps cement my belief that the horror and fantasy genres have always been closely related to each other. That's why I think I can claim fantasy, in its own way, shares a lot of the traditional morality that tends to crop up in horror--namely that good will prevail and evil will be punished. (It's usually how those punishments are doled out that determine the genre.)

Ever since I was little I always hoped that justice would be served for those who suffer and those who inflict suffering. Justice happens in fairy tales, and reading fairy tales led me to write fantasy. And I have to admit, a degree of fairy-tale morality has trickled into how I structure the plot of my stories. But I draw the line at how I create my characters.

In fairy tales, it's very clear as to who is evil and who isn't. There's no mystery about it; the Wicked Stepsisters and Evil Queen are just what their names suggest. And even if these characters get away with being evil for the duration of the story, a final, horrible justice compensates for that. In Cinderella, the Wicked Stepsisters have their eyes plucked out by doves. In Snow White, the Evil Queen is forced to dance to death in hot iron shoes.

My series, Worldwalker Tales, does contain various influences from fairy tales; namely the Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (ahem, the original) version of Beauty and the Beast. I'm working the Beast's background from the de Villeneuve tale into The Step and the Walk, the novel that focuses on the character Andresh Camomescro from The Name and the Key. 

From the very beginning I knew de Villeneuve had a darker origin story for the Beast, including the nature of his curse. To oversimplify the plot: for his own protection, an infant Prince is raised by a Fairy in an enchanted forest. When the Prince grows into a handsome young man, the Fairy decides she doesn't want to be his mother anymore, but his lover. The Prince rebuffs her sexual advances and as a punishment, she turns him into the Beast.

Part of the reason why this version of Beauty and the Beast appeals to me is that there isn't a black-and-white morality tale here. Unlike the more popular versions of the tale (which we now default to as the Disney version), the Prince does nothing to deserve his punishment. And if I remember correctly, the Fairy isn't given the kind of justice we see in such stories. The Fairy fades into the background, and to be honest, she's disappeared from my memory altogether while the traditional plot of Beauty and the Beast picks up from there.

In Worldwalker Tales, Andresh is my Prince/Beast character. The Step and the Walk serves as his origin story, and it is dark. And I did want it to have some semblance of de Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast.  Instead of an enchanted castle in an enchanted forest, Andresh is confined to the caverns inside of a mountain. Instead of a Fairy, Andresh meets Narjineyah (whom he calls Nara), a woman who is nowhere near what she seems to be. Nara does mentor Andresh, and what starts out as a relationship between a teacher and her pupil becomes something cruel. And following the de Villeneuve tradition, Andresh is unjustly punished for his relationship with Nara.

The Puppeteer by Denis Zorkin.
Licensed from Dollar Photo Club.
I always knew the plot of Worldwalker Tales would take a disturbing detour during The Step and the Walk. I knew I would have to "go there" and I wanted to arm myself as much as possible for the journey. Doing research on a topic like this certainly wore me down. After reading case studies, first-person accounts, news reports, and works of fiction that address the issue, I felt like I might've gone off the deep end for trying to remotely understand why human beings are so good at hurting each other.

And then I was scared to write.

In horror, you take readers down a dark journey, and there is no promise of a return. Justice may be served, but justice does not equal a happy ending. Horror is not a genre of happy endings, anyway, as Stephen King has said: "Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win."

With fantasy, the expectation is that although there may be twists and turns that plunge readers into darkness, ultimately, there will be a return: a resolution that is happy or, at the very least, fulfilling.

I think I'm asking a lot of my readers. I'm taking a character they love and I'm throwing every twisted thing I can at him to see if he will bend or break. If my fiction can capture any shade of the realities from my research, readers are going to be disgusted. Maybe it will trigger something horrible for them. Maybe they will bend and break just as Andresh bends and breaks, but in doing so, they know  the suffering is temporary because something far more fulfilling will come along to make up for that pain.  Justice tends to offer such fulfillment, but what if I deny it?  How do  I bring readers back from the brink?

I don't have easy answers for this. But if I think of de Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast, I might have an idea. There is no Hammurabi Code-level of justice in her fairy tale. Resolution came simply because her characters--Belle and La Bête--kept moving forward into a different story altogether: their own.

If I bear this in mind, I should be able to fulfill the requisites of my genre. When things seem especially bleak, there will be hope for the reader that the darkness of the journey will end with reward.

Writing is never a small feat.

27 September 2014

Proust Your Protagonist with K. W. Taylor

RedEye-2014
Meet Sam Brody, the protagonist of K. W. Taylor's
hit urban fantasy The Red Eye.

Presenting

Sam Brody

Today's interview is with someone who is no stranger to interviews--radio talkshow host Sam Brody of the hit late-night series The Red Eye. I'm turning the tables on Sam by asking him the questions, especially since I keep hearing this weird rumor about him being a dragon-slayer, which sounds like something he'd debunk on his own show. Maybe he'll give us the scoop; maybe not. 

Kristina: It's great to have you here, Sam.

Sam: Thanks for having me.  Listen, I've got quite a bit on my plate at the moment, so I hope you don't mind if I just blitz through these.

Kristina: No problem, I understand. Just so you know, though, some of these are of a personal nature--

Sam: It's all right. I don't avoid the tough questions on my own show; I'm fair game for yours.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
The lowest depth of misery is knowing something is irrevocably screwed up and you’re totally unable to do a damn thing about it. Misery is seeing my ex with another guy, seeing the face of unfathomable horror and knowing it could slice me to ribbons in two seconds flat, or having somebody I care about be in danger. Can I do something about some of that stuff? Yeah, a little. Maybe even a lot. The danger stuff, I’m getting better at. The emotional stuff…not so much.

Where would you like to live?
I’d like to live in a safe world free from monsters, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night. Silly me, I thought I did live in a world like that, but apparently not. Barring that, I guess I see myself retiring somewhere sunny with a beach…unless people like me don’t get to retire, that is.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
I’ve seen glimpses, but only just that—glimpses. Brief. Fleeting. The smile on my producer Heather’s face when I’ve done something good. The first-morning drag on a cigarette (I know, I know, I’m trying). The point where coffee cools off just enough that you can drink long and deep without burning your tongue. Simple pleasures. God knows my life is more distinct-lack-of-pleasure these days.

The quality you most admire in a man?
All the stuff I’m not, basically. Hard-working, teetotaling, clean-living, and easy to get along with. So basically my boss, Jon, but so help me, I will go to my grave denying I admire him.

Concordia-2014
If you can't get enough of Sam, check him out
in The Red Eye's prequel, The House on Concordia Drive.
The quality you most admire in a woman?
A woman can earn my eternal admiration by telling me when I’m being an ass. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop, but I’ll admire her honesty.

Your favorite virtue?
Not being a homicidal demon-type thing helps. Humanity helps. These days, as long as you’re not a ghost, a dragon, or a shapeshifter, everything else really is a virtue.

Your favorite occupation?
Of all the hats I wear right now, I still like my radio gig best, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It gets me out of the house without making me get up early, and it provides a nice cover for my recently-acquired side gig. I must admit the whole “podcasting” fad has me a little worried, but so long as the radio station keeps me employed and doesn’t ask too many questions about my all-too-frequent injuries, I’m good.

Your most marked characteristic?
I get a lot of eyerolls whenever I say something I think is especially hilarious. Apparently not everyone agrees that I am, in fact, the funniest man alive.

What do you most value in your friends?
Anybody who’s known me longer than about five minutes is going to have to be really excellent at forgiveness.

What is your principle defect?
For most of my life, I had no idea about a lot of the darker parts of the universe almost solely because while I have my problems, getting riled up and angry isn’t one of them. Apparently certain gifts don’t really present themselves if you can’t be bothered to summon up some righteous anger. So, unlike a lot of people I know—my father, for example—I actually need to work on increasing my anger.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
The greatest misfortune would be to die trying to save someone and still fail. I don’t care so much if the universe decides to off me, but if it takes me out with someone I care about, that’d be the worst.

What would you like to be?
Right more often than I’m wrong. I’ll let you know if that ever happens.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My buddy Steve is pretty chill. He’s a good friend and a decent guy, and those are few and far between in this world. Lot of heroism in grilling a good hamburger and never screwing anybody over.

Who are your favorite heroines?
My producer Heather is a true heroine, and I love her for it. So is a really brave lady named Jenny Chan. Only had the pleasure once, but she showed me what it means to stand tall in the face of real adversity, the kind that lives in your house with you and can scar you for life if you let it.

What is it you most dislike?
Mornings. Sunrise. Alarm clocks. Being at the airport while it’s still dark out. Basically anything that has me anywhere before noon.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
Tact. Tact would be really useful a lot of the time. Really, anything related to not just blurting out exactly what I’m thinking. Might still be married if I had that gift.

How would you like to die?
At this point, it would be pretty satisfying in the heat of battle. If I have to go out, might as well be with my boots on.

What is your present state of mind?
Is “irrevocably damaged” a thing in the DSM? It’s probably called something fancier there, but yeah. That.

What is your motto?
Live and let live. Unless the other thing wanting to do the living is a sixty-foot-long flying and fire-breathing dragon. Then live and let die really painfully.

~*~

Image (c) K .W. Taylor
K.W. Taylor’s debut novel The Red Eye marks her fiftieth publication credit (Alliteration Ink, 2014).

She has short stories in the anthologies The Grotesquerie (Mocha Memoirs Press, 2014), 100 Worlds (Dreamscape Press, 2013), Sidekicks! (Alliteration Ink, 2013), Touched by Darkness (Etopia Press, 2012), and Once Bitten, Never Die (Wicked East Press, 2011), as well as many print and electronic magazines. Taylor’s two short novellas, The House on Concordia Drive (Alliteration Ink) and We Shadows Have Offended (Etopia Press), were released in 2014 and 2011 respectively. 

Taylor serves on several panels for local, regional and international literary grant awards and writing contests, and she is a student in the innovative Writing Popular Fiction MFA program at Seton Hill University. Taylor teaches college English and Women’s Studies in Dayton, Ohio, where she lives in a restored nineteenth-century home with her husband and the world's most rambunctious kitten. When not writing, Taylor enjoys yoga, doing crafts badly, and collecting board games. She blogs at kwtaylorwriter.com.


21 September 2014

Proust Your Protagonist with Nick Trevano

Meet Col. Scott Columines, the protagonist of
Nick Trevano's thrilling sci-fi hit, Advenae.

Introducing

Colonel Scott Columines

I'm pleased to have another exciting guest on my website today!  Colonel Columines  took some time out of his busy schedule to let me interview him via his company's long-range comms.   He works with some very high-tech equipment, being in the military and all, and I knew the technology I had (Skype, ha!) wasn't exactly meant for outer terrestrial communication. Anyway,  when we finished our chat he kindly forwarded me the transcript of our interview  to share with you. Enjoy.

Kristina: I don't understand how you managed to set this up, but thank you so much for agreeing to let me interview you! My questions, you'll find, are a little out of the ordinary, which probably suits you just fine.  Please introduce yourself!

Columines: My name is Colonel Scott Columines. I am currently with the Earth expedition to maintain the outer terrestrial outpost of Coalire. I’ve been with the military for about 16 years and I’ve seen a lot of action during that time. I don’t have a wife or girlfriend and honestly with the way things are going at the outpost, I don’t see any of that happening anytime soon.

Kristina: If I'm the first female you've spoken to like this in a while, then can I  say I'm flattered? (laughs) I mean, my interview questions are kind of personal...(unintelligible) Uh, right. Anyway.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Being unable to help. Unable to do anything. Like you’re just stuck somewhere while the world falls apart around you and there isn’t a thing you can do to even try to stop it.

Where would you like to live?
Oh wow. I haven’t thought about that in a long time. I think if I ever had the chance to have a place of my own that wasn’t on a military base, I’d do with somewhere maybe out west. Wyoming maybe. My friend, Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Beck, he owns a ranch in Nebraska and we always go out riding when I visit. It’s just really nice to be out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to worry about. I think I’d like to have a chunk of land out somewhere with just myself and nothing else around me.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Having food in your belly, a roof over your head, and being alive and safe.

The quality you most admire in a man?
Anytime he’s unwilling to give up. And that goes beyond just soldiers. Whether he’s defending his home or just willing to go the extra mile in life, that’s what can make the difference in how something turns out.

The quality you most admire in a woman?
Honesty. Don’t tell me one thing when you mean another. I like straight answers and I’m never going to figure something out if you’re going to be cryptic about it. If there’s a problem, tell me. Whether it’s good or bad, just let me know. You’re not going to hurt my feelings - trust me. I’ve been shot at.

Your favorite virtue?
It’s kind of a toss-up between honesty and loyalty.

Your favorite occupation?
Mine. (laughs)  Really though, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t like it. Even on the bad days, I mean...that’s just a part of it. But if I had to choose a different occupation: chef. Just the way they’re able to pick out different foods and spices and know how to put them together just right - that impresses me. That and I love food.

Your most marked characteristic?
That I don’t stop. I guess that’s what people would probably say about me. I don’t know how to stop. Just always have to get the job done. No matter what it is that I’m doing.

What do you most value in your friends?
They’re always there when I need them. I must have done something right in my life because never once have I had a friend flake out on me.

What is your principle defect?
Not knowing when to stop? (laughs) Probably that I don’t want to lose the connection I have to my men. That’s why I’ve skipped promotions in the past. I didn’t know how it would effect my connection to them and once that’s gone... I mean what’s the point in commanding them if I don’t even know their names? Then I’m just some smug bastard in the back room telling them to go out and die while I sip coffee and read the newspaper.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
If the Alliance of Order fell apart. Christ, that would be a mess.

What would you like to be?
What I am now.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Lieutenant Colonel Sharp Jackson. I always wondered who the hell would name their kid Sharp, but he’s one of the men who helped keep the world from falling apart before the Alliance of Order got put together. You’d have to pick up one of his biographies to get the full story, but it’s a damn good story. Ever since hearing that, I knew what I wanted to do.

Who are your favorite heroines?
Holy shit - my mom. I’m pretty sure she must have had a cape somewhere hanging in her closet for all the stuff she did for me. She was always going down to the principal’s office because I was getting into fights with older boys when they were picking on someone smaller than them. I got my ass kicked a lot, but because I was the one starting it, I’d get in trouble. But she knew. She always had everything ready to go when it needed to be. Always made sure I was in the right place at the right time. That woman could run a field hospital with her eyes closed and just her pinky finger.

What is it you most dislike?
People who fuck over other people. And I don’t mean by accident. I mean real, intentional shit that will fuck someone’s life or get them killed.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
If I could paint that would be pretty fantastic. I feel like that would be a great way to relieve stress. Just...making something good. Unfortunately I can’t draw or paint for shit.

How would you like to die?
A lot of people think dying on the battlefield is glorious and all that. It’s not. It’s messy and terrible. I want to die of old age. In my house. Just one day I’m there and the next I’m not.

What is your present state of mind?
I’m in a good place. I guess that’s kind of surprising given everything that’s happened. But I mean, if I dwell on it what good does that do me? I’m just going to end up wallowing in self-pity and depression and that’s just not how I operate.

What is your motto?
Don’t back down. Although these days I might have to add in: Don’t go in blind.


~*~


Cederblad 51 (cc) by J Schulmann555 via
Wikimedia Commons
About Advenae: Stepping onto a planet four worlds away from Earth is routine for Colonel Scott Columines. Outerterrestrials who call themselves the Kajla have graciously built an outpost for the arriving humans—yet when the Earth expedition arrives, their hosts are nowhere to be found.

With no clues to follow, the Earth group continues on with their original intent; exploration. Unfortunately, the universe is not a place that can quietly be explored. The Taregot invade and destroy any planet within their reach, seeking to eliminate all organisms they deem inferior—and Columines’s team makes the mistake of bumping into them.

Humanity just went to the top of their list.

About Nick TrevanoNick Trevano goes hiking and camping whenever possible, owns a wild dachshund with a brain the size of walnut (without the shell), and thrives on insanity and general mayhem.



16 September 2014

I write fantasy and I'm worried white privilege will infiltrate my books. Part Two.


Esmeralda from Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame pretty much cemented my love for gypsies.
This was before I knew anything about the Romani or cultural appropriation. Source
Please take a moment to read part one if you haven't already. Thanks.

Once upon a time, I fell in love with a stereotype.


I was ten years old and learned of gypsies the same way I learned about magic--through fiction. But the fiction I read tied magic and gypsies inextricably together, as though one could not function without the other. I branched out into nonfiction and realized with delight that gypsies were real (!!) and that their magic was real, too.

Of course, I picked the wrong nonfiction books to read when I made this discovery. Fortunetelling for Fun and Profit was my gypsy-magic bible at the tender age of 10. When I was 11, I took it a step further and dressed up as a "gypsy" for Halloween. At age 12, I saw Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the movie theater, and BAM! My heart was forever lost.

Holy crap, Esmerelda!  She was the first Disney character I wanted to be. This was a different level of infatuation compared to what I held for other Disney ladies. I wanted to be pretty like Princess Aurora and Princess Jasmine, all the while possessing the sex appeal of Jessica Rabbit (I know, I was too young to be thinking about such things)...but as soon as I saw Esmeralda, she seemed to encompass all of it. I wanted to be her. She was a gypsy, and I loved gypsies; she was a dancer (I was a dancer!); and she was beautiful, brave, sexy, just, and kind.

I was so taken by her that shortly after I saw Hunchback I wrote my own musical with gypsies. *sighs* I took it very seriously, too. My musical A Gypsy's Tale was going to be the best thing I ever wrote, better than all my earlier plays, and I would do the research and spend hours composing music and lyrics with MIDI software. And then the show would sell out in seconds to audiences who gave unending standing ovations. Forgive me, I was twelve.

I abruptly hit reality during research. I was looking for books besides Fortunetelling for Fun and Profit to learn more about gypsies, and my local library had a huge, old hardcover photobook about them. I borrowed it to research costume ideas and instead of seeing laughing bohemians in colorful clothes running around with violins and tambourines--

--I learned that "gypsy" is an offensive word. I learned that "gypped" came from gypsy, and that it is also a really offensive wordI learned gypsies weren't descended from Egypt, but India. I saw photos of vardos pulled by vanner horses. I saw images of happy families, and I did see my many-skirted dancers and violinists, but I also saw poverty, exclusion, and expulsion. I saw the words porajmos and gadje for the first time.  I saw the Romani.

Croatian Sinti and Roma with their children in 1941.
CC-licensed from the Deutsches Bundesarchiv.
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2004-0203-502,
Bei Agram, kroatische Sinti und Roma-Frauen und Kinder 
It was a true moment of cognitive dissonance, and I couldn't handle it.  Because once upon a time, I fell in love with a stereotype, and when you fall deeply in love, it's hard to move on. I'm glad I was smart enough to shelve my gypsy musical so it could never see the light of day (it would've been the most unintentionally offensive thing on the planet). And then I walked away from gypsies for a long time...until fifteen years later, when I enrolled in Seton Hill's Writing Popular Fiction program.

All of a sudden I was tasked to write a novel. I always wanted to write novels, but I was "the playwright," and novels were a completely different thing altogether. I never really attempted one before. I didn't even know what I wanted to write when I started the program, so I reflected on why I wanted to be a writer in the first place. And it had to do with the very first things I ever read--fairy tales, fantasy, magic, and...gypsies.

I didn't overtly plan to write a story with a gypsy-like/Romani-like culture. It was one of those whimsical things that pop up out of nowhere right when you're drafting; the moment when you surprise yourself with something wonderful. Somehow it appeared when I started writing the first chapter of The Name and the Key, and it stuck. The majority of my characters would be from this culture--including the leading characters.

All the while I became very nervous about my somewhat-like-reality-but-not-really-real fantasy culture. First of all, I was a white person writing non-white characters. Second, I couldn't call these characters gypsies, because I didn't want to write gypsies. I loved Esmeralda, but I didn't want an Esmeralda and a gypsy Court of Miracles to pop up in my fiction. I also didn't want to write anything that would be considered offensive by real Romani. I know I'm gadje, but I didn't want to be that kind of gadje: the white, privileged, ignorant author who contributes to the unending cycle of cultural appropriation. I wanted to do the Romani justice and make these characters seem like actual Romani...

But then an entirely different issue cropped up. There were things I wanted the characters to do that the Romani simply would never do, because it violated Romanipen and very strict codes of purity. For example, my lead characters, Lily Camlo and Andresh Camomescro, would not be allowed to be alone together, or express physical love (even in the awkward early stages of first kisses and holding hands) unless they were married, period. Except they would hardly be allowed to marry in the first place.

Andresh and Lily are meant to be together.
The Name and the Key (c) Spikie
Lily has a Romani father, but a gadje mother, and in an already extraordinary circumstance, the family would be considered polluted because gadje do not possess Romanipen. Lily would therefore also be gadje, and Andresh would simply not be allowed to have anything to do with her, unless he faces total expulsion. That means cutting himself off from his family and especially his father, whom he loves deeply and would never want to leave. This sort of thing--running off with an outsider--just didn't happen in the past.

I had to come to terms with the idea that I couldn't write my characters as gypsies or Romani, because in the end they have essences of both. I couldn't call my characters gypsies because they were more than the stereotype, and possessed shades of actual Romani culture. But I couldn't call them Romani because they didn't truly possess Romanipen. And above all, my world is still fictional. It is a world like Earth, but isn't. Gypsies and Romani are of this Earth and have no business in my story.

The best resolution I could make, then, was to refuse to give them a name.

I've provided details for the reader to draw their own conclusions about the cultural basis for these characters, and when they are referred to at all, it's with general terms: wanderers, travelers, itinerants, rovers, tribes, clans, companies, and so forth.

There might have been a better way to handle this, but I'm not certain of what it could be, given my own limitations as a writer. Even if I drop hints or give allusions to what culture these characters belong to, readers are going to name it in their minds, anyway: "oh, these characters are gypsies!" ...although it's my greatest hope the reader will not default to the pejorative name white outsiders created, and think something more along the lines of, "oh, these characters are kind of like the Romani!"

I've written a trilogy where the vast majority of characters are Asian, with a sprinkling of Arabic, African, and European cultures mixed in. To be even more blunt about it, very few characters in this trilogy are white. And I want my fantasy novels to be like this, because the world is like this. Ultimately, I want my readers to pick up my novels and find something of themselves in them.

I hope that through my research and (continuing) education I will have the sense to recognize when my own cultural assumptions, borne of white privilege, have made their way into the writing. When I shared this discussion with some of my Seton Hill classmates, one of the issues that popped up was the idea of knowing who my audience is. And although part of me is writing for my own enjoyment, in the end, I'm writing for you.

Whoever you may be.


14 September 2014

I write fantasy and I'm worried white privilege will infiltrate my books. Part One.

When you think of characters in the fantasy genre,
is this what you see?

From The Lord of the Rings,
The Fellowship of the Ring
(Source)
This is a two-part post my brain's been struggling to put together for a while, because it's tricky subject matter and I have no easy answers for any of it.  You see, I write fantasy: the genre of the impossible, where there is potentially no limit for what the author can create and what the reader can envision.

I am a world-builder. I like to create characters and nations and cultures and throw them into a universe where magic is real, and the tangible and intangible coexist. The worlds I create, however, are simply variants of our own.

I use Earth-like worlds because my own imagination is limited when it comes to innovative world creation. I just don't have the capability to build a Middle Earth or an Arrakis. I grew up with stories that took place "Once upon a time in a far-off kingdom" or "Once upon a time, long ago." The world of fairy tales and myth didn't need to be more complicated than that. It was always easier for me to insert myself into the realm of "once upon a time" because it was familiar enough that I didn't feel unwelcome or uncomfortable with being a part of it. I still operate with this idea in mind as I write my own fantasy.

At its core, I am "writing what I know." But there are issues even with this. You see, I don't want to contribute to the line of fantasy authors who also wrote what they knew, which ended up being worlds with predominantly white characters based on European, feudalistic history. I don't want a world where non-white characters are packaged as stereotypes, or thrown in to add an "exotic" flavor to the otherwise same-old, same-old. But it's been like this in fantasy for a long time, even when there are exceptions to this rule.

I have to be honest and acknowledge this: I come from white privilege:
White privilege [...] is a term for societal privileges, [...] that benefit white people beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white[s...] in the same social, political, or economic circumstances. [note 1] The term denotes both obvious and less obvious unspoken advantages that white persons may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice.[1] These include cultural affirmations of one's own worth; presumed greater social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely.[2] The concept of white privilege also implies the right to assume the universality of one's own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal.[3][4
(Source: Wikipedia)
I emphasized in bold the sections of Wikipedia's definition that I think applies to not only real-life situations, but what also filters into fiction. This doesn't speak for all works of fiction, nor all authors, but I think it's safe to assume that even well-meaning white authors fall into the trap of "marking others as different or exceptional" when they write from their own "normal" worldviews. I personally make the mistake of assuming the universality of my experiences; I also am sometimes oblivious to the advantages I have, even when I try to be socially conscious.

I am worried that writing what I know--a world lived through the lens of white advantages--will negatively affect my writing. I want to write fantasy that includes major characters who are outside of my own personal experience and cultural history. I'm also worried when I create such characters, I'll unintentionally resort to cultural appropriation and stereotyping (which I think is another consequence of writing from privilege).

This has been on my mind since I started writing my thesis novel, The Name and the Key, in 2010. What started initially as a single-volume fantasy has morphed into a trilogy I've continued to work on when I've had the chance. This trilogy, The Worldwalker Chronicles, features main characters who are based off of the culture of the Romani, which are perhaps more famously (and pejoratively) known as gypsies.

Every time I've worked on the series I've had to pause and consider that I'm writing as both a gadje and a person of white privilege. How do I do justice to culture well outside my own experience, but also do justice to my own story?

This is a larger issue that I'll go into when I discuss Part Two. To tide you over until then, here are some great articles I recommend that defines these issues better than I've been able to:

Please feel free to leave comments; however, I reserve the right to delete anything I deem offensive or unproductive to the conversation. Thanks for reading!