Something to Crow About: My 510th Post—A “Caws” to Celebrate

I forgot to check when I reached the five hundred-post milestone. That was actually several weeks ago. Whoops.

Recently, one of my grad school classmates reposted a comment on Facebook about some crows at a wildlife facility that said, “Caw,” to imitate the humans who said that to them. Someone who worked at the facility explained that the crows mocked the humans who assumed that crows only said, “Caawwww.” I was so fascinated by that remark, that I decided to search out videos about crows, especially after hearing a crow calling out as it flew by my home.

I wound up watching a twenty-two-minute TED Talk on crows and ravens by John Marzluff, a professor at the University of Washington.

I totally get that you don’t have twenty minutes to watch a video. But the first few minutes at least are worth watching, because the way a crow problem solves in a clip Marzluff shows is fascinating.

Around the fourteen-minute mark, Marzluff plays an audio clip of a raven saying his name—Edgar (ha, how fitting). But here’s a different video of a raven saying hello.

With all of this talk of corvids, of course I think of City Jackdaw, Andy’s blog, since jackdaws are in the crow family.

It’s interesting that crows and ravens are usually portrayed as sinister in literature. Think of “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe and the many, many fantasy novels that mention them or feature them on their covers. This post lists several. Like this novel.

Even Raven, a member of the Teen Titans superhero group, is the one with dark powers. And there’s the Crow, a dude brought back to life by an unusual crow to seek revenge.

The fact that crows eat carrion probably edged them toward the dark side in the minds of many authors. But I think they get a bad rap. I watched a video of a crow saying hello to a squirrel, which seemed kinda sweet. You can watch it here.

Maybe it’s time for crows to get a break in literature. I’d love to hear of some stories where crows or ravens did something cool. Oh wait. I know one. It’s this one.

What do you think of crows? Please comment below, especially if you know a good story about crows or ravens.

Another place for cool facts about corvids: https://www.sciencealert.com/crows-ravens-corvids-best-birds-animal-intelligence

Crow photo from pubicdomainpictures.net. Raven from Teen Titans image from wallpapercave.com. Six of Crows book cover from Goodreads.

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Check This Out: Legends of Windemere (Part 2)

Welcome back to the blog. Glad you’re here. Help yourself to a beverage. With us is the cool and clever Charles Yallowitz, here to continue the discussion of his series, Legends of Windemere. Charles also is a poet, so I’m sure he appreciates the alliteration I just used. 😀 If you’re a first timer, you  might want to check here for part 1 of the interview with Charles.

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And of course, there’s a giveaway. Two of those who comment today will win the first three books of the series. But first, let’s talk to Charles.

El Space: How do you decide how much back story to include in each subsequent book of the series?
Charles: Since I write in present tense, I can’t do a narrative that goes over what previously happened. I have to remind readers about prior events through character dialogues. This creates a basic overview of the back story from the perspective of the continuing characters. I try to touch on the big events of the past and bring them up if it makes sense. For example, there is a betrayal in Prodigy of Rainbow Tower and it gets brought up from time to time, either by remembering the deceased character or somebody brings up the traitor. The trick to carrying over back story in present tense is really to make it appear natural within the course of a conversation. If you can’t fit it in, then don’t do it. You can either wait for an opening to appear or create an earlier conversation to bring it up.

Luke_Cross_SwordsEl Space: Which character is most like you? Least? If you were a character in your series, what powers would you have?
Charles: Luke Callindor [left] will always be the most like me, but he’s in much better physical condition. We share the same ability to become frustrated, and we think in ways that can confuse people. He does it in battle while I do it in my writing. The character that I’m the least like is probably Sari, since the one I’m really not like hasn’t shown up yet. Sari has a level of flirty confidence that I’ve never had. There’s a true sense of freedom that I get from her whenever I write her scenes.

In Windemere, I would train as a warrior, because I love swords. I don’t know if I’d develop any powers, but I would love to have Luke’s ability to see sound. It’s a small power that I randomly rolled in the game [Dungeons & Dragons] and kept for the book. His sound sight has turned into such a versatile ability that it’s become my favorite to use. This answer just turned into “I would be Luke Callindor,” didn’t it? My second answer is that I’d learn illusions and use them to tell stories in taverns and festivals.

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El Space: You have several female characters. What are the challenges of writing across the gender line?
Charles: I’ve never really thought about the challenges when writing my female characters. Their gender is only a guideline to help me remember pronouns and a few habits. I think a challenge for many is to make a female hero strong and feminine. There’s this habit of making a woman in fantasy either fragile with femininity or tough as nails with a more masculine attitude. The term butch gets thrown out there a lot, but I think it’s better to say that they’ve been androgenized. It’s very much about balance and pulling out the right aspects of a character for the right situation.

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Nyx_GlowingOne thing that I have gotten in a little trouble for is that I don’t shy away from my female characters getting injured. I’ve read a lot of fantasy where the women will come out of a battle either unscathed or a little banged up, while the men are nursing some pretty bad wounds. I couldn’t see many of my female characters doing this, especially Nyx [right]. This has led to a few scenes where Nyx takes a beating while doling out enough destruction to avoid being called weak. So it is a risk to have a female hero who gets hurt in the same way as a male hero, because it touches on a sensitivity of some readers. The trick is to not do it often, not overdo it, and make sure it has a point for the plot instead of only gaining sympathy for the character.

pile_of_booksEl Space: I agree with that! Now let me ask you this: How has indie publishing changed since you first started? What advice do you have for an indie publishing newbie?
Charles: I haven’t seen much of a change since I’ve only been at this for a year. Amazon seems to come up with new promotions and rules every few months, but I think that’s part of the evolving system.

My advice to new indie authors is simple:
(1) Keep writing! Cliché, but true. I’ve seen a lot of indie authors stop writing and then wonder why people forgot about them.
(2) Connect with other authors to get support and talk shop. Many authors have paved the way for other indie authors. They know about the formatting, marketing, and other aspects of the business. Also, you never know what a new indie author will stumble onto and share with a veteran.
(3) Never publicly react to negative reviews, because that will make you look unprofessional. If it really bugs you, then find a friend or another author to vent to through emails. Just make sure they want to hear you rant first.
(4) Some people will tell you that this is a competition between authors. Well, it isn’t, because we’re all in the same boat. You will get farther and help the overall indie author community by sharing knowledge, joining blog tours, and supporting other authors. With every successful indie author, the choice to self-publish becomes more accepted as a viable path.
(5) Have fun. I don’t really have to go into detail here, do I?

El Space: Great advice. What authors inspire you?
Charles: Many authors inspire me, so it’s hard to pick a handful. I actually take a little from everything I read and watch, but I’ll try to give some kind of list. There’s the fantasy greats of Tolkien, Lewis, Saberhagen, and Le Guin. I love the characters written by John Flanagan in the Ranger’s Apprentice Series and Rick Riordan’s various series. To name a few others, Orson Scott Card, Edgar Allan Poe, Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist), and Mel Brooks. As you can see, I’m all over the place with my inspirations. It’s a miracle I can write a coherent sentence.

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El Space: How many books do you anticipate for your series? What are you working on now?
Charles: Legends of Windemere will have 15 books and another book will be done to clean up a potential loose end. After that I will have to decide on the next series to work on, but I’m probably going to start in on my vampire series. The Windemere vampires have an interesting history and that series is going to be a lot more brutal than what I’m doing now. I currently have two WIPs at this moment. One is preparing Legends of Windemere: Family of the Tri-Rune for a March release. I’m waiting on cover art and final edits to be done. I’m also writing Legends of Windemere: Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue, which is the 7th book of the series. I figure I’ll be able to relax around book 15.

Thanks, Charles, for hanging out on the blog with me! I’ve enjoyed your visit!

Looking for Charles? Head to his blog, Facebook, Goodreads, Wattpad, or Twitter. Legends of Windemere can be found at Amazon. Two of you will win the first three books of his series. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on March 7.

Thanks for stopping by!

Cover art of the Legends of Windemere series by Jason Pedersen. Character art by Kayla Matt. Legends of Windemere covers courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Other covers from Goodreads. Sword from knife-depot.com. Books image from onkaparingacity.com.

Check This Out: The Arf Thing

Today, I’m talking about short stories with another friend from VCFA, the awe-inspiring Val Howlett, whose story, “The Arf Thing,” has been published here at Lunch Ticket. Val’s story also won a coveted scholarship at VCFA in 2011! So go on. Read it, then return here!

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El Space: Congratulations, Val! Please tell the readers about yourself.
Val: I have lived in five different states in my adult life; I studied fairy tales in college; I’m very close to my three younger siblings; and my girlfriend is also a writer.

El Space: How about a brief synopsis for those who haven’t yet read “The Arf Thing”?
Val: “The Arf Thing” is about the “bullying” of a boy named Adam Mavis, told through the perspectives of seven people at Adam’s school.

El Space: What inspired you to write it?
Val: I wrote the story in late 2010/early 2011, when a string of “gay” teen suicides started a conversation about bullying in the media. I put “gay” in quotes because in some cases, we don’t know if the victims were gay; it was more that much of the harassment they experienced were attacks on their sexual orientations.

I remember being frustrated by the simplicity of the media rhetoric following those tragedies. There was a lot talk of our nation’s “bullying problem” and our schools’ tolerance policies for bullying. Not that teachers shouldn’t be held accountable for prohibiting harassment in their classrooms—they absolutely should.

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But I think harassment is more complicated than that. Particularly in this case, when the very media that discusses our country’s “bullying problem” is at the same time perpetuating the cultural assumption that homosexuality is shameful and attack-worthy by portraying gay and trans people as caricatures or not portraying them at all.

I should probably stop and get to your other questions. Clearly, I could go on about this for a while. But all that stuff was bubbling up in my brain as I wrote “The Arf Thing.”

El Space: Understandable. What’s challenging or exhilarating about short story writing?
Val: The room for experimentation is exhilarating. A lot of narrative techniques that could grow tedious over the course of a novel are exciting and interesting in a short story.

What’s challenging is there’s no room for excess—you want every element of your story to serve the effect you’re trying to create at the end. I’m long-winded, so my short story process is to write a lot, and then cut, cut, cut.

El Space: Which authors get you pumped up?
Val: Francesca Lia Block and Kelly Link. Also Laini Taylor’s story “Goblin Fruit” in Lips Touch: Three Times. All three are young adult writers whose stories are full of juicy prose and strange otherworldly tones. And they all deliver those punch-in-the-gut, tears-in-your-eyes endings that great short stories are famous for.

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El Space: In an article in Publishers Weekly entitled “The State of the Short Story,” Lorin Stein, editor of The Paris Review, stated:

[W]hy do so many readers and critics today seem to divide their time between novels and essays—those first cousins of the short story—and leave short fiction alone?

What can be done to draw more attention to the short story?
Val: It’s no secret that a very small percentage of our population reads short fiction. I am fully aware every time I am working on a short story that I am shrinking my potential audience. It makes me a little sad!

I’m going to gear your question to YA short fiction in particular, because that’s the kind of story I have experience writing and trying to submit.

One problem with YA short story visibility is there are barely any journals that publish specifically YA content. I can only think of six journals off the top of my head. And you have to wonder how many actual teenagers read those publications.

So there need to be more publications that feature YA short fiction. Also, more attention should be given to those publications by educators and librarians—possibly in the form of yearly short story awards, like the awards offered in the scifi/fantasy community.

El Space: Great ideas! Stein also stated: “You can’t relax and lose yourself in a short story. Short stories bring you up short. They demand a wakeful attention.” Would you agree or disagree?
Val: I think Stein does a pretty good job of discussing that elusive, nebulous concept that short story writers and critics have been trying to explain since Edgar Allan Poe: that the experience of reading a short story feels different than reading a novel.

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While I definitely have “lost myself” in short stories—forgotten everything around me, became immersed in the story’s world, all that good stuff—I like the idea of “bringing you up short” as a way to describe that jolt you feel at the end of a good short story, the way it leaves you thinking about the whole piece for an hour or for days.

El Space: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received recently?
Val: I keep returning to the advice my VCFA advisor, A. M. Jenkins, gave me last year, which was to not compare yourself to other writers because it’s a waste of your finite writing time.

As a slow writer, it can be tempting to watch my grad school colleagues submit their novels and see it as a sign of weakness that I’m not doing that yet.

But then I admonish myself in a Jenkins-esque way, saying—probably out loud because let’s be honest—“You could use the time you’re spending thinking you’re not good enough to actually write something! And you should be writing, because you’re slow!” Seriously though, everyone’s process is different. It’s good to remember to accept your process and give it hugs every once in awhile.

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El Space: Any advice for those who want to tackle the short story?
Val: Don’t assume that just because it’s a short story, it’ll take a shorter amount of time to write. It took me four full months to write a draft of my most recent story. And that draft was a radical revision of a story I wrote four years ago.

El Space: What do you plan to tackle next?
Val: My goal for the summer is to finally pump out a full draft of the novel I’ve been working on forever, called Underdog.

Thanks, Val, for being an awesome guest!

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If you haven’t yet read “The Arf Thing,” don’t miss out! Click here. Questions for Val? Please comment below.

Book cover from Goodreads.com. Poster from zazzle.com. Poe photo from Wikipedia. Book hug from cathryno.global2.vic.edu.