Support me on Patreon and read my steampunk ancient egypt novel as I write

Let Me Sum Up: April 2017 on Patreon

Last month I made a significant change to my goals over on Patreon. Not the amount, but the why. Now I’m not looking for support in general as I write my steampunk Ancient Egypt novel, I’m looking to fund some upcoming research trips I have planned. Since I am writing historical fiction, albeit fantasy-infused, I have a ton of research that needs doing, plus I need to set foot in Egypt at least once in my life in order to capture the sense of place the way I want to. To that end, I published a post about how I’ll use the money donated on Patreon, which you can read as it’s public.

As to what my patrons got to read last month:

Read Along level folks ($10/month) got chapters four, five, six, seven, and eight, which brings me to the end of section 1 of the book. I’m planning on 5 sections, we’ll see if that happens.

Folks on the Sneak A Peek level ($5/mo) also got to read Chapter Eight as well as two interludes that I’m trying to fit somewhere in the structure but don’t know exactly where they’ll go yet. I also posted a glimpse into the very first draft of this novel when it was a short story (ahahaha ahahaha AHAHAHAHAAAAAA ohgodIwillneverwriteanythinglessthan6000againwillI).

All patrons got to read a background scene exploring the history between my main character and her sister.

And there are a few interesting tidbits about my writing process in the Ask Me Anything posts for folks on the AMA tier and above.

As to what’s coming up in May: More of the same! I’m moving into section two of the book where all the DRAMAAAAAA happens. And the lesbian sex. This month’s background work is going to involve a ton of research into how a minority population successfully oppresses and marginalizes a majority population. Not exactly full of sunshine, I know.

One thing that will be on the more fun times end is that I am thinking of doing a class called Writing Practice based on some stuff I’ve noticed in the last couple of years teaching Writing the Other courses. The class will be entirely devoted to writing exercises with feedback from peers. The goal is to come up with one new exercise for every day and the class will last 30 days. But first I need to do one writing exercise every day to figure out which ones I want to use. A bunch of my efforts will likely end up in the patron content for May and June.

To those of you supporting me currently: Thank You So Much! I hope you’re enjoying the content.

To those of you still eyeing all this warily, I have some ideas for more things I can add to what patrons at different levels get that won’t take away from my writing time. Perhaps even the aforementioned writing exercises.

Ibi's First dance

It’s My Birthday! Have A Party Favor (i.e. a Story)

Today is my birthday! Break out the confetti and the cupcakes and the ball pit! A real ball pit, not a DashCon ball pit.

Those of you who know me know that I like to celebrate hard when the anniversary of my rotation around the sun comes around. So be warned: this is the first post of many in which I will mention that IT’S MAH BIRTHDAY.

You’re all invited to celebrate with me. So step into my virtual party and collect your party favor. (That’s a free thing you get for showing up.) I’m a writer, so all I can give you is some writing. But it’s free, so hurrah!

The story below is a bit of background writing I did for one of the characters in the Untitled Egyptian Steampunk Novel In Progress, which you have perhaps heard about? If not, there’s an explanation of it over on my Patreon. And yeah, I’m gonna mention how, if you support me via Patreon, you can read more excerpts from this novel and related writings, such as this, each month.

All right, shameless plug over, let’s get to the fiction.


Ibi’s First Dance

The morning of the equinox. The year’s first equinox. The balance of day and night before the night overtakes the sunlight hours. More time for marking the turning of the night sky and the movement of the stars. Ibi’s favorite time of year. It also meant she was closer to the Long Night, marking the end of her second year training in the Spirit House and the beginning of her last.

Two hours before dawn the sorors rang the first bell, calling for the trainees and acolytes to wake up. Ibi was already awake. Fretting. Thinking about the dance. She was a ba-adept, one of the rare people who could see the ba spirits of the dead and guide them. One day guide them. That would be her role, if she completed her training and passed her tests. She was not expected to dance the Hathor ceremony with precision and perfection. But it was her first time and she could not stop being nervous.

She knew the steps. She knew the words. She knew the notes. How many times had she practiced? How many times growing up did she see the dancers and musicians of the Spirit House perform it? Still, she couldn’t shake the fear that she would misstep, fail to hit a note, and ruin the great celebration for everyone.

A good part of her nervousness came from knowing that the Great Mother, Tani, and all the kinswomen of the Pharaoh would be at the ceremony. All of them including Ziwat. What did she look like now? Would she recognize Ibi if she happened to see her dancing?

When she was small and was Ziwat her mother’s favorite student, she attached herself to the woman almost as soon as she got to know her. Ziwat was the best person in the world, aside from her parents and her older siblings. And, like her sisters and brother, Zi grew up and left to live her own life. Natural, yes, but heartbreaking.

Now she was the Superior Engineer of the High House, the netjer Seshat in human form. Ibi was just another ba-adept in the crowd. She probably wouldn’t notice her.

The Supreme Musician of the Spirit House wouldn’t reveal her place in the formation until later that morning. The dancers would be assigned a quadrant in the festival square and stay within certain bounds as they went through the ceremonial steps. The kinswomen would be watching from the West. Part of her hoped to be assigned there, part of her didn’t. To mess up at all would be mortifying. To mess up in front of the Great Mother and Ziwat?

The second bell brought her back to the present. It was time to get ready.

She pulled on the fine, white linen dress worn for ceremonies, its skirt loose to allow for full leg movement, the arms sleeveless to display the Spirit House tattoos and make working the sheer veil easier. She wrapped the veil around her waist for the moment, then followed the other trainees to the inner sanctum.

There were over sixty of them in the columned room, and their energy–mixed nervous and excited–made them want to chatter. None did. The sanctum was only for sacred sound.

The Supreme Musician, voice of Hathor, emerged from the netjer chamber and they all stilled, waiting for her words. She said nothing for heartbeat on heartbeat until a final bell rang announcing the appearance of the Aten disk above the horizon and the emergence of the Kheper-dawn.

She then moved among them, singing the notes for the four directions and touching each of their foreheads as she did. You go north, you go east, you go south, you go west. That last she sang to Ibi; West it would be, then.

The dancers moved to the walls of the room that corresponded to their direction, waiting in no set order. The Supreme’s voice, low, sonorous, and resonant, made the walls vibrate just a touch. At some signal in her tone, instrument players came into the room and moved among them, wrapping belts around their waists and hanging two of the sacred sistrum at the hips. This instrument, only allowed during ceremonies and often only played by dancers, bore the face of Hathor and was sacred to her.

While this happened, the Supreme chanted words marking the passage of time and the role of Hathor as the guiding hand on the sun barge. In response, trainees and acolytes, adepts and sorors, chanted the mirror words. She came to each and arranged them in lines, showing where they would be for the dance. When she came to the West, the last group, she placed Ibi in the front line. Ibi tried not to break her chant, but did take the woman’s hand in her own and squeeze it, her eyes asking “Are you certain?” The Supreme only smiled and cupped her cheeks for a moment, certainty in her own expression.

That should have made Ibi less nervous. It didn’t. Now she wouldn’t even have the comfort of hiding in the crowd.

~~~

The Ra-sun crested the endless blue sky, coming to its highest point before dipping back down to the horizon. The dancers filed out of the Spirit House’s main entrance into the cheerful cacophony of the Festival crowd. They moved to their assigned positions in the Festival square without speaking, the only sound a collective sussurus from the sistrum banging against their hips. Ibi’s feet knew where to go, and she kept her eyes on them while she concentrated on getting to her place.

Around them, the voices of the majority of hetWaret’s citizens called out words of praise and respect and thanks. The dancers and musicians would deliver the grateful joy of the Khemetan people to the netjer and ensure the continuation of the world with their words and notes and music.

When Ibi’s group reached the western quadrant she finally looked up. The congregation of the High House sat on a raised platform a few yards away. Above them, on a higher dais, the kinswomen stood in front of the Pharaoh and the Great Mother, who stood in front of a giant copper scarab. The outer wings were raised halfway up, bouncing the rays of the sun back to the sky. The massive machines were taller than two tall men, wider than two wide elephants, made all of copper on the outside, which had been newly polished on this one. Likely the Pharaoh and Great Mother had come to the square riding in it.

And standing just in front of them: Ziwat. Ibi recognized her right away. Same sand-colored skin, hair twists longer now with touches of silver, wide brows still dark, complimenting her wide, red-tinted mouth. She was beautiful. How was she so beautiful? How had Ibi not remembered that?

Rapid drumbeats signaled the start of the ceremony and the crowd came to attention. The dancers did not move. Still, still, still; counting until the right moment. The first note burst from the Superior Musician’s throat and, as one, they all lifted their arms and began the dance.

Ceremonial song took over Ibi’s mind and body and transported her beyond herself within the first few beats. All nerves, all worry, all self-consciousness dissolved as she became one with the others, one with the voice of Hathor. The dancers moved in unison, each step, arc of the arm, position of the hand, note of the song carrying layer on layer of meaning. Their celebration praised all aspects of the netjer as she moved through the mill of time.

When the first verse ended all the dancers turned to face the center of the square and lifted their voices to create a note that reverberated up to the sun itself, an offering to the Hathor at the center of everything.

Now came the hard part.

They turned back and all danced into the crowd. People parted to allow them in as the front line was expected to move all the way to the back of the crowd and the base of the kinswomen’s dais. Once they were all properly dispersed, the dancers began again, this time inviting the citizens around them to join. The women in the rearmost line took the hands of children new to ceremony to teach them the movements. The lines in the middle danced with adults who knew their part in this well. The highest ranking citizens stood in the back of the crowds on all four sides and often only watched the front line dancers. Their presence was sacred offering enough. Though sometimes they were moved to join the dance.

Ibi lifted her eyes to search for Ziwat and discovered her friend was already looking at her, recognition in her wide smile and joyous gaze. Ibi knew not to approach her directly, even though she wanted to. But with her own smile she tried to communicate the same happiness at seeing Ziwat again.

At a prompt from the song, she unwrapped the veil from her shoulders and spun, the fabric rippling around her in waves. When she faced the dais again, Ziwat was there in front of her. They danced together, Zi matching or mirroring her moves in accordance with the ceremony. They were Seshet and Hathor, celebrating each other, spinning, clapping, harmonious on Earth as in the heavens.

Other kinswomen joined the dancers–more than had in many years, Ibi learned later. Her whole being overflowed with joy.

The Supreme’s voice sang out a note as the song crested toward its highest point, a signal to the dancers to return to formation. Ibi touched Zi’s arm one more time, then spun away, her veil almost wrapping itself back around her. Fingers unhooking the sistrum, feet landing exactly so, arms raised at a right angle, she joined the others in this final display of gratitude and celebration. As one, they shook the sistrum, the small metal disks strung between the cow’s horns clattering against each other. The sound came to the ear harsh at first, then transformed into a sacred vibration that reached into every body, every stone, every thing.

Ibi’s brown eyes swirled to gold and she saw hundreds of fluttering lights rushing toward them. These were the ba spirits of those who had not yet passed beyond the Door to the West. The sound of the sistrum drew them, always. Just as they had at her first Hathor Festival. She’d seem them and cried out “What are those shining birds?” That’s when her family discovered she was a ba-adept. The moment that set her on the path that led to this one.

Dancers shook the sistrum side to side, shaking or rolling different parts of their bodies in precise, isolated movements. Arms only, now wrists, hips now, one leg, then the other, the midriff, then finally absolute stillness as the song and ceremony ended and the crowd burst into cheers and praise.

This is when Ibi sunk fully back into herself, breath and heartbeat rapid, dress clinging to sweaty skin. Above all the heads in front of her she saw Ziwat, hand cupped to her mouth, her ululation directed right to her.

~End~

A map of Africa with Egypt highlighted and Will Smith as a meme gesturing toward it

Yes, in my novel, the Ancient Egyptians are Black

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with an indie publisher[1] about an anthology project they’ve been wanting to do for a long time: speculative fiction stories set in Ancient Egypt where the only rule about the stories is that the authors must make it clear that the Egyptian characters are Black people. They told me every time they get ready to put the wheels in motion for this, they pull back after they ask themselves “Do I really want to deal with the grief and attacks I’m gonna get because of this?”

If your first thought upon reading this is “But of course the Ancient Egyptian characters should be Black Africans because the Ancient Egyptians were Black Africans…” or “But why would people give the publisher so much grief over this that the project keeps getting put on the shelf?” then you belong to the group of people who are attempting to live in a rational world where truth is real and things make sense. Not everyone lives in this world.

How do I know this? Well, there’s Fox News. But also, as previously mentioned, I’ve been researching Ancient Egypt off and on for over a decade, and in academic circles you will still find people arguing for how the Egyptians weren’t really African, or weren’t sub-Saharan African (which I guess is where all the Black Africans live. Above the Sahara they are so totes white), which is a holdover from the beginnings of Egyptology and archaeology in the West that are built on white supremacist ideas. The pyramids, the Great Sphinx, the many wonders of Egypt are very clearly the work of advanced, intelligent people. But Black folks are just tribal savages rolling around in the mud. Therefore…

Now, you won’t find too many modern academics being quite this blatant with their racism. You will find the average Joe from that forum you frequent wallowing in this nonsense while pretending that isn’t racist as fuck. For some more recent evidence of this, I invite you to venture into the comments of Scott Woods’ post on why The Gods Of Egypt is a terrible, racist movie. You will find therein people who argue vehemently that Ancient Egyptians were not Black like those other Africans, are really Greek, or some other ridiculousness that I have likely erased from my memory. This is not new. Armchair historians who learned everything they know about the past from watching The Mummy[2] have been giving us this chin music for years.

So yeah, it is a bit of a radical act to stipulate that stories set in Ancient Egypt should have Black Egyptians and I can sort of understand not wanting to walk into that particular hornet’s nest willy nilly. Still though. I’m ready and waiting for this anthology to become a reality because I will just write a story set in the Steampunk Egypt world my novel is set in. Because, other than wanting to ensure the culture I crafted is matriarchal, my other base reality is that all the native Egyptians in the book are Black. I intend to mark their dark skin colors as often as I can get away with, and using language that makes it clear they and other people in Egypt consider that skin to be beautiful. Hell, everything about their features will be marked as the epitome of beauty and the standard by which people of nearby countries judge themselves by.

And if someone out there has a problem with it, I will compose a special song to sing for them that will go something like:

Just keep steppin’ / just keep steppin’ / get that racism out of my waaaaaay!

Just keep steppin’ / stay in your lane / or go right to hell to-daaaaaay.

And yeah, the next time you see me at a con I’ll sing that for you if you like.

Cuz look: Hollywood is gonna keep trying with this Egyptians Were White business. They haven’t lost enough money yet to stop. So other forms of art are going to have to carry this for now. Therefore, I challenge you to write stories with Black Egyptians and create art with Black Egyptians and sing songs about Black Egyptians. I know that’s what I plan to do.

Footnotes

  1. Whose name I won’t reveal here because they might not want everyone and their mama to know they have this opinion.[]
  2. Pick a version. Any version.[]
Tempest Challenge - History According to Women

History, According to Women | The Tempest Challenge

Today is the close of women’s history month! It doesn’t quite loom as large, or as annoyingly, as Black History Month in terms of the kinds of narratives it perpetuates about women. There’s still probably far too narrow a focus on what Women’s History means (I see a bunch of suffragette stuff bandied about). The thing that interests me most about women and history is how different history looks when women write it.

Take the research I’m currently engaged in. The novel I’m writing is a historical fantasy novel set in a real time in earth’s history. I’ve spent over a decade reading books and journal articles about Ancient Egypt for various versions of this project. A few years ago I hit a point where I decided that I just wasn’t going to read any more books on the subject written by men. The more I began to understand my research subject, the more I could see how much patriarchal nonsense plays a role in how everything from artifacts to culture are interpreted and presented.

I recently picked up Merlin Stone’s When God Was A Woman and found in the introduction a reaffirmation of the observations I’d made.

…another problem I encountered was the sexual and religious bias of many of the erudite scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Most of the available information in both archaeology and ancient religious history was compiled and discussed by male authors. The overwhelming prevalence of male scholars, and the fact that nearly all archaeologists, historians and theologians of both sexes were raised in societies that embrace the male-oriented religions of Judaism or Christianity, appeared to influence heavily what was included and expanded upon and what was considered to be minor and hardly worth mentioning.

…Despite the discovery of temples of the Goddess in nearly every Neolithic and historic excavation, Werner Keller writes that the female deity was worshiped primarily on “hills and knolls,” simply echoing the words of the Old Testament. Professor W. F. Albright, one of the leading authorities on the archaeology of Palestine, wrote of the female religion as “orgiastic nature worship, sensuous nudity and gross mythology.” He continued by saying that “It was replaced by Israel with its pastoral simplicity and purity of life, its lofty monotheism and its severe code of ethics.” It is difficult to understand how these words can be academically justified after reading of the massacres perpetrated by the Hebrews on the original inhabitants of Canaan as portrayed in the Book of Joshua, especially chapters nine to eleven.

This part in particular caught my eye, given my proclivities:

In 1961 a series of mistakes was described by Professor Walter Emery, who took part in the excavations of some of the earliest Egyptian tombs. He tells us that “The chronological position and status of Meryet-Nit is uncertain, but there is reason to suppose that she might be the successor of Zer and the third sovereign of the First Dynasty.” Writing of the excavation of this tomb by Sir Flinders Petrie in 1900 he says, “At that time it was believed that Meryet-Nit was a king, but later research has shown the name to be that of a woman and, to judge by the richness of the burial, a queen.” He goes on to say, “In 1896 de Morgan, then Director of the Service of Antiquities discovered at Nagadeh a gigantic tomb which, from the objects found in it, was identified as the burial place of Hor-Aha, first king of the First Dynasty. However later research has shown that it is more probable that it was the sepulchre of Nit-Hotep, Hor-Aha’s mother.” And again he tells us that “On the mace of Narmer a seated figure in a canopied palanquin was once thought to be that of a man, but a comparison of similar figures on a wooden label from Sakkara shows that this is improbable and that it almost certainly represents a woman.” Yet, despite his own accounts of this series of assumptions that the richest burials and royal palanquins of the past were for men, rather than women, in describing the tomb of King Narmer he then states, “This monument is almost insignificant in comparison with the tomb of Nit-Hotep at Nagadeh and we can only conclude that this was only the king’s southern tomb and that his real burial place still awaits discovery …” Though some pharaohs did build two tombs, one might expect a “possibly” or “probably” rather than such an absolute conclusion and the implied dismissal of the possibility that, in that period of earliest dynastic Egypt, a queen’s tomb just might have been larger and more richly decorated than a king’s. (emphasis mine)

If you’re interested in this subject you should read the entire introduction because I can’t excerpt all the good parts here.

When God Was A Woman was written in the 1970s, but lo these almost 40 years later, this is still a problem. That’s because many of these foundational ideas of archaeology aren’t being challenged, they’re being taught. So new discoveries are often analyzed through these faulty, patriarchal lenses.

It’s not just men who do this, mind you. On one of my trips to Powell’s I came across a book I should have wanted to buy immediately: Nefertiti: Egypt’s Sun Queen by Joyce Tyldesley. But when I read the introduction I came across a paragraph that made me shut the entire thing and fling it back at the shelf.

The women of the 18th Dynasty enjoyed a freedom that made them unique in the ancient world. They had the same legal rights as men, and were permitted to own property, to work outside the home, and to live alone and raise their children without the protection of a male guardian.

Pause right here. This kind of paragraph can be found in many books or articles that tackle the subject of women in Ancient Egypt. These conclusions are based on several things, including existing records around Egyptian law, plus first person observations of historians and travelers from ancient times. This is where I wish most of these paragraphs would end. Yet there is always a But. Or, in this case, a:

Nevertheless, few women received a formal education and, in a country where maybe between two and ten per cent of the population was literate, few women could read or write. Women were not expected to train for careers.

Pausing again to slam my fist on a table. Because first, no one ever backs that bit about the formal education up with actual data and, second, what is the criteria for “formal education”? Is it “training men receive to do jobs generally done by men in these times”? I bet if you asked Joyce Tyldesley if masonry required a “formal education” she’d say yes, but if we asked her if weaving required one, she’d say no. And she’d be wrong.

Also, that line about “few women could read or write” is always, ALWAYS included in these things. But if less than ten percent of the population could read or write then that means few men could read or write, so why are we taking this time to single out women?

And finally, what constitutes a career in Ancient Egypt? Once again I’m going to bet if we asked, the answers would reveal this is some patriarchal nonsense. Because:

They were expected to marry and produce children, and mothers enjoyed a position of great respect within the home and the wider community. Nefertiti was no exception. Born a non-royal member of Egypt’s elite, she was married as a young girl to the most enigmatic individual in Egyptian history. By the age of thirty Nefertiti had borne at least six children and had transformed herself into a semi-divine human being. Meanwhile her husband, Akhenaten, had instigated a religious revolution and founded a capital city.

I don’t have time to dismantle all the nonsense around the idea of women being wives and mothers means they couldn’t have careers or read or anything, because this would turn into a book and other people have written far better ones on this than I could. But do you see how she positions Nefertiti as a person who was just expected to produce children, which she did, proving she was just like any other woman, but hey she was married to an extraordinary man! This is a book about Nefertiti.

You see why I put it back on the shelf.

And yeah, Joyce Tyldesley is a woman, and she still falls under the sway of patriarchal nonsense, because she was educated by the institutions that uphold it. That’s going to be true for many of the books I come across in my research quest. Still, of the books about Egypt, and about history in general, that I read, the ones I see stepping out of the shadow of patriarchy are all written by women. I’m more willing to give those books my time and money.

Many of the research books I’ve come across in the last few years are written by women who seem to acknowledge that early pioneers in this field had unexamined biases and that their conclusions and conjectures need not be dismissed, but rather re-examined in that light. Still, they are willing to step back and see new things, reach different conclusions, and present a different paradigm.

And that’s so important, not just in archaeology, but in many disciplines that examine the past. The assumptions and base viewpoints of the scholars doing the research will always have an impact. And it would not surprise me to find that across many different history categories there are women writing books, papers, articles, and more that are more willing to poke at those paradigms. It probably costs them to do so. That’s another good reason to seek out their work.

Here are my current favorite books that touch on Ancient Egypt written by women. I’m always on the hunt for new ones. If you know of any, please do share them in the comments.

When God Was A Woman by Merlin StoneWhen God Was A Woman by Merlin Stone

This book doesn’t focus on Egypt specifically, yet it’s been very valuable to me as I try to construct a matrifocal[1] culture for my book. Stone talks about the evidence she found for how spiritualities and religions with goddesses at the center as well as how women were treated in the cultures where this was prevalent. Then she goes into how matrifocal cultures were invaded and replaced by patrifocal ones. It’s all fascinating and still relevant many decades on. More relevant right now, I’d say.

Hathor Rising The Power of the Goddess in Ancient Egypt by Alison Roberts Ph.D.Hathor Rising: The Power of the Goddess in Ancient Egypt by Alison Roberts Ph.D.

The way Dr. Roberts illuminates the story of the goddess Hathor through textual, mythological, and archaeological evidence is amazing. Hathor is so much more than just Egypt’s Aphrodite, and is so intertwined with the other major female deities as well as the history and evolution of dynastic Egypt that I’m surprised more alternative Egyptologists don’t spend more time on her. The author is not necessarily of that alternative set; I do find it interesting that the press where she chose to publish this leans heavily toward books on spirituality and not serious books on Ancient Egypt.

The Dawning Moon of the Mind Unlocking the Pyramid Texts by Susan Brind MorrowThe Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts by Susan Brind Morrow

If, like me, you have ever tried to read the Pyramid Texts or the so-called Book of the Dead and went: “The hell? This doesn’t make sense…” you need to read this book. It’s a new translation of the texts by a woman who understands poetry, knows multiple languages derived from Ancient Egyptian, and views the texts from a spiritual perspective most of the original translators don’t. The middle of the book is the straight up translation, but the first and third parts go through the texts line by line, column by column, explaining the author’s conclusions and readings. It’s so wonderful.

The Woman Who Would Be King Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara CooneyThe Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney

I haven’t read this one yet! I’m recommending it, anyway, based on the reviews that I’ve read, including this one from a woman Egyptologist on Goodreads. Hatshepsut may be the protagonist of my next book in the Steampunk Egypt books, so this is near the top of my To Read pile. I am side-eyeing that cover, though.


I do have a few other go to Egyptology books that I always keep around written by men. So let’s not hear any of you saying BUT BUT BUT YOU’RE MISSING OUT BLAARRGGG because I’m not. Going forward, though, if an Egyptology book isn’t written by a woman or a trans person or a non-binary person, it’s going to have to prove itself to me in several specific ways before I get too deep into it.

For those who venture into the comments, which books about history written by women are your favorites?

Footnotes

  1. Matrifocal is a new term I heard at this year’s ICFA conference. It encompasses matriarchal and matrilineal, which aren’t exactly the same thing. It’s a nice umbrella term.[]
The Copper Scarab

Coming Soon: Clockwork Cairo

There’s a new steampunk anthology in town, and this one has a theme close to my heart: steampunk stories with an Egyptian theme. It’s called Clockwork Cairo and it’s coming out in May from TwoPenny Press. The antho features my first original short story in a long while: The Copper Scarab. It’s set in the same world as the steampunk Ancient Egypt novel I’m writing.

The art above is the frontispiece to the story and I am super excited about it. My first story art!

You can pre-order the anthology right now. If you’re curious about the story, I posted the opening over on my Patreon page (for patrons only). You can also hear me read from it at AnomalyCon!

Book Trailer: Untitled Egyptian Steampunk Novel In Progress

Can one have a book trailer for a book that isn’t quite written yet? Dunno, but I decided to make one, anyway. Given that I have no budget and only rudimentary video editing skills, this was always going to look very DIY. Enjoy…

Teehee.

As you may have surmised, this is part of the video I made for my Patreon page. I’m in the middle of draft 2 of this novel and I’m looking for some support as I write it. If you become my patron, you can see excerpts from the book each month or even read along as I write one chapter per week. The draft is still pretty rough, so I cannot promise you polished.

I’ll also post about some of my writing process, including the quite intriguing research I’ve done and will do for this book.

Plus there will be deleted scenes, DVD extras, and microfiction every month. I have reward levels starting at $1 per month on up to $25.

Martha Jones in the TARDIS saying This is me getting out

Martha Jones: Fangirl Blues (from Chicks Dig Time Lords)

Martha Jones: Fangirl Blues (from Chicks Dig Time Lords)

Doctor Who is once again bringing in a woman of color as a companion. I haven’t watched the show regularly since Clara came on board, so I’m not as up with what’s going on. But author Na’amen Gobert Tilahun tweeted a link to a post on io9 with the headline “Doctor Who teaser shows new companion is cool with dying for the Doctor, and she might.” which… well, read this whole thread for thoughts similar to mine about all that.

Given these developments, I thought it would be a good time to post this essay online for all to read. It appeared in Chicks Dig Time Lords, a book you should read if you love Doctor Who.

Martha Jones: Fangirl Blues

When you’re a fan of Doctor Who, there are two discussions you’re bound to have with other fans, no matter what the setting: “Who is your favorite Doctor?” and “Who is your favorite companion?” Most people don’t make assumptions about my choice in the first category (Nine, by the way), but almost always assume that my choice for the second is Martha Jones. They assume this because I’m a Black woman. I find that annoying for reasons you may well imagine. The main one being that Martha is my favorite, but not just because she’s Black.

When the announcement came that Freema Agyeman would be the next companion, I was happy that there would be another companion who was also a person of color. Unlike some fans, I do count Mickey as a companion and I also count Chang Lee from the (admittedly horrible) American Doctor Who movie. But Freema would be the first on-screen “main” companion of color.

This kind of thing means a lot to me, but it didn’t mean that I’d automatically like the character or even prefer her over others. It remained to be seen if Martha Jones was made of awesome or just another stereotype.

The answer turned out to be a complex mix of both, with much of the blame lying with the show’s creators and writers, and much of the success attributable to the actress.

Made of Awesome…

The writers did many things right in introducing Martha. The character was impressive in her very first episode, but it was a bit of dialogue in the second that sealed the deal for me. In “The Shakespeare Code,” Martha steps out of the TARDIS and into the past. The Doctor is going on about similarities between Elizabethan London and her own when Martha asks a question that I’m sure many black fans had in the back of their mind:

Martha: Am I all right? I’m not going to get carted off as a slave, am I?

The Doctor (look of utter bewilderment on his face): Why would they do that?

Martha: Not exactly white,‘case you haven’t noticed.

The Doctor: I’m not even human. Just walk about like you own the place. Works for me.

Though the Doctor blows off the question, I believe my first reaction to that line was thank you. If I was traveling in the past, that would have been one of my chief concerns, too.

This is indicative of everything that made me love Martha from the beginning. When her hospital gets transferred to the moon in “Smith and Jones,” Martha doesn’t panic, logically deduces that the windows can be opened, and, when asked by the Doctor who she thinks is responsible for transporting the hospital, she immediately answers: extra-terrestrials. This was a very pointed way for the show’s creators to indicate that Martha was a companion worthy of the Doctor[1]

Another thing I liked about Martha was her willingness to stand up to the Doctor and tell him off when it was clear he needed it. Badly. At the end of “Gridlock,” she forces him to stop being oblique about himself. As things began to go south in “The Sound of Drums,” she refuses to simply follow his orders and puts her concern for her family over his priorities. In “The Sontaran Stratagem,” she won’t let him make her feel guilty for being part of UNIT operations that involve guns (as if there are any other kind).

I love that even before Martha met the Doctor, she was already clever and competent and doing something with her life. She didn’t need him to help her escape from a mediocre existence, she didn’t need him to blossom into an extraordinary person. That she did grow due to their travels is a bonus, but because she came from a solid foundation, she was better able to walk away from the Doctor when she needed to. The scene where Martha left the TARDIS was the perfect end to that season, especially given all the crap she had to endure while inside it.

moving image of Martha Jones leaving the TARDIS

Just Another Stereotype…

Though Martha is a great character, there were several choices the show’s creators made that diminished my enjoyment of the episodes where she appeared. Some have to do with her interactions with the Doctor, but most have to do with some troubling attitudes toward race and the introduction of a heinous stereotype.

Within the show’s continuity, Martha meets the Doctor a short while after Rose was accidentally sucked into an alternate dimension and trapped there. The Doctor is still mourning Rose, which is natural, and he constantly reminds Martha that she is not as good as Rose, which is a punk move. I often bemoan the fact that the Doctor is a huge jerk, despite being the hero of the show[2]. In Series Three, this quality is often on display when he interacts with Martha.

He screams at her (“Utopia”), treats her like second best (“The Shakespeare Code”), hides important information from her (“The Sound of Drums”), lies to her (“Gridlock”) and strings her along as regards how long she can travel with him (“The Lazarus Experiment”). This can be explained away by the whole Jerk thing–it’s part of canon, after all, that the Doctor can be nasty and mean just as easily as he is heroic and kind–but what cannot be explained away is why he treats her so differently than almost every female companion he’s come across since his ninth incarnation.

Though it can be infuriating and infantilizing, the Doctor tends to treat his female companions as damsels in distress. Rose gained some agency by the end, but there was only one time[3] in her tenure on the show when the Doctor blithely disregarded her safety and well-being in favor of whatever dangers were going on around them or other people. Donna, abrasive as she is, still gets the damsel treatment, though she often chafes against it. Astrid (“Voyage of the Damned”) definitely fits into the damsel profile.

Martha gets to play a different stereotype: that of the Mammy.

In her July 2, 2007 post in the LiveJournal community lifeonmartha, blogger Mikki Kendall laid out many of the problematic racial and sexist elements that cropped up during Series Three. She noted that the damsel stereotype is more often applied to white, female characters and that, “Damsels are always desirable, no matter how much ass they kick (or don’t) and nothing they do makes them unworthy of love or protection.” However, black women on television are often only given three choices: Mammy, Jezebel or Sapphire (a “nagging shrew constantly emasculating a weak black man,” as defined in the post). Martha flirts or pines after a couple of men, including the Doctor, but she isn’t wantonly sexual, so she doesn’t fit Jezebel. But she most certainly fits the Mammy stereotype, which is also closely associated with the Strong Black Woman stereotype. Kendall laid it out perfectly by saying: “[Martha] is supposed to be willing to sacrifice everything to protect the ones that can actually do some good.”

The first, and probably most annoying, example of this is in “Human Nature/The Family of Blood,” wherein Martha literally works as a maid for the Doctor who is disguised as a human in 1913 England. What I find most interesting about this episode is that it’s based on a Doctor Who novel, Human Nature, which was originally written with the seventh Doctor and a white companion. In the novel, the companion poses as the Doctor’s niece. Obviously, in the adaptation to television, this detail needed to be changed. But the nature of that change is troubling, especially for a black, female viewer such as myself.

From an in-series perspective, one wonders why the TARDIS chose an era which necessitated Martha having to play the part of a maid surrounded by people who would most certainly be horribly prejudiced toward her. Or why the Doctor didn’t offer it some guidance for eras of history perhaps best left alone. Imagine if they’d ended up in the American South just before the Civil War. From an outside perspective, one wonders why the show’s creators didn’t see this as a real problem. Of course, the disparity between Martha’s situation in 1913 and what she can achieve and be in 2007 is acknowledged within the script. That doesn’t absolve the creators of a sketchy thought process, though. I wish that they had waited to produce this episode with a different companion. Beyond this aspect, it’s one of the best in the series[4]

We again see Martha playing Mammy in “Blink,” where it’s revealed that she has to work in a shop in order to support the Doctor while he, supposedly, works on getting them home. The burden of being the care-taker falls on her again. Why the Doctor can’t also get a job is never explained. Nor why a highly educated person such as Martha would end up in a shop, a career path often held up in the Whoniverse as being highly undesirable and something to escape from (“Rose,” “World War Three,” “The Parting of the Ways”). It may be that Martha couldn’t get anything else due to her race or gender. If so, we have another instance of the creators putting Martha in a setting where she’s not allowed the same level of respect and autonomy, for no good reason. Then in “The Sound of Drums,” Martha is the one who has to brave being caught by the police to get food for the Doctor and Jack while they’re on the run. I also have to wonder if the Doctor would have asked Rose to wander the world, spreading the gospel about him, as he did Martha (“The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords”).

It’s a troubling trend, both seen within the context of the show and from without. This is the kind of thing that people of color often fear when one of us is included on mainstream television–there’s a community called deadbrowalking on LiveJournal for a reason[5]. For all that is awesome about Martha Jones, my enjoyment of her tenure on Doctor Who was marred by the subtle current of racism and sexism that runs throughout.

I know from watching episodes of Doctor Who Confidential that the producers and directors are very impressed with Freema and call her a great leading lady for her ability to exude and give energy to everyone around her. She infuses Martha with this energy, plus confidence and intelligence. Though obviously the character was written with this intention, the wrong actress or the wrong attitude could have ruined it all. She wasn’t given the greatest material to work with, but she always appeared to approach episodes with an eye toward squeezing the best out of them. In the Confidential episode “Alter Ego” (companion to “Human Nature”), Freema talks about how the script touches on issues of racism and how great it is to play a character that overall doesn’t have limitations due to race or gender.

In many ways, she’s right. In another time, Freema would have been given the part of a maid as a matter of course instead of an ironic, if problematic, twist. Her recognition of this lends weight to her performance, not just in this pair of episodes but all of them.

The elements of Martha’s character, both positive and negative, could so easily have slipped into triteness. The unrequited love thread throughout Series Three annoyed me to the point of distraction in nearly every episode. A lesser actress would have allowed that aspect to overwhelm everything else about the character–who doesn’t love a love story? But Martha is more than just a woman in love with a man who doesn’t love back. Freema worked hard to bring out all the other, deeper things that make Martha who she is.

Forever Fangirl…

This is why, despite all of the issues I have with the show and the creators, I still love Martha. Hell, I still love Doctor Who. After all that, many might quite rightly ask: why? The troubling race stuff doesn’t begin or end with Martha. I’m not even an old school legacy fan–the first episode of Doctor Who I ever watched was “Rose.” So, why?

There’s no easy answer.

The very basic one is that I just love the show. I love it down to the bottom of my toes. The SF geek in me loves all the cool aliens and different cultures and new planets and fantastic ideas. And the running. The running is awesome. I still love adventure stories, and stories about good people triumphing over the badness in the universe.

Doctor Who is a complex show, especially when compared to most television. Even when it’s being an adventure or good vs. evil and all that, the core of the story isn’t necessarily simple or straightforward. The Doctor is a flawed, damaged, brilliant, dangerous alien. He’s also the hero. How can any show with such a character at the center of it be simple or straightforward?

Yes, the show’s creators make thoughtless mistakes and probably don’t understand why many of the issues I raised are problematic. They aren’t completely clueless, though. And they are trying–note the number of interracial couples on Doctor Who and Torchwood ((I do realize this is a contentious issue on its own. Even allowing that Martha and Mickey wound up married, somehow, many fans of color often wondered if the show creators knew that people of color sometimes dated and even married each other.)). There does appear to be an effort to show the future as multiracial, and to give characters of color a range of personalities from hero/heroine to villain/villainess and the many, many shades in between.

I love the universe that Doctor Who often shows me. I love the other companions–Rose and Mickey and Jack and Donna–and I even love the Doctor. Whatever the faults of the show’s creators, they obviously love Martha, too. And it helps that Freema is a great actress that breathed life into her. Good acting is often able to make up for defects in writing and execution.

So I keep watching. And hoping.

Hoping that the writers do away with both the damsel and the Mammy stereotype. Hoping that they will stop underutilizing Martha so criminally. Hoping that they will, by some miracle, begin to Get It.

Because, yes, Martha Jones is my favorite companion. She’s clever and brilliant and brave and amazing. She’s less needy and more independent than Rose and more faceted and less abrasive than Donna. I want to see her treated better by all involved. She deserves to be only awesome and more than just another stereotype.

Footnotes

  1. Compare her to Donna in “The Runaway Bride” (who was always away on vacation when major alien events happened and was therefore ignorant–or just in denial–of them), and Gwen in the Torchwood episode “Everything Changes” (who knows about the incidents but denies that any of them were real).[]
  2. See my essay “The Lonely God is a Jerk” at Fantasy Magazine[]
  3. “The Girl in the Fireplace” where the Doctor essentially abandons Rose in the future in order to save Reinette, which makes no sense given the history of the characters.[]
  4. It’s worth noting here that several years after I wrote this essay I ended up having a conversation with the episode’s writer, Paul Cornell on the blog. It was very illuminating and adds to an understanding of where he was coming from and how his intention didn’t match up with the outcome.[]
  5. Might not be there, anymore.[]
Hugo Award

4 Reasons Why You (Yeah, You) Are Qualified To Nominate for the Hugos

The Hugo Award nomination period closes in just a few days. You’ve seen my recs, and over the weekend the #hugoeligible hashtag showcased so many more. But I know some of you are still thinking that you aren’t qualified to nominate because:

  1. You haven’t read/watched/listened widely enough (according to you).
  2. You don’t have enough nominations in every category to fill ever slot you’re allotted.
  3. You don’t have time to read all the cool stuff recommended here and elsewhere and on the tag.
  4. You’re “just a fan” and not anyone fancy.

I’m here to tell you that none of those things disqualifies you from nominating for the Hugos. None. Zip. Let’s break it down.

I Haven’t Read/Watched/Listened Widely Enough

Have you read/watched/listened to eligible media at all? Then you’ve done so widely enough. I’m serious. No one can read, watch, or listen to every single thing, and very few people can even consume all the stuff that gets floated as good by reviewers, friends, and the folks you follow on social media. Even as a person whose job it is to read and review short fiction I have not read every single piece of short fiction out there.

How do you know what stuff is best, then? It’s all relative. If you read just 4 novels last year and one of them wowed or moved you, then you nominate that one. It was the best of what you read.

I Don’t Have Enough Nominations To Fill Every Slot

This is fine as well. Like I said, if of the novels you read you only loved one, then you nominate one. Only two good movies, only one podcast, and no particular thoughts on Fan Writer? That is all fine. You are not required to fill out all the slots in every category nor are you required to nominate in every category.

I Saw All The Recs But Didn’t Have Time To Assess Them All

That’s fine. You’re not a bad person for not having gone through every single recommendation.

Do you know what you can do? Keep track of the people who made all those recs, because they probably share a lot of stuff they love throughout the year, not just at award nominating time. That way, you’ll have more time to check out stuff you might like for next year.

I’m Not Anyone Fancy, Why Should I Nominate When Better Read/More Engaged/Highly Connected People Are More Qualified To Do So?

I’m going to loop back to: did you read, watch, and listen to things? You are eminently qualified. Also, the Hugo is a fan award, driven by fans and what they like. It is absolutely not a requirement to be anything other than a person who loves SFF stuff and wants to see the stuff they like recognized for its awesomeness. That is all.

Your voice matters. What you love matters. It matters to the award even if the stuff you nominate doesn’t get on the ballot. After all, the people who create the fiction and movies and TV shows and podcasts and fan writing and art you love look at the list of what was nominated but didn’t make the final and go: oh hey, this many people thought my story was award-worthy! That’s the best.

In Summary

Nominate what you think is best of what you’ve read, watched, and listened to, no matter the number of overall things. Don’t worry about filling every slot if you can’t. Don’t worry about not getting to every recommendation. Your voice matters.

Got it? Excellent. Go fill out your ballot.

Tempest is on Patreon! (And Looking For Your Support)

As of this month, I’m officially on Patreon and looking for patrons! You can support me creating cool stuff for $1 per month on up to $500 per month if you have deep pockets like that.

If you listened to my interview on the Less Than Or Equal podcast[1], you might be wondering why I said I was going to launch my Patreon page last year (wow, six months ago…) when I only just did so this month. There are a few reasons, but the biggest one can probably be summed up with the words Impostor Syndrome.

What’s so insidious about Impostor Syndrome is that even though I can identify it in other people and always attempt to beat it back with the “You’re awesome and your voice is needed and I’m glad you’re alive and loud and sharing your talent with the world” stick, I cannot always turn that on myself. Luckily, I do have friends to do so for me. After finally wrestling my brain weasels into a bag, I put my page together and even made a video.

Because I know that people think the Tempest Challenge and the video series that goes with it are valuable. I know that the Write Gear podcast has already helped some writers. I know that my writing on this blog and over at Medium and the other places I publish has added more signal than noise to discussions about genre and race and gender and writing. And I know that you all want to talk about Jem and the Holograms endlessly, just like I do! (And sing the songs, right? RIGHT?) That’s why I finally launched the Patreon, and I hope you’ll click and pledge and support.

Right now the support is for making vids and podcasts and writing non-fiction and not directly for me writing fiction. Why? Because I am a s.l.o.w. writer of fiction. And deadlines do not change that one iota. But I find that my own creative projects are much less draining than my freelance assignments. The opposite, actually: they energize and inform my fiction writing. So by pledging money to me for making vids and podcasts and writing essays and columns, you’re supporting me writing fiction as well.

Plus, you know you wanna see more You Done Fucked Up vids.

You can Make It So[2].

Footnotes

  1. You really should! It’s a great interview, if I say so myself.[]
  2. To all those who click and pledge: Thanks![]
The Write Gear 7 Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write

The Write Gear 7: Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write

The Write Gear 7 Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write

I used to feel a sense of shame around the fact that I am easily lured away from writing by the Internet shiny things such as notifications and new comments and tweets and whatever. To solve this problem, I would sometimes ask people for suggestions on minimizing or blocking distractions and there would always be one person—usually more—popping up to say that I should just have self discipline instead of looking for crutches.

This is some ol’ bullshit, I hope you know[1].

Not only are there some people who can’t just have self discipline in the way those jerks mean, every person has to own up to their limits or needs and find ways to work with how your brain works. And that sometimes means employing outside help.

That’s what this episode is all about. I’ve found quite a few useful distraction blocking tools to help me, and I hope they’ll help other folks. If you use different tools and have found them useful, please say so in the comments!

Listen to TWG #7: Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 7

Footnotes

  1. Anytime someone says that “You should just” as if their ability to “Just” isn’t based on factors they never have to think about–i.e. privilege–and is the absolute correct way of being, you have my permission to tell them to go to hell.[]