Saturday, August 31, 2013

The First Maishun Spirit

The Maishun Spirit

(a Ponongese folktale)

 When the goddesses were still young mothers, they despaired that their children, the Ponongese, fought day and night. The goddesses came together and decided to tell each clan to gather on the high ground. When this was done, the goddesses plowed deep lines into the low ground and invited their friend, the Te’Am Ocean, to irrigate the furrows. Each high ground became an island, and the clans, now separated by the ocean, could no longer fight. The goddesses, enjoying the peace, went to their hut on the mother mountain and fell fast asleep.

The people looked across at the other islands and were jealous, each believing that the goddesses had favored the other clans with better land. They learned to swim so they could invade other islands, but sharks and treacherous currents were in the water, and while the people were willing to die in war, they did not want to die before they could fight.

The people of the Jui clan were very clever and had the idea of a boat that would carry them safely to the other island so they could make war.  They worked quietly on in it secret so the goddesses would not awaken and stop them. The people of the Shi clan were also clever, because all people are, and they also decided to make a boat. The Shi also thought only of war. 

Every day, a daughter of Jui would catch fish in the tide pools. From there, she could see across the channel to Cay Shi where a Shi son also fished along their shore. Jui daughter was very shy. She liked to fish apart from the other Jui so she would not feel obligated to talk. Shi son was the perfect companion—he could not talk to her across the water, but she could see him so she was not lonely. One day, Shi son sent a message with their seabird friends, who flew between the islands. It was easier to write than to talk for her, so she answered his messages. In the manner of such things, she decided he must be similar to her people, and he believed she was like his, and thinking they knew each other, decided they must be together.  

Every day, Shi son asked Jui daughter to come to him. She sadly replied that she could not. One day, he did not come to the fish. She was sad, but caught her fish and took it back to her people. The next day he came to fish, but he did not read the messages she sent to him and did not send any back. She was puzzled by his actions, but caught her fish and took them to her people. The third day, he sent a message ordering her to come to him. Again, she replied that she could not. She wanted him to be happy again, and wondered why he looked so angry now. His next message said that if she really loved him, she would steal the boat her clan had built and come to him. She was shocked that he would ask her to betray her people, so she refused.

Jui daughter decided she should not see Shi son again, so she went to tide pools on the other side of their island to fish with the rest of her people. She missed her silent shore and wished she could hide her face when the other fishers talked to her. Birds came every day with messages from Shi son asking why she had not come to fish at her regular place. Then the birds came bearing apologies and sweet words. Jui daughter’s heart was touched, so she returned to the place where she could see Shi son.

It was as if they’d first met, but after a while, Shi son began to demand she come to him again. He would often turn his back to her and refuse to answer her messages.  Finally, in despair, she threw herself into the sea and swam to his shore. Rather than greeting her with love, he shoved her back toward the sea and shouted that she must bring him the boat her people had made, and then he would love her. His fingers bruised her arms. His face was a war mask and his eyes showed his blood lust. She knew he meant to use the boat and the one his people made to attack the Jui.

Crying, she stumbled back into the waves and began the swim home. Auntie shark, who had watched their courtship, felt pity for Jui daughter and let the girl hold onto her fin while she brought her safely back home. 

Auntie shark said, “I once loved a squid. One day I grew angry and ate him, because that is my nature. I cried afterwards, but that did not bring him back. Shi son would also cry when your village is nothing but ashes.”

Jui daughter thanked auntie shark for saving her, and for the lesson. For the rest of her life, she warned young fishers from the tide pools where they might look across the water, see Shi sons and daughters, and be tempted to betray their clan. Even though she was still very shy and it pained her to talk to people, she pointed to auntie shark’s fin and reminded them that the channel between the islands was dangerous. After she died, she clung to this world and became the first maishun spirit, who warns people before they make a foolish mistake, then flees into the jungle.

(c) 2013 Jill Braden


I promised if more than seven (why did I pick this number? no clue) reviews on Devil Incarnate, I'd write a folktale about maishun spirits. I'd glad I had to.

First thing: research! I read folk tales from many south Pacific cultures as well as from southeast Asia to get a feel for them. Then I had to think of a story. Writing it was odd. Most folktale 'tell' you everything, which is considered poor writing style nowadays. We're supposed to 'show' the audience things and let them draw their own conclusions. So I had to turn off that training. But the good thing about writing a folk tale? Talking sharks.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Devil Incarnate reviews

Devil Incarnate has some new reviews that are so lovely I'm touched.

I promised if the number of reviews hit seven (an arbitrary number if ever there was one) I'd write a Ponongese folktale about maishun spirits. Reviewers kept their end of the bargain so I must keep mine. This calls for research. I've never made up a folktale before.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Strong Female Characters

I've read several articles lately about strong female characters, what that term means, and the archetype traps surrounding those portrayals.

Sophia McDougall's I Hate Strong Female Characters

Chuck Wendig On The Subject of The "Strong Female Character"

Greg Rucka Why I Write Strong Female Characters

Athena Andreadis The Iron Madonna or: Kicking Ass While Female

(This came across my desktop Monday morning: The Mako Mori test as an alternate to the Bechdale Test. I LOVED Pacific Rim. Mako was a great character.)

although there are many others. There are also gifs celebrating a few well known writers for their "strong female characters"

But what does strong really mean? Physical strength is the cheap way out of it. Shooting or punching your way out of a situation doesn't make your character interesting or right. It simply makes them physically stronger or in command of more fire power.

Chuck Wendig touches on it best in his comments, but I'll say that a strong character of any gender is a person with presence. It's someone who commands enough attention to deserve center stage. It's someone who is an interesting story. So we're using strong here to define personality rather than physical strength.

Mattie Ross in True Grit is a strong female character. She's a young teen. Her strength comes from her unwavering demand for justice. For someone so young, she's already a stiff-necked Christian. You get the feeling she had to grow up fast, which means the adults around her failed her in some sense. She goes looking for a man who, in her words, has true grit, but by the end of the story, you realize she was the one who had it. She just needed a vessel to carry out her will. Mattie Ross isn't likeable. She isn't sweet. In a sense, she isn't very feminine and yet I have no problem seeing her as a realistic female character.

I was remiss not to mention Mako Mori of Pacific Rim in my first draft of this. She was a great character with agency. What I liked about her the most was that her "more traditional" values didn't make her seem weak. She had her own agenda and pushed it, but she understood heroism as being part of a team, not running off like, well, a typical American yahoo. I had a little bit of issue that her relationship with her Jaeger partner had have a romantic spin on it. I would have preferred simple professional respect, but that' a minor quibble over a stunning part well played in a big action movie.

Athena Andreadis brings up an interesting list of central female characters in science fiction that she calls Iron Madonnas. As many others have, I'll dismiss Padme Amidala (Or as a writer friend once called her: Princess Imadolly)  because 1) she isn't interesting, but that's hardly because she's female. Star Wars suffers from a dearth of interesting, dimensional characters of any gender, 2) she only exists to drive Anakin Skywalker's story, so she's just another chick in a fridge. 3) she's a chick in a fridge madonna, which is worse (But how sad is it that she's such a place-holder character when her daughter Leia goes down in motion picture history as the first princess EVER to be the hero? Leia grabs the gun, seizes control of her own rescue, provides cover fire, and finds the escape route! She's the original kung-fu princess. She lost all agency in later movies-- I guess they had to neuter her to make sure the story was still about the boys-- but for one brief shining moment, she was the most amazing woman in cinema history.)

But what about the others on that list? I have a small issue with Cordelia Vorkosigan being included. Saying she should have done more or shouldn't have followed the "trope" of becoming a mother and opting to live in a misogynistic society is like pointing to feminists from the 1960s and saying "You should have accomplished more!"  We're awfully quick to dictate the terms of our hero's lives.  One of the things I have enjoyed most about Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series is how one generation makes uneasy peace with a horrible truth, then the next generation comes along and screams "No! That isn't all right! I do not accept that solution!" Because constant reinterpretation of history and negotiation of our relationship to it is a huge part of the human experience, but it's rare to see anyone tackle that mess fearlessly in a novel. I don't feel that Cordelia sacrificed herself to eternal iron madonnahood. I think she gained what she felt was important with a good understanding of which beliefs would be compromised. And being a wife and mother didn't render her ineffective. She had profound influence over the next generation and sabotaged the foundation of male privilege in Vor society. Not bad. Not bad at all.
So where does QuiTai fall in the spectrum?

If I were to write a physically imposing character, that character's reaction to danger might be to fight her way out. But QuiTai's biggest strength is her mind. She will always try to think her way out of a situation first and resort to the physical last. When she gets hurt, it isn't to enrage a male and send him off on a heroic quest. It's the stakes in the game she plays. She doesn't want to be hurt, she doesn't enjoy it, but she doesn't fear it. 

She certainly hasn't lost her sexuality. Someone at some point is going to call her a slut. If it's meant as an insult, it is. I prefer to think of her as owning her body fully and without fear.

She's maternal. That should never be considered a weakness in a female character. There is nothing wrong with being female. There is nothing wrong with having characteristically feminine traits. It doesn't make a character dull, less than, or weak.

That's ultimately where the discussion of female characters should lead us, to the point where strong doesn't have to mean physical BAMF,  or having the most firepower. Maybe we should use central instead of strong. Looking back at literary history, in times that we consider horrible for women, writers had no problem creating interesting central female characters. My favorite example is Irene Adler from Arthur Conan Doyle's A Scandal in Bohemia. So what is our problem now? Why do modern adaptations of Irene Adler strip her agency? Why is there such a backlash against central female characters to the point where people feel a need to ask Joss Whedon and George R. R. Martin about their rare and apparently mind-blowing inclusion of them? I don't know, but it's interesting that these discussions ignore Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Amelia Peabody, and the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, to name a few extremely successful series with admirable central female characters, but were written by women.    

Thursday, August 15, 2013


 What's with all the jelly fish?

I get asked that a lot.
Isn't this amazing? It's Bioluminescent Bay, Viqueues Island, Puerto Rico.

I saw this picture after I wrote Devil's Concubine. Bioluminescence fascinates me. From milky seas to mushrooms to fireflies, if it glows, I want to see it. Most bioluminesecent creatures are unremarkable when they aren't glowing, but jelly fish always amaze me.

In high school, I took an oceanography course at the Museum of Science and Technology in Los Angeles. We took a field trip to the harbor and went out on a fishing boat. One of the creatures caught in the net was a jelly fish. (So, you know, poke it with a stick! For science!) It had tiny (dead) fish in its body, but I never knew if that was a result of being pulled out of the water while entangled in a net with all sorts of other creatures or if that's what it looks like when a jelly fish eats.

By the way, Sea Wasps are real.

AKA Box jelly fish. Found near Australia. They're known as the deadliest creature in the world. Their stings leave horrible scars (I won't post pictures here, but you can find them easily). I don't know if you could really load a water gun with them and shoot chunks of them at people, but let's agree now that there are some things in stories that we should just take on faith and never attempt in real life. Okay?


For all you Sherlock fans, I wouldn't have added Bluebell,

the vanishing luminous rabbit, to my list, but then this. Funny, it didn't happen in Baskerville.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

This is Brilliant. Fantastic, Even.

I'm sure you've seen this already if you're a Doctor Who fan, but if you haven't, click on this.

Follow the double arrows.
Take a walk around inside.
Really wish you could read Gallifreyan (look up).
Read the reviews. (I had to leave one)

This is probably a way for Google to introduce a Yelp-like product linked to their maps (because, hello, reviews!) but well-played, Google, so no fussing about sneaky tricks from me.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Elizabeth Peters

I've seen a few comments that Barbara Mertz, AKA Elizabeth Peters passed away, but I can't find confirmation.

If it's true, how very sad. Her character Amelia Peabody and her books had a huge influence on me. Ostensibly mysteries, the Amelia Peabody stories were adventure, mystery, comedy, and a continuing romance between a married couple. When I wrote The Devil's Concubine, I was specifically trying to write the kind of story I like to read, and the Amelia Peabody books were near the top of my list of 'stuff I want to see more of, so I might as well be the one to write it.'

It's too bad she won't be writing any more books for us to enjoy, but she left a good legacy. Go. Enjoy. And if The Crocodile on the Sandbank is a bit too romancy for you, give the second book a try before giving up on the series. Trust me.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The New Doctor Is Here!

Are you surprised I'm a Whovian? There seems to be a lot of crossover from the Sherlock Holmes fandom. (proof: 10 and 28) People with curious minds need their fixes. (I also watch Supernatural, House of Cards,  MLS games, Premiership games, and plan to watch Orphan Black. So now you know my entire TV schedule.)

Yeah, a female Doctor would have been cool, but I'm fine with another dude, especially when it's this guy:

But some fans are complaining. And saying terrible things and the poor guy hasn't even had a chance yet. But if you've seen his work, you're probably going, "Oh. Yeah. I can totally see that."

Besides, he's a lifelong fan! How cool is that?

"He's too old." Too old for what? He's playing a character who, gosh, what was the Doctor's last stated age? 1013? Something like that? How can Peter Capaldi be too old to play 1013? I swear he doesn't look a day over 700.  ;)

"Unattractive" Uh. Are we looking at the same guy? He's much more attractive when he's talking, because he sounds smart. And as Sherlock fans know, brainy is the new sexy.

"Bad choice." Anyone who saw his amazing performance in Torchwood: Children of Earth would not say he's a bad choice. Listen, I never watch the credits to find an actor's name at the end of a show, with two exceptions: I watched the credits of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to find out who played Peter Guillam (that was the first time I'd seen Benedict Cumberbatch), and to find out who played John Frobisher in Children of Earth. Since then, it's been a game of spotting him in other shows, and I'm always so impressed. When I heard he was the new Doctor, I was thrilled.  I can't wait to see what kinds of stories they build around him because different Doctors tend to spark different work from the writing staff.

And speaking of writers, all my Whovian writer friends (legion!) are dancing in the street over this choice (in our introverted, wouldn't be caught dead outside our writing lairs or dancing kind of way). If writers are excited by the character possibilities, so should normal fans.

Give the new Doctor a chance. You know you're going to love him soon, more than Daleks love to exterminate.

BTW - Still not a ginger.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Less than 24 hours ago, BBC released a 30 second trailer for the new series of Sherlock.

Since then, those 30 seconds have been used to created about 17 hours of fanvids. Individual screen shots have been turned into at least 2000 memes, not counting fan art-- but by Sunday evening I expect the number to be in the tens of thousands. (as this points out.) This is the first new footage the fan have had for almost three years. It's like a sun shower on the desert.

Almost universally, the attention has been drawn to John Watson's mustache -- AKA The Johnstache. It looks properly military. I'll give it that. Some people like it. Some people think it harkens back to the original illustrations of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Some people call it a porn 'stache *shifty eyes* I have no idea who might have blurted out that word. shifty eyes*

DO NOT click on this link if you have problems with flashing images. Or you're easily traumatized by facial hair. Okay? You've been warned. The Link

Meanwhile, the Elementary writers have been whipping up interest in the coming season. (If you must, the official CBS site is here, but I can't stand it so I stick to the Twitter feed from the staff.) I feel sort of bad for them because the fan base, while having some crossover, are two very different groups. There is fan art, but every single second of available footage isn't on Tumblr somewhere. It's simply less rabid.

There's a lot of snobbery and bad feelings lobbed between the fandoms, which is weird because they all probably enjoyed House.  And no one gives anyone a hard time for liking the Sherlock Holmes movies. Why all this animosity? But I think all of you should put it to good use by challenging the other fandom to buy more stuff at Save Undershaw! Or donate more money. Or buy this book.  Right? Good. Get on it


BTW - find me on Twitter as @JillBradenWrite.  Until I joined Twitter, I had no idea how many Jill Bradens there are in this world, so I had to add write to it, which I hate, but there you are.