Jul 21, 2015

We Need Labels

Labels are a touchy thing. Any time I see a discussion on a heated issue such as bullying, feminism, homophobia, or any form of prejudice, odds are good someone, either trying to act as a kind of peacemaker or, more commonly, trying to shut down the argument entirely, will pipe up with "this is why I hate labels" and "just don't be a dick."

Why do people shun labels? It's never fun to be stuck with a label we dislike, of course, but rather than kick back against the very concept, have people ever thought about why labels are so often used to address people and issues?

The fact is, we need labels.

Highlight Issues
At the most base level, how can you bring a problem to people's attention? You find an example of the problem in action and say "That's it, that is The Thing, right there." People need to be able to assess experiences, both our own and those of others, in ways we can quantify. Otherwise people trying to help would wind up running around going "Everything is terrible and I can't explain why!"

Determine Solutions
I've often said that you can't say to someone "build me a house" or "fix my car" and expect them to get the job done there and then. Every problem, no matter how broad or focused, has a range of issues and contexts which must be identified and assessed for a solution. The place you want to build your house might have water mains to work around. A specific part your car needs might not be in stock. The same applies to social issues.

Take domestic abuse as an example. Both men and women suffer from it, but the challenges they each face will be very different. A woman is likely to believe she brought it on herself, or that if she is only patient enough, things will change. A man, on the other hand, is more likely to be mocked for letting a woman inflict harm. Both will avoid talking about it, and remain in a toxic relationship, but each will do so for different reasons, and will need different kinds of help to get out of it.

So before you say you're not a feminist, but still believe in equal rights, remember that feminism is one part of the equal rights struggle, dealing with a particular subset of problems brought about by male dominance and enforced gender roles. If you do believe in equal rights, you are a feminist, by definition.

Sense of Identity
Labels don't only have to be used to address negative things. Labels can bring with them a sense of self, a strength of choosing an identity. They allow us to belong. If you're a geek, you can count on there being other geeks who should welcome you. Sports fans show supreme camaraderie. Book lovers can gather together to share in discussions. Rockers can share their love of music.

Most especially during our formative teenage years, but also still when we're adults, we need to be able to define who we are, and what our role is in society. Labels help us do this. When we choose a label for ourselves, we make it a banner, a mark of pride, a shield against those who would try to tear us down.

The Reality
As wonderful as the idea is that we could do away with labels and the words "treat everyone well" would be all we need for a peaceful, fair society, the reality is we don't have a hope of achieving that yet. Simply put, we are not at a stage in the evolution of society where we're able to give one straightforward rule to protect us from all social injustice.

Society has taught us to fear those things and people that are different from us. How many religions have spend thousands of years preaching to love one another? How many laws have had to be expanded and clarified so that people can't abuse loopholes and inflict pain and suffering on others?

Until we grow past that, we don't get to take the easy solution of saying "treat everyone well" or "don't be a dick." There are no shortcuts to a better society. It's hard work, and we've got a lot to do. So let's stick to what can actually help make things better and stop fobbing off our responsibility with lazy catchphrases.

Jul 16, 2015

What Have I Been Up To?

I've been very quiet this week, and I'm sorry for that.

Saturday was Conor's fourth birthday. He would have been starting school this year, so it's been particularly rough this time. We had our standard ritual of going to the beach to release a balloon for him, after which the five of us had chips in the car (because it was raining).

Added to that, I've been coping with a new source of chronic pain. It's a possible slipped disc, but I won't know for sure until I get another MRI. I need a walking stick to get around most of the time now, and have enjoyed the delights of all new levels of pain.

Now that things are settling down again, I want to get back into a regular blogging routine. So I'll see you all soon, and remember to pick up your copies of Lady Raven and Red Skies!

Jul 10, 2015

The Importance of Heroines

It's a pretty great time for heroines. We've got an all-female Marvel team in A-Force, the New Avengers features several women in the line-up. Mad Max: Fury Road boasts some of the best female representation in an action movie in years.

And a recent study has shown that a majority of children and teenagers want to see more women in games, and for those women to be depicted better.

But it's far from enough. Only 15% of movie protagonists are women. Women are automatically assumed to be inferior to men in certain film roles. One of the most popular and successful shows on television outright hates its women characters. And the books it's based on have some even worse treatment.

Heroines are important. A few scattered examples here and there aren't enough. For every Princess Leia, there are a dozen Han Solos.

We need more Princess Leias. It all started with her. Instead of sitting back and letting the boys do all the work, she grabbed a blaster got them out of an impossible situation. She carried out intelligence missions, co-ordinated assaults, planned battle strategies. She strangled the most dangerous gangster in the galaxy to death and is one of only two people known who had the guts to mouth off to Darth Vader, and the other one was nearly killed for it.

Princess Leia, Ellen Ripley, Tasha Yar, Buffy Summers, Xena, Lara Croft, River Tam, Kara Thrace, Imperator Furiosa. Why so few? Why so far apart?

"In every generation there is a chosen one"

Why do we allow ourselves to place all the responsibility of being a heroine onto the shoulders of one character at a time? Why does every new female character have to embody all aspects of being a woman at once? Why shouldn't we seek out more heroines, and create new ones whenever we can?

With Red Skies now over a week in the world, this has been on my mind a lot. As much as I dream of one day seeing people rank Cora Ravenell among the great heroines, I hope to see even more by her side.

Let's go tell some stories.

Jul 7, 2015

Chakras and Channeling

Anyone familiar with yoga, reiki, or any number of eastern beliefs will likely have drawn parallels between the channelling powers possessed by Cora Ravenell and the seven chakras present within each person.

This is quite intentional. I don't bring up my spiritual beliefs all that often here, but I've studied a wide range of teachings. From witchcraft to energy healing, law of attraction, all the way to ancient mysticism and mythology, I find myself drawn to all things spiritual.

I'm a reiki master, myself, and my love for reiki and its associated philosophies inspired me to draw on these elements when creating the magic system for the Lady Raven series.

In the series, magic, or channelling, allows a person to become a conduit for the energies of the universe. Drinking quintessence, the glowing blue liquid sought after by the Empire, can, if the person is strong enough, grant this ability. It does so by unlocking six chakras, or energy points. Once this is done, the channeller can harness their new power in a range of ways, calling on each of their chakras for different effects:

Root: Located at the base of the spine, the Root Chakra governs fight or flight, defence and attack. It allows the channeller to produce bursts of quintessence to attack and protect. As Cora is relatively undisciplined in its use, these attacks manifest as blue flame, but during Red Skies, she encounters channellers so proficient that their quintessence is pure blue light.

Sacral: The Sacral Chakra, between the navel and the groin, enhances the channeller's senses. Cora uses this chakra to improve her battle awareness and detect weaknesses others cannot.

Core: Found in the stomach, the Core Chakra empowers the body with strength, speed and reflexes. With it, Cora can become a demon in combat, able to take on multiple opponents.

Heart: The chest is home to the Heart Chakra, which, requires love of oneself and others to master. It allows the user to heal physical and mental damage in others and, for true masters, the self. When we rejoin Cora in Red Skies, she has not yet begun to practice such powers.

Truth: The Truth Chakra, in the throat, allows a channeller to see through, and cast, illusions and to manipulate the minds of others. This is another ability beyond Cora's level of experience at first.

Third Eye: Located in the forehead, the Third Eye Chakra, grants the user psychic awareness, and the ability to see places from a distance, listen to the minds of others, catch glimpses of the future or past, and even move objects with the mind. It is this chakra which guides Cora to join the Benin Rebels, as she becomes conscious of growing evil within the Empire, and a sense that there are far greater battles ahead.

Divine: Floating at the top of the head, the Divine Chakra is spoken of almost entirely in legend. It is said to connect the person to the cosmos and all its limitless power, uniting their soul with the Highers, the spirits, and the divine beings which created the world. However, no channeller alive can use its power. It is the one chakra not unlocked upon drinking quintessence. Its secrets were lost centuries ago, and no channeller has yet found a way to unlock it.

Jul 3, 2015


Earlier this week, Janet Ní Shuilleabháin had me on her new podcast, Worlds Beyond, to talk about my latest release, Red Skies, as well as my other books, love of storytelling, Octocon, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It was my first ever podcast interview and I loved it.

Check it out on Soundcloud.

Jul 1, 2015

Red Skies is out today!

Here we are at last! When I decided to branch into self-publishing, I genuinely had no idea how much work would be involved. I've learned a lot, and at times I'm astounded I managed to get Red Skies out at all.

I'd like to thank everyone who's seen me through this. It's been rough going, and I wouldn't have made it through without all the support I've received from friends and family. And I promise not to put myself under that kind of insane pressure again. Seriously, writing two books in four months is not something I recommend.

I'm keeping both Lady Raven and Red Skies at their discounted Kindle prices for a little while longer, so grab them while you can.

You can find Red Skies on Kindle and in paperback.