Musings

Diamondsong Kickstarter Successful

The pre-order campaign for Diamondsong was a success, providing resources to apply to the cover, editing, and fantasy map for the series. Diamondsong is an epic fantasy tale about power and identity, released as a series of ten novellas. Read the details of this fun new series by E.D.E. Bell on the Kickstarter Page and thanks to all of you who supported!

To Readers in the Trans Community

This blog post is specifically aimed to readers of my material who are trans or belong to trans families. I love you as an audience and love that several of you have talked to me about presenting your gender to the world. (Or in one case your mother did, but don’t worry – it was wonderful.) I will first tell you I am so honored to have your readership. Trans people in today’s world are braver than any fantasy hero, and I’m humbled to be in your beautiful presence.

I’d like to let you know that I haven’t got things quite right in my writing yet on trans, enby, or related issues. But I will try harder for my next series, so please stick with me. Spireseeker was well-intentioned but had several misses on gender. I still think it’s worthwhile and full of heart and spirit, and hope you will enjoy. As for Shkode, the passage in The Fettered Flame that discusses a trans identity is one my favorite. I’m so proud of it and hope you like it. But even The Fettered Flame doesn’t present things just how I’d prefer, and I’d like to explain to you why.

For purposes of spoilers, I am going to refer to two characters as A and B. Character A, and you will know them if you’ve read The Fettered Flame, is fighting against multiple types of prejudice. Basically, a character fighting for a cis identity. There are many more layers to it (related to privilege and hypocrisy—would love to discuss sometime but am worried about spoilers) but basically I thought this was an interesting spin on gender identity. (Whose inspiration maybe I’ll discuss at a later date.)

HOWEVER… as early drafts were shared, people—even people with modern gender views—were referring to A as a transgender character, when clearly they are not. In fact, the character struggles with their resentment against people thinking that one’s actions or appearance make them trans rather than one’s gender. I became worried this storyline would become confused with trans issues, including A’s comments that clothing does not define gender. In no way does this storyline or this aspect speak against trans identity – for example while clothing may be important to express gender, it certainly doesn’t define it. Gender defines gender.

So, in order to make clear the difference, I decided to introduce an open trans character, whom we will call B. This was after the storyline had been drafted. In my quest to create something meaningful, I picked a character of whom I was very fond, one who I considered a great hero of the story, and thought this aspect folded into their heroism well, and gave me the chance to contrast an actual trans character to A, who is fighting other types of gender prejudice, but who is solidly cis. The problem here was: B is a victim of violence, bringing me very close to the trope of trans character as violence victim. Once I realized this, I worked hard on crafting the words not to link the two, but I do understand any wishes this would not have been the case. I wish it too.

So, to you, trans readers:

  • I hope you appreciate B’s conversation with Jwala near the end of The Fettered Flame and know the love with which it was authored; I think B’s words should be an inspiration to all of us
  • Know that B’s status as victim of violence was not meant to be directly related to their gender or trans experience but instead to their heroism and conviction
  • Know that in my next series, I’ll make absolutely sure to feature an complex and heroic trans character and keep them away from problematic links. I mean, characters can be naturally problematic. But we haven’t come far enough on trans issues yet and so we need to be extra sensitive, in my opinion.

I hope you understand and I hope that you will read and enjoy my writing. It is sent to you—to all of you!—with such love.

With admiration,
E

For my Grandmas

With a few notable exceptions, my birthday has been pretty low-key. This has been just fine with me. I view my birthday as my personal holiday (everyone deserves to be celebrated a little), and I try to spend it with my family, reflecting on the best gifts I could ever have – the life my parents gave me and the friends and family who have made it amazing.

Other than “getting older,” there has been one birthday constant over the years – and that is my grandmas. Every year, without exception, my grandmas always remembered my birthday. This, along with my mom singing to me, was basically the highlight of my year. Right on time, I’d receive one card from each grandma in their signature handwriting, one smooth and one shaky. Both knowing I enjoy flashy cards and joyful sentiments, there would be ladybugs, flowers, or glittery unicorns riding rainbows. One was to “Emmy” and one to “Emily” – and they always made me smile.

For most of my life, I saw my mom’s mom just before my birthday every year because we’d be together for Thanksgiving. When I was young and we were at her house, there’d be a brief birthday celebration, separate from Thanksgiving. Everyone would sing while the candles flickered on the cake. I loved that.

Last year, my dad’s mom was scheduled to have surgery for a serious issue on my birthday. The evening before, I got this email: “Thought I’d send your birthday wish a little early….seems like I’ll be preoccupied tomorrow 🙂 Have a very happy, fun birthday!” She knew there was a good chance she wouldn’t make it out of that surgery, but she took the time to let me know she remembered, and didn’t bother with anything sad. And I knew she did want me to have a good day and be happy. She passed away twelve days later.

I know a lot of people would tell a sad story at this point – about the day not being the same anymore or something. But why? My grandma understood mortality; we talked about it. She didn’t think it was healthy to deny it. So for me, this birthday is the same. I won’t get a rainbow unicorn or dancing flowers card from her, but I know she’d be thinking about me if she could. And that’s enough. And I have a grandma who will be. I know it.

So, I’m turning 40. It happens – if you’re fortunate anyway. And this year, it’s for my grandmas.

P.S. Mom, thanks for having me.

Cheers – E
November, 2016

I don’t like sharing the bathroom.

I find, “Would you really like to share the restroom with a dude?” to be such a creepy and winless question. Of course the answer is no.

First, the question is generally meant to mean a transgendered woman, or as I call her, a person. Or, preferably, her name. If I know it.

For those who don’t already know this, the use of gendered bathrooms by non-binary or transgender people has been an issue for a long time. The resolution usually goes either go one of two ways: a quiet acceptance and lack of publicity so people who might get fussy don’t find out (meaning, they just go to the bathroom, nothing bad happens, and people don’t tell anyone who would be a jerk about it), or a separate unmarked bathroom that is then flocked to by other people for private dumps (this is horrible and I’ve seen it several times). Though this has been, for many, a heart wrenching issue for a very long time, recent gains in LGBT civil rights have people now concerned enough to pass new laws about it. Or, in most cases post righteous memes on social media, while in the meantime real people are living a nightmare.

There are few notions more offensive to me than the narrative that a person of either non-binary or trans gender is going to assault people in bathrooms. In fact, that’s all I plan to say on that. But, if people don’t have that reason to worry, then the question is why should they worry? The answer – no reason. If you don’t agree with people living transgendered, or don’t think it’s a real thing, so? Maybe you don’t agree with gays, or divorce, or people wearing old Steely Dan T-shirts – these people are all allowed in the bathroom. There is zero reason to single one group out, just because they bother someone else. This is America. Freedom.

Just the idea of people now checking IDs at the door, or questioning what it “looks like” to be a woman saddens me. Or what it “looks like” to be anyone. Or making sure people are normal or attractive or appropriately feminine, or wherever the heck this is going. Hey, dads, want to help your young daughter in the restroom? Men with elderly or special needs companions? Men’s room is getting cleaned? Come on in. It’s a bathroom.

So, would I like to share a bathroom with a dude? No. Would I like to share a bathroom with a trans-woman? No. Why would I want that? Would I like to share a bathroom with a little girl? Uh, no, weird. What about an awkward teenager? Not in the least. A band of old ladies? Not particularly. How about my female co-workers? Nope. Not specifically. Neighbors? No. Complete strangers. Not really. Husband? Do I get a choice?

In fact, here’s my position on the issue: My ideal public bathroom would be a network of locked, fully sanitary chambers, reserved for use only by me and never shared by others. (Except that people are allowed to clean it while I’m not there, because I don’t like cleaning bathrooms either.) This restroom will also play only Madonna, will smell like evergreens, will have one of those hand dryers that makes your skin wiggle, and will feature vegan soaps and sanitizers. Oh, and the floor will always be dry. Also nature-inspired tilework mosaics and real wood window frames like in old-school rest areas.

In closing, I do not want to share a bathroom with anyone. Now, would I share a bathroom with someone else? Sure, whatever. It’s a public bathroom. My priorities: 1) ability to “go” 2) least amount of time there as possible. If you don’t agree with me, well, think about it. You may realize it’s really all ok. It comes back to the golden rule of America: one person’s freedom is more important than another person’s discomfort with that freedom.

This Independence Day, remember liberty is a wonderful – and precious – thing.

Cheers, E.

A Note from the Real Mom

I’m hesitant to write about this at all. Reason is, family ought to just be family. Not a non-traditional family, a mixed family, a blended family, a multi-spectral family, an assorted family, a variegated family, or whatever term people can come up with to imply their acceptance of diversity while ensuring they segregate it. Family is just family. So I guess that’s why I decided to write this. If I can cause one person to think before speaking – to consider the impact of their words – then it’s a topic worth addressing.

So. We adopted our daughter. I don’t actually think that’s a big deal. I think it’s cool. But I also think it’s cool that women severed my muscles to remove my sons in front of my eyes, yet I don’t talk about that much either. My kids are just my kids and comments that imply any caveats on that are startling and hurtful.

Please, consider the following things when talking to families who have or are thinking about adopting. And if you hear someone else making insensitive statements, maybe pull them aside and clue them in.

It’s a verb: One of the best things I’ve heard is the idea to use adoption as a verb, not an adjective. Adoption is a process with a beginning and an end. Saying people “were adopted” rather than “are adopted” is a nice way to reference that process (in an appropriate context) without making it an obligatory lifelong caveat.

Who are these people? I don’t know who these people in the “traditional family” are, but they seem awfully smug. I suppose there needs to be two parents: a man and a woman, who have had at least one child. The parents can’t have been married to anyone else in the past. Both of the parents need to be biological parents of the children, and both the same race. I suppose at least one parent has to stay at home, and the other one works. The working parent better be successful and stoic, and the stay-at-home parent better spend all their time with the kids. They can’t be too young when they got married, or too old. And they should be the same age. They’d better be religious (and the same religion at that), ensure their children share their beliefs, while not teaching them anything that isn’t mainstream. No drinking or smoking, or music with inappropriate themes. Most importantly, their children can’t tell butt jokes at the table. I’m pretty sure this is key. Where I’m going with this: unless you are an actual family court judge, nobody asked you to arbitrate families. Nobody likes being compared.

Pregnancy is special. But it’s not the only way. When I listen to people go on about the unique experience of pregnancy and birth, I feel bad for people who have never been pregnant and worry they are missing out. Starting, I suppose, with all men. Look, I know how special pregnancy is. I’ve been there. I also was proposed to in a Broadway theater – it was indeed special. Should I look down on others who had a different experience? If you have children but have never been pregnant I have great news: your way was not inferior. And your bladder was probably much better off.

The Easy Way: Never ever say to an adopting parent, “I see you are doing it the easy way.” Adoption is every bit as difficult (often more) than pregnancy. Pregnancy can be rough. I’ve had a miscarriage, and I’ve had gestational diabetes. Not fun. And through adoption, I had to wait during the pregnancy day after day, without any control over the end outcome or even the ability to be reassured by the baby’s movements, or even the understanding of your friends, who have no idea what you are going through. I’ve also had what they call a “change of heart”. This means you are holding a real baby you think is yours and then someone takes it away forever. And after that I had to hear people call it the easy way. Put this one out of your vocabulary.

Use race in context. If your friends have never called your kids white, probably best not to randomly call their kid Asian. “But it’s true.” I know, but there’s no context for it. Your need to point it out begs the question why. Also random references to basketball—best to skip.

Law & Order. Bum-bum. Everyone has apparently learned everything about adoption from Law & Order. How “they” can take the child away years later. How mothers make a fortune selling their children. How the children are actually kidnapped. No, it’s real because it was ripped from the headlines. Please. Stop. I love that show too, but stop.

The Exception is not the Rule: On a related topic, that one guy you heard about does not define the rest of us. I’m sure there have been some crappy adoptive parents. And some crazed-out kids. Or some guy you knew that is bitter about his life. Or some article you read. This is true for any subset of people. Don’t be so selective.

The Birthmother. “So, was she poor? She just couldn’t afford another kid?” Yes, that’s right. Women make the life-changing and self-sacrificing decision to carry a child, find them a loving home, and potentially never see them again because they are poor. In fact, if you drive through an impoverished neighborhood, you will find there are no children there. They cost too much. In reality, there are many reasons a woman chooses adoption. Perhaps the child would be in a dangerous situation, exposed to drugs or abuse. Perhaps the child would be hated by others in its life. Perhaps the woman was raped, and can’t subject a child to a lifetime of its mother seeing a rapist in their eyes. Perhaps the woman is terminally ill. Perhaps she is already obligated to full-time care of another. Perhaps she is disabled. First point: Don’t ask this. It’s awfully personal. Second point: No, it probably wasn’t about money. P.S. I’ve never once been asked about the Birthfather’s motives.

Well, she shouldn’t have got pregnant then. Sigh. Great advice. I mean, come on.

Investigative reporting. So why did you adopt? Are you unable to have kids? Did you have medical problems? Did your doctor recommend not getting pregnant or was it just a choice you made? When did you bring them home? Where are they from? Aren’t you worried they’ll have bad genes? Are they as smart as the other kids? Do you feel differently about them? First: This isn’t 60 minutes. Second: Consider whether you’d like to be asked these sort of questions about your choices in life. These questions are really quite rude, and focus on entirely the wrong things. Third: Ask about the kid. “How’s she doing? What does she enjoy? What grade is she in?” Parents love to talk about their kids. Do that.

Real kids / Real parents. What. Planet. Did people grow up on. Where this is acceptable. Don’t refer to biological relatives as “real”. Ever. If you want to inquire about someone’s biological heritage, first ask yourself why? Are you their doctor, concerned about genetic risks for disease prevention purposes? Are they famous and you are writing their biography? Sounds legit! Please ask about their “biological” history. If not, are you simply curious? Is this person that close to you that it’s an appropriate question? If you have no real reason to ask, don’t. Again, this is personal. In case you think I’m making this up, I’ve had people ask me about my child’s “real parents”. I’ve had people ask me, “One of your kids isn’t yours, right?” (And note even after I told the person this was upsetting to me, they insisted it was the correct terminology, since not all my kids were “mine”.) People have complimented me on my ability to treat all the kids the same. (What?) Once I showed someone a picture of my daughter and said she was laughing at her dad, and the person responded, “I thought she never met him.” I could go on, but I hope you get the idea. All. Families. Are. Real. Saying otherwise is just mean.

Stop making excuses. “Oh people just don’t know the PC thing to say.” “Oh, it always changes anyway.” “Oh, people get so wrapped up about words.” No. Stop. Words are a primary method of human communication. And there is nothing about not saying someone’s child isn’t “real” or “theirs” that requires an abundance of political correctness. Don’t make excuses for people; tell them to use their noggins.

Bottom line: Think before you speak, and when in doubt—remember the golden rule.

Thanks for listening. With love, The Real Mom
E.D.E. Bell – February 2015

Mommy’s Little Princes

[Note: I wrote this piece over a year ago, but was worried it would come off too snarky, as I believe in tolerance and positive messages. However, after a recent trip to Disney World (and thank you Disney World; we sincerely had a really wonderful time) I decided to take the risk and dust it off. I have no issues with children who love the idea of princesses (hey, I’m a fantasy author!), but as parents I think we should sometimes be more thoughtful about both the priorities we set for our children, and the way they are applied across genders. No disrespect is intended – just a different perspective on the issue, for thought.]

Luckily, one of my children is a girl. This way, I have someone to pass my life skills to, and someone to watch the Lions with me on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Maybe someday she’ll even become an engineer, like me. Though, I remind her, she’d need to work hard in school so she can get into a good college. I encourage her to join Science clubs, and to stay active. It’s a lot of work to get a good job and support a household. After a good talk, we go outside for a game of catch. She’s my buddy, and nothing can take that away.

But as much as I love my daughter, I have an extra special relationship with my sons, or as a call them: my princes.

Like all little boys, they have always been into princes, from the time I bought them their first prince board-books when they were babies. Every night, I used to read to them about being a prince, and tell them that someday – if they stay handsome and sweet – someday they will find their very own princess. As they got older, I got them prince dolls, and even toy chariots that the prince dolls could ride around in. They even have educational toys for boys now, like prince board games, where the boys can learn strategy while pretending to be their favorite princes. I also remind them that princes are brave!

My husband and I are just so committed to the prince theme, but only because they love it so much! I admit, it helps me keep the kids in line as well. You know how rowdy boys are. If they are a little messy, or forget to play quietly together, I remind them – if you aren’t proper gentleman, your princess might not want you! That usually settles them down, and reminds them it’s time to watch one of their prince movies. Only for the millionth time!

It’s hard to keep them out of their prince costumes. Each one has a series of little blue crowns, tabards, and swords, and they insist on wearing them around the house, running around looking for princesses to rescue. Then when Halloween comes, they pick their favorite prince costume and spend at least an hour getting ready to go out. This is the one time of year their dad lets them borrow his hair gel and his fancy cologne, so that they really look like grownups! Handsome grownups that will attract princesses!

On their birthdays, I hold prince-themed parties. There are princes on the cake, and the napkins, and even plastic signet rings as party favors. The girls won’t go, of course – princes are a boy thing. But the neighborhood boys love it. They get together, wear paper crowns, and talk about who their favorite prince is. My sons love Eric, from “The Little Mermaid.” He was really handsome.

Some of my friends (you know, the kind of moms who read too many internet blogs and need to settle down) have suggested that I push the prince theme on the boys, that they might be interested in learning about dinosaurs, or playing with building toys like their sister does. But those are people who don’t understand nature, I think. Boys will always be boys. You just can’t push it out of them! And why would you? If there’s one thing boys love, it’s princes.

Once, the boys asked me what a prince really was, which I thought was cute. My boys are so smart, too. A prince, I explained, is someone who is born into a royal family. It’s their job to set rules for other people to live by. And as long as they stay very handsome, people will listen to them as well as adore them. And someday, they might marry a princess, and then have beautiful babies, who can also be princes.

I know that as the boys get older, they might want to redecorate their prince-themed bedrooms, and maybe even think about things like hobbies, music, sports, or even going to college. But I hope I can keep them princes for as long as I can. I just don’t want these days to end. And – no matter how old they get – they will always be my little princes.

E.D.E. Bell – 12 January, 2014

Can Engineers Write?

Of course they can. Engineers are creative! Let’s dispel that myth right now. Engineers aren’t given a set of instructions to follow; they are given problems to solve or prevent. For me, creative writing has been a fun and challenging expansion of what I already do.

I had the privilege to attend the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) Great Lakes Region annual conference in Chicago this fall. Being around such passionate Systems Engineers got me thinking about how much my engineering training helps my writing. As some of you know, I’m a Certified Systems Engineering Professional (CSEP) – not a standard qualification for a fantasy writer. SE application may be a dry topic to many, but this unconventional training is central to defining who I am as a writer. I’ve found that the more I get used to writing, the more I am able to leverage my engineering skills.

Following are a few examples of how my SE training helps me write:

Listening: Systems Engineers are the bad guys! They tell their management when a plan isn’t likely to work and offer ways to resolve it. Those corrections usually involve a short term cost – either additional resources, a time delay, or just the embarrassment of changing course. I know very well what it’s like to be right, but still be ignored because the news is unpopular. That in mind, I listen carefully to everything an editor has to say, because I understand their job is to make the story better, not to say things I want to hear.

Architecture: Systems Engineers are charged with the big picture. Many SE professionals lament that western training “trains out” the Systems perspective from bright young minds: driving them toward specialized expertise, but losing our instinct to take in the whole world with curiosity. Being trained to see everything at once, it’s easier for me to design the story’s architecture, and slice that into different “viewpoints” – who are the characters, what are the places, what are the plotlines, how does everything connect? This is crucial to identifying and correcting gaps.

Process: Yes, the Systems Engineering “V” model works for novels! In non-technical terms, this says: 1) Plan time in the schedule for all the steps 2) Do things in the right order. (Worldbuilding before writing, for example.) 3) Check readiness before moving to the next phase. 4) Don’t be afraid to go back to earlier phases. 5) Keep all the steps in mind throughout the process. (When you’re worldbuilding, remember you’ll need to write this, and when you’re writing don’t forget how it fits into your world.) Knowing the V-model is especially critical as an independent publisher, where you’re planning from concept through reviews. That process is second-nature to an SE, allowing the focus to be on the writing.

Iteration: Systems Engineers are driven by the idea of feedback. Feedback within the V, but also to the next delivery, the next increment, the next project. We thrive on the concept of the “Lessons Learned.” Instead of negative feedback stopping us, it fuels us to do better. It’s the whole challenge of an SE project – take a need and turn it into a functional system. And then do it better the next time.

Think this is boring? If so, 1) Thank your local Systems Engineer – they are the ones we need to save our world from the crises it faces. I mean that. 2) In fairness I’m also writing about dragons and wizards.

Cheers – E.D.E. Bell, 1 November 2014

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Welcome! I’ve tried to consolidate helpful links in one place: where to follow on social media, where to buy books, and where to find musings and short stories. Thanks for your interest – E.