The Mother of All Battles

In July of 2004, my husband and I were newlyweds. We took a road trip to Toronto for our honeymoon with a couple thousand dollars, a suitcase full of clothes, and a tote bag full of books to read. One of those books was A GAME OF THRONES by George RR Martin, an author that neither my husband nor I knew much about, but the premise sounded interesting. We’ve always been suckers for epic fantasy, and neither of us doubted that this would be a decent distraction in the evenings, in our hotel rooms.

Needless to say, we had no idea what we were getting into. At that point in time, Martin had published the first three books of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, and we devoured them, spending hours discussing our own theories and debating the finer points of each of the characters. There is something mesmerizing about the world that Martin created. That much is obvious from the way the books and later, the HBO series, have become such a phenomenon.  

When HBO announced the series, when the cast was announced and the first stills were released, when the initial trailer began to air, I was giddy. I shared my enthusiasm with everyone I know, and like so many of the stories I had loved before, I was often pooh poohed. No serious person watches a show that takes place in a made-up world with knights and magic and ice zombies. My husband and I laughed. They had no idea what they were in for.

Like a wave of pop culture references and men wearing ‘sexy dirt,’ Game of Thrones rolled over the unsuspecting world. Suddenly, the masses understood the anguish that had been ours when Ned, noble fool that he was, told Cersei the truth. When The Rains of Castamere rang out during the Red Wedding, hundreds of thousands held their collective breath, while those of us who had read the books readied the tissues, alcohol, and grief-abating ice cream.

We watched a world fall in love with something that we loved, we basked in the shared history of this imperfect world, and we sat down, every Sunday night, to spend an hour in Westeros. Slowly, even the doubters came to believe, and we watched as the Stark children grew up before our eyes, ready to save their world, just as we’re asking our children to save ours.

Life in Westeros isn’t for the faint of heart, and when I pull myself back from the story, to examine the edges of the story the show has given us, I am drawn most of all to the story of the mothers who have born children into that brutal world. From Lyanna Stark to Lyssa Arryn, Game of Thrones is jam-packed with women who will do literally anything for their children, even if doing so often drives them beyond their capacity to recover.

Let’s start with the Starks, because… well, everything always does, doesn’t it? You can’t discuss the union between Ned and Catelyn without acknowledging that their entire marriage was bent around a lie. And while Noble Ned did what he did to protect Jon, and the secret his sister had died to protect, in doing so, he damned Jon to a life without a mother’s love. Cat could have been a stand-in for Lyanna, and I believe that had she known the truth, she would have without hesitation. Instead, Ned believed that the woman he loved, the mother of his children, couldn’t possibly bear the weight of that secret, and his doubt cast Jon as an outsider in his own home.

Later, we would watch Cat flee to King’s Landing to protect Ned and tell him the truth about what had happened to Bran. We would watch her arrest Tyrion and take him to the Vale for trial. We would watch her march to war with Robb, release Jaime, set Brienne on her path to protect Arya and Sansa. Catelyn Stark was never a delicate flower, and Noble Ned made her feel like less than she was, because he refused to trust her.

Daenerys Stormborn was sold to a barbarian when she was thirteen years old, violated by her own brother, raped by her husband, and betrayed by nearly everyone she ever trusted. When she tried to save Khal Drogo, the Dothraki turned against her. When she miscarried his child, she lost her place in their world.  But even in her grief, she found surrogate children that gave her purpose and kept her moving forward.  

Dany’s story isn’t perfect – there’s too much White Savior in her tale, too much Stockholm Syndrome, and of course, after last week, a quick fall into genocidal madness. But what rings true about Daenerys’s story is this – she loved her dragons and the people she had freed from tyranny like her own children, and when the world takes them from her, the world will pay.

Cersei Lannister may be the greatest television mother to ever grace our screens. By turns kind and generous, then drunk with power, Cersei would do literally anything for her children – even the sociopathic one. As the show progresses, we’ve watched her change from the demurring wife of a bloated, drunken King Robert to the sharp, unbending woman who has survived shame, violence, and unimaginable grief to take anything and everything that she wants. By the time The Bells rang, last week, Cersei had nothing left to lose. She’d lost all of her children (unless you believe that she was pregnant, which I’m not 100% sure of), Jaime had abandoned her, and there was no way she was going to hold onto power once Dany came knocking at the gates.

When she killed Missandei, effectively firing the first shot in the war, she was acknowledging her loss of power. But Cersei wasn’t going out quietly, and she wasn’t going out alone. She would bring about the end of the people who had pelted her with rotten fruit and called her a whore. She would bring down the Red Keep, that had held her prisoner in a man’s world while she raised its future rulers. She would take out everyone that had doubted her along the way.

Could the show have done this differently, allowing these women the agency that they deserved after years of suffering under men’s thumbs. Damn right it could have. But do I choose to remember each of these women going down swinging… every single one.

When I watch these women face murder and unnatural terrors, White Walkers and dragons, Boltons and Freys, I realize that there isn’t that much that separates Westeros from our world. Motherhood translates to every empire, in every genre. It is a universal language. You don’t have to like the characters, their motivations, or their actions to understand them. And while I’m not saying that we should climb on our dragons and head to D.C., I think I know what Cersei would do.

Raising kids in Westeros is bloody business. Raising kids in America isn’t much better, these days. From Gilly to Olenna Tyrrell, from Tammy Duckworth to Elizabeth Warren… maybe it’s time that women burn it down.

And for the record, I’d vote for Sansa any day.

Day 2 (!!!!!!)

Yesterday, I had the privilege of hanging out at Fanfare in Kalamazoo, Michigan for Free Comic Book Day, and it was awesome. I got to meet tons of people, I got to share information about my book, AND I got to give stuff away, which always makes me happy. If you've never experienced a Free Comic Book Day, be sure to check it out, next year. It's always the first Saturday in May, and comic shops all over the country celebrate. It's... well, it's free comics, PLUS a gathering of like minded folks that all geek out over similar stuff. It's awesome. 

Today, I'm trying to align my ducks. 

I keep thinking that I should have more ducks to line up. When something this monumental happens, there's usually a million loose ends at the last possible moment. So I keep searching for those dangling participles... but the book is already done. It's fully baked, or in this case, already printed. Presumably, it's in the back rooms of bookstores, waiting to be shelved on Tuesday. It exists without me, now. 

I feel a little bit like I did when my oldest daughter left for college. It's not that she doesn't need me anymore, or that she isn't mine, anymore... but her life goes on, whether I watch it happen or not. 

On Tuesday, this little book starts life on its own. 

So, just like I gave my daughter when she left for school, I have a few words of encouragement for my book. 

To Gemma - I did all that I could to give you the agency I've often felt I lacked in my own life. I put you through some awful stuff, and I'm sorry for that. But believe me... you're a better character for having gone through it. I don't think you'll risk being called a Mary Sue, which I always worried about. I couldn't stand to watch you bullied. I hope it was enough, and I hope the world loves you as much as I do.

To Tollan - Oh, Tollan. I inflicted upon you all of my own mental baggage. While I've always wanted to be a Gemma, you and I have far more in common than she and I ever will. I'm sorry to have saddled you with so much crap. All I want for you is a happy ending.

To Elam - Everyone needs someone like you in their life, and I hope that I did enough to compile characters around you that can prop you up, just as you've propped everyone else. You started out as a trope in my mind, but you've become so much more. Of all the things I've done with this book, it might be you that I'm most proud of.

To Devery, Wince, Isbit and the rest of the gang - There has never been a supporting cast that I wrote that I felt more connected to. I tried to give you each your own reasons for what you did, even if they only exist in my mind (*cough*- I'm looking at you, Lian). I hope to someday finish filling out those tales, because each of you deserves your very own story.

To the readers that will soon experience the world of Yigris and take from it whatever they will - thank you for trusting me with your time. I hope that when you're done, you don't regret it, and even more than that, I hope that you recognize someone you know within it's pages. We're all a little bit Gemma, or Tollan, or Elam, or Wince.

Nah, let's face it, we're all a little bit Wince, no matter what else we are.

Joy upon your house, today. I know there is upon mine.

 

 

Day 74

Wow. Somehow, while I was busy with life and all the craziness that goes along with it -- the winter holidays, full-time day job, and the general anarchy of raising children, three months have slipped past me. Since the last post, I've held Advanced Reader Copies of my book, which was a really surreal moment for me. I've done that uncomfortable bit where I have to ask writers that I really admire to read my book and say nice things about it, and unbelievably, some have! I've seen the final book jacket and began to schedule speaking engagements and author events for around the time of the books release. And frankly, I'm still in shock.

But today, I felt compelled to write a blog post about something other than books. Unless you've been hiding your head under a rock for the last 8 days, you've heard about the horror and tragedy that occurred in Parkland, Florida on Valentine's Day. You've seen mug shots of the man who brought weapons of mass destruction into the school and murdered seventeen children in cold blood. (And yes, he IS a man, and Tamir Rice WAS a boy, even if the media can't keep that straight.) You've seen the family photographs and heard the heart-breaking biographies of the young, vibrant victims that were ripped away from the lives they were meant to live. You've seen their parents and their friends on television and social media begging for someone - ANYONE - in power to please, do something to insure that this doesn't happen to another school. 

And they've said everything that there is to say about that subject much more eloquently than I ever could, so I'm not going to scream about gun control (although I definitely think that toddlers could design a better system of 'control' than we currently have). And I'm not going to lecture about an assault rifle ban (even though the only possible reason to want a weapon that shoots more than a dozen rounds would be to kill a person, and I'm pretty sure that's a no-no in all major religions and cultures). And I'm not going to take the time to state the obvious - that this country failed those 17 kids in Florida, and all the victims of mass shootings that came before them. That we have sold off our democracy to lobbyists who don't rely on morals to guide them, only dollar signs. And I'm not even going to touch the nonsense that our president said about teachers carrying guns to protect their students (even though I can't imagine any of the teachers I know WANTING to carry a gun and certainly not SHOOTING a person, threat or not. Teachers, in case you've not noticed, tend to be empathetic people. They don't generally enjoy the idea of killing anyone.)

Nope. I want to talk about those kids, and all the kids watching them stand up for themselves and each other. I want to talk about the fact that my own children came home and told me about their new lockdown policy, that calls for the students to fight back, should a situation arrive at school. That's where we're at -- OUR CHILDREN ARE TAUGHT TO FIGHT FOR THEIR LIVES WITH STAPLERS AND WATER BOTTLES because adults have failed them. Government has failed them. America has failed them.

But those Parkland kids, and the kids that are walking out of schools all over the country, the kids coming home and having these conversations with their parents -- they already know that anything they want, they'll have to fight for themselves. Adults, especially those of us who are late Gen-Xers to Baby Boomer age, have spent the last decade whining about the entitled millennials and whatever we're going to call the next generation, the one that these teens belong to.

Countless think pieces have declared that technology and helicopter parenting and participation trophies have created generations of entitled snowflakes who believe that they deserve to have things handed to them. But if you look around, if you really listen, you'll see that these kids don't expect anything to be handed to them. They don't expect anyone to listen to them. Because, to be fair, nobody has been. And in truth, the generations before them have no concept of how easy their lives were, in comparison. 

Today's teens are so much more aware of the social and political consequences of the world around them than I was at their age. Or in my twenties. Or in my early thirties. Those smart-phones that their parents and grandparents are blaming for all the ills of the world stream information to these kids, all day, every day. They can't turn it off. They can't bury their head in the sand. My 9-year-old was discussing gerrymandering and the Supreme Court with my husband, last night. And he knew that gerrymandering had unfairly manipulated voting districts to swing heavily in favor of the party in control. He knew, and understood, that this wasn't fair and that it didn't fit into the framework of democracy that our Founding Fathers set up for us. 

He is nine.

For years, maybe decades -- hell, maybe since the stone age -- kids have been misunderstood by the generations that precede them. But this is different than those earlier generations. This is motivated by something very different from misunderstanding. The folks accusing the Parkland teens of being crisis actors don't misunderstand the desires of these kids. The people desperate to keep assault rifles available to the general public don't misunderstand the motivations of these teens. 

This isn't misunderstanding. This is fear. Because those folks know that their death hold on America is slipping, and that what is coming after will be unrecognizable from the America of today. Young people, PoC, women, and the LGBTQ community aren't going to sit quietly for the next 60 years, until it's "THEIR TURN." 

We are watching the human race evolve. Young people -- beginning with the millennials and stretching all the way down to my 9-year-old -- understand the world around them in a way that their predecessors don't. They see each other and even if they don't like one another, they empathize with each other. Because there isn't a single one of them that won't have to pay $100k for a Bachelor's degree. There isn't a single one of them that hasn't watched the world change in this post 9/11 landscape and hatred and racism flare up in our so-called "Melting Pot". There isn't one of them that hasn't been taught from the moment that they entered school that they might die within those halls. And there isn't a single one of them who hasn't seen the people in charge say that their right to live, to be safe at school, was less important than some asshole's right to own a weapon that shoots 6 rounds per second.

Read that sentence again. Go ahead, I'll wait.

And so, they are doing what species do when their existence is threatened. They are evolving. They are getting stronger, and smarter, and braver, in order to stand up for themselves and what they believe. They see what is happening to the world and they're not putting up with it. They will be voters. They will be loud.

The generations before them were isolationist while fascists and Nazis took over Europe. They watched while Wall Street bought our government and sold our country. They looked the other way while civil rights were quietly squashed, one bullet at a time.

These kids have lived through the dystopia and they've already learned that no one else will be the hero in their stories, so they've evolved in order to do it themselves. And I, for one, couldn't be prouder of them.

Day 160

And what a day it has been! 

First and foremost, I beg you to let me smother you with the gorgeous cover art for THE QUEEN UNDERNEATH, which was revealed with much fanfare this morning by the fantastic folks over at YA BOOKS CENTRAL! 

But they weren't just kind enough to show off the cover. They also put up a two chapter excerpt, so that everyone can get a feel for what their in for, once the war in Yigris comes to a bookstore near you. AND they are giving away THREE signed ARCs of the book (For those of you who're new to book slang, and ARC is an advanced reader copy, which means that the winners of these ARCs will get to read the whole book 4 or 5 months before the rest of the world! So if that's a thing that you're interested in, be sure to head over to YA BOOKS CENTRAL and enter the giveaway. And take a look around at their fantastic site... they do a great job with reviews, there's an active, passionate community of YA readers, and they give away books, so... basically their the best.

I want to take the cover apart, just a little, because I'm finally allowed to talk about it. It's been a huge, burning ember of joy in the back of my head for a few months, now, so being able to share it is basically Christmas and my birthday rolled into one.

There's a lot going on in this cover, but the thing that I love the most is that eerie glow radiating out from around the castle. That lightening of shades around the castle can be seen two different ways -- some people see hope radiating out into the darkness that surrounds it. But some people have said that it reminds them of a slow burning fire, the embers just illuminating the palace enough to feel menacing. And I really love that, because this isn't a black and white book with black and white characters. This is the story of people who live in the gray area between wrong and right, and while I hope you'll cheer for our protagonists, they aren't always "good" people. And the "villains--" I'm not sure I wouldn't do exactly what they do, were I in their shoes. All villains believe they are the heroes of their stories, and that is a central theme that I really tried to remember throughout the story. And the amazing design team at Page Street managed to put all of that into one image and I couldn't have done it better if I'd tried. 

But the cover wasn't the only big news, today:

As of about 9:30 a.m., you can pre-order THE QUEEN UNDERNEATH at all major outlets. You can find it here at Amazon, or here at Barnes & Noble, or here through Indie Bound, which will help connect you to a local independent bookstore in your area.

In the next few weeks, I'll do a post on the importance of pre-orders in the success (or failure) of a book's performance, but for now, I just wanted to get the links out there and Squee about it, because, well... it's been quite a day!

And if that wasn't enough, my fantastic editor, Lauren, has sent out my very own ARCs-- which means that within a matter of days, I will be holding a book-shaped object that I created from ink and sweat and tears and about 87 canisters of Pringles. And when I do, you can bet your sweet sugar plums that I'll be posting about it, once I can breathe again.

Until next time, please enjoy the gorgeous cover. And if you need me, I'll probably still be here, basking in it's awesomeness. 

The Queen Underneath

Day 166

Thanksgiving feels a little weird for me, this year. I mean, let's face it -- as a nation, 2017 hasn't been a stellar experience. We've seen tumult, tragedy, and unprecedented divisiveness. Every day, the gap between right and left grows wider and seemingly more impossible to cross. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't feel like there's much to be thankful for. 

But personally, 2017 has been a banner year for me, and that leaves me both insanely grateful and also conflicted. It is hard to feel justified in my own personal victories when so many people are afraid of losing their healthcare coverage, their taxes skyrocketing, or have lost someone to gun violence in the last 12 months. And so, I feel guilt. 

But I cannot deny that I am incredibly thankful for the year that I've had, that my family has had. I am thankful for my eldest daughter, who continues to expand her independence as she moves through her college education. I am thankful for my eldest son, who has grown so much as an individual, this past year, and who is turning into a kind, generous, and thoughtful young man with big dreams of his own. I am thankful for my younger daughter, whose artistic abilities expand almost exponentially on a daily basis, and in whom I see the fire of the creative drive. And I am so thankful for my youngest son, who has outgrown many things, including his clothes, many of his toys, and his first chapter books, and grown into stories that we devour together, into the early grasp of empathy and compassion that makes my heart sing. I am thankful every day for a husband who works tirelessly to provide for all of us, who has supported my dream of writing from day one, even when I thought it was laughable. I am thankful for his utter faith in me, his laughter in my life, and his shoulder when I need it. 

Even more personally, I am thankful for the strength I've found in myself as I become more comfortable in my new(ish) day job. I am thankful for the amazing opportunity to take my children to see HAMILTON this year. I am super thankful for the opportunity I had to travel to NYC, the very first solo trip of my life. I am grateful for the expanded writing community that I have found a place within, the new friends I've made, the new networks I've been invited into.

And I don't even have the words to express how thankful I am for the opportunity to achieve the dream of my heart. One hundred sixty six days from now, a book that I wrote, with my name on the spine, will be available in the bookstore when I walk into it. It doesn't really feel real, even now. Even when I have put in all the work, I've seen the cover, I've discussed the marketing plan. I don't know if it will really feel real until the moment I see it on the shelf, hold it in my hand. Or maybe, it will always feel just a little surreal. And I'm okay with that, because magic should feel a little unreal. 

I've had to learn, this year, that it is possible to feel both joy and despair. That I can be ecstatic about my personal life and also anxious and terrified for the nation, the world, at large. I've had to learn that it is okay to enjoy the successes I achieve, so long as I'm also aware of the struggles happening around me. I have learned that I can be more than one person, more than one thing. And I'm learning that I don't have to be defined by one thing. I'm learning to say "No" to the things I cannot or don't need to be doing, and saying yes to more board games, more phone conversations, and more quiet moments with those that I love.

I am thankful for every minute that we've lived over the last year, I am thankful for the new opportunities that have come my way, and I am so very thankful for every person that has held me up while I struggled to get where I am. I hope that every one of you has a peaceful, perfect holiday and that you're surrounded by people who hold you up, when you need it. Health, happiness, and harmony to all of you, today and every day.