The Importance of Claiming our Names

Yesterday evening I did a podcast interview over the phone, as part of the promotions St. Martins Press has set up for me for THE ORCHID THRONE. This was a gal I hadn’t interacted with before. In fact, a LOT of early readers and reviewers picking up this book – or winning it from a Goodreads giveaway – are totally new to my books, which is super cool. This gal hadn’t read fantasy romance before and she was all excited by the combination, which was really wonderful to hear. Amazing to me that so many people are discovering this sweet spot between epic fantasy and female-driven, swoon-worthy Romance. Also, pretty kickass to know the subgenre is still on the rise.

Anyway, one of the first questions she asked me – before she started recording – was how to pronounce my name. This came as no surprise as it’s usually the first question anyone new asks me. For the record, it’s Jeff-ee, or Jeffy, whichever makes more sense in your head. (But not Jiffy like the peanut butter and not jefe, which is pronounced heff-AY and is Spanish for boss. Yes, I have a lot of these conversations.) It’s short for Jennifer, and is a nickname my dad made up when I was a baby. No, he didn’t want a boy and he liked the name Jennifer. He also died when I was three, so my nickname is a gift from him that I’ve carried all my life.

As you can see, I have a lot of conversations about my name – and I try to remind myself that though I’ve heard all these questions and jokes a hundred times, for the person I’m talking to, it’s brand new to them. Also, talking about my name is a good ice-breaker, so for the most part I don’t mind.

Still, it’s amazing to me how many people feel it’s fine to advise me about my name or make jokes about it. I avoid telling people it’s short for Jennifer, not because it’s a secret (obviously I’m talking publicly about it here), but because some people will insist on calling me Jennifer once they find out. Even after I tell them only the IRS and telemarketers call me that and if you yell it across a bar, I’ll assume you mean one of the ten-thousand OTHER Jennifers and I won’t respond. Some people have very seriously told me that I shouldn’t use a “made up” name. I remember my graduate adviser refusing to call me Jeffe, because he thought it sounded too much like Buffy and I needed to be more serious than that.

It occurred to me much later what a red flag that was of so many, many things.

What’s key here is, I identify with the name “Jeffe.” It’s been my byline all along (with the exception of those very serious scientific papers) and it’s what I respond to. I realize there’s a bit of a bump in people assimilating the unfamiliar, but I’m willing to work with people on that. I’ve come to realize that it’s not unreasonable to ask people to put that effort in also.

The other night we were having drinks with my folks and the topic of pronouns came up. They’re from an older generation, so they’re understandably taken aback by the “new” pronouns. “When did this become a thing?” they asked. I explained that I knew it seemed weird to them, but that I’d had to learn too. I wear a She/Her/Hers button on my conference lanyards to help normalize that pronouns shouldn’t be assumed. I’m fortunate to present as female and that the assumed pronouns match my appearance. But this isn’t true for everyone and it makes it harder for people who are exceptions if only they designate pronouns.

It comes down to that we all have this basic right of human dignity, which includes being called by the names and pronouns we choose for ourselves. Having these many conversations over the course of my life about my unusual nickname – and the occasional obstinate responses – is a minor irritation. But it makes me aware of how much more difficult it must be for someone with a greater stake in the issue, and perhaps less privilege and confidence.

I recall when Quvenzhané Wallis was up for an Academy Award, the press did not handle it well. From this terrific article on the topic:

They might have addressed her with a respectful ‘Miss. Wallis.’ Or politely asked how to pronounce her first name. Or best of all, they might have done the research ahead of time to learn how she preferred to be addressed. Instead she was called ‘Q,’ ‘little Q,’ ‘Miss Q.’ An AP reporter even decided “I’m just going to call you Annie,” to which Wallis replied “My name is not Annie. It’s Quvenzhane.”

I’m struck by this observation in the article:

Names given to some black children are mocked as being ‘made up’ or not ‘real’ names. White folks will substitute them for names that are more familiar to our own culture.

I understand this very well, having the “not real” accusation hurled at me about my name, along with the stubborn refusal to use it and the fall back to something more culturally familiar. And that’s being a white girl in a culture predominantly peopled by folks like me.

Then there’s this great talk by Uzo Aduba on wanting to change her name as a child because no one could pronounce Uzoamaka. (Shout out to and Chelsea Mueller for knowing exactly what I was trying to recall there!) Her mother told her if people could learn to pronounce Tchaikovsky, Michelangelo, and Dostoevsky, they could learn to pronounce Uzoamaka.

Her talk is especially stirring because she finishes with the advice, “So, do not ever erase those identifiers that are held in you… It is yours, and it was given to you at birth, and it is yours to own.”

I wish now that I’d insisted my graduate adviser use the name *I* wanted, not the one he approved of.

 

 

Jeffe at San Diego Comic Con!

Jeffe will be at San Diego Comic Con in July!!

There’s a panel of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) talking about getting published.

*****SFWA Writers Reveal the One Big Secret That Got Them Published, Friday, 7/19/19, 6:00p.m. – 7:00p.m., Room: 2*****

Join members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) as they discuss writing careers, tips and tricks, and the one big secret that got them published. Learn how SFWA supports SF and fantasy writers and how it can help you with your creative career. Panelists include Jeffe Kennedy (The Orchid Throne), Marie Andreas (The Diamond Sphinx). Greg van Eekhout (Voyage of the Dogs). Greg Bear (Take Back the Sky; Comic-Con Special Guest). Jonathan Brazee (Fire Ant) and Kyle Aisteach (Little Dystopias).

In addition, the TOR booth will be giving away 30 Galley proofs of THE ORCHID THRONE on Saturday, 7/20/19 at 10am. I’ll be there to sign and chat, so come on by!

Do You Need a Critique Group – Or Something ELSE?

Yesterday I cooked brunch for writer friends Jim Sorenson and Sage Walker. (That’s me in my Orchid Throne apron that the amazingly talented Minerva Spencer made for me. Isn’t it awesome??)

We sat in the grape arbor, listened to the bluebirds feed their nestlings, and talked all things writing. It got me thinking about critique and what we need to improve our work that ISN’T critique. Come on over to the SFF Seven for more. 

POV Wars: Don’t Be Cannon Fodder

Isn’t this a gorgeous pic of THE ORCHID THRONE? I just love when people make these decorative frames for my books. 🙂 Many of you know I’m buried, neck-deep, in the revision of THE FIERY CITADEL, the second in this trilogy, the Forgotten Empires. I’d hoped to spend eight days on this revision, today is Day 8, and I’m not even halfway. Alas.

I know I keep saying this, but I should speed up soon. I’m bringing a lot of stuff forward in the story, which requires reworking of scenes and re-layering. I’m re-visiting some scenes four or five times. There’s a LOT of “re.” But it’s important to remember that this process is a re-VISION. That means changing up the view of the story, how I see it and how the reader will see it. Sometimes, because I’m bringing stuff forward, making some chapters longer, I’m having to switch up the point of view (POV). The story is told in alternating chapters of the hero and heroine, both in first-person POV.

Lemme tell you: changing the POV of a scene is an excruciatingly painstaking process.

That’s why you may have seen authors passing around this bit of clueless shite and screaming NO NO NO NO NO!

I don’t know who wrote this, except that this person is gleefully and authoritatively giving Very Bad Advice.

I’m tempted to break this down line by line, because there’s a profound error in pretty much every phrase, but I really need to be working on this book. I thought it might be easier to show what a POV conversion looks like, plus saving me time. AND you get a bit of a sneak preview to boot!

Here’s a piece of a scene I originally wrote in the hero’s POV.

“Thank you, all, for attending Me this morning. Some of you may have met my consort, Conrí. He’d like to tap your specialized knowledge in defense of Calanthe.”

And just like that, she turned over the meeting to me—and amused herself by taking me by surprise, judging by the gleam in her eyes. I coughed to clear my throat of pastry crumbs, and handed the little plate and cup to Kara, who looked like I’d handed him a wailing infant.

“Your Highness.” I bowed deeply to her, tempted to add an ironic flourish like Sondra’s mocking manners, but kept it as sincere-looking as possible. Lia saw through me, naturally, though her public face revealed nothing. I stepped beside her, having no intention of putting my back to her, and surveyed the motley assembly. If Lia thought these people could help, then I believed her.

“We have credible evidence that the emperor will bring his forces to bear on Calanthe in a matter of days,” I said without further preamble. None of them seemed shocked, despite Lia’s efforts at secrecy. “My people are bringing in all the vurgsten supplies we can in preparation.” I nodded in General Kara’s direction. He acknowledged that gravely, and he’d relieved himself of my dishes, hands folded behind his back in military style.

“Thanks to Her Highness’s assistance, we’ve established a relay of ships to expedite bringing as much vurgsten to the island as possible before the emperor’s fleet can interfere,” he intoned in his harsh voice.

“You’ll need a fuck-all huge amount of vurgsten,” a square-built woman with short-cut silvery hair opined. Brenda, I recalled, who’d served in the wars in Derten.

“And at least that many ships,” the flamboyant Percy added, examining his nails. He’d affected long jeweled tips like Lia’s and lounged sideways in his chair. “Preferably two times fuck-all.”

A thin woman with a listless mien whose name I didn’t know eyed them with concern, drawing a shawl around her shoulders, though the morning was far from cool. “This is a serious situation, Percy.”

“Agatha, darling. Until I’m dead, nothing is so serious that I won’t poke at Brenda’s colorful language,” he drawled. “Seriously, however, how do you propose to mount any kind of credible defense when we are outmatched in every way? Your reputation precedes you, of course, Conrí, but these odds are sadly stacked against us.”

And now here it is, rewritten in the heroine’s POV:

“Thank you, all, for attending Me this morning. Conrí?”

Con coughed, clearing his throat and brushing pastry crumbs from his fingers. He passed his plate and cup to Kara, who looked like he’d been handed a wailing infant. Petty of me, perhaps, to take Con by surprise, but I hadn’t quite recalibrated my temperament. What little sleep I’d gotten had been spent in nightmares, and Con had nearly caught me in that vulnerable state. Tonight I would find a way for us to sleep separately, as the nightmares seemed to be intensifying.

The dream images had taken on a new clarity, too. The temple above Cradysica falling into the sea. A wolf, gnawing off my hand as I tried to help it. Calanthe, thrashing beneath my feet. Waking. Cradysica it would be. I couldn’t fight this. It had been all I could do to drag myself to this meeting. Thank Ejarat—and my clever ladies—for makeup.

“Your Highness.” Con bowed deeply to me, then turned to the others. “An update since yesterday. My people are bringing in all the vurgsten supplies we can in preparation. General Kara?”

Kara had relieved himself of Con’s dishes, and stood with hands folded behind his back in military style. “Thanks to Her Highness’s assistance,” he intoned in his harsh voice, nodding to me, “we’ve sent ships to establish a relay that will expedite bringing as much vurgsten to the island as possible before the emperor’s fleet can interfere. We’ll keep as much aboard local vessels as possible, so the maximum amount of vurgsten can be relayed to the chosen site quickly.”

“I ran some numbers,” Brenda put in. “Even guessing at most of them, to spring the kind of trap you’re thinking of, we’re going to need a fuck-all huge amount of vurgsten.”

“And at least that many ships,” the flamboyant Percy added, examining his nails as he lounged sideways in his chair. “Preferably two times fuck-all.”

Agatha, wrapped in her shawl, though the morning was far from cool, gave him a look. “This is a serious situation, Percy.”

“Agatha, darling. Until I’m dead, nothing is so serious that I won’t poke at Brenda’s colorful language,” he drawled. “Seriously, however, I ran some numbers, too. How do you propose to mount any kind of credible defense when we are outmatched in every way? Your reputation precedes you, of course, Conrí, but these odds are sadly stacked against us. We’re looking at staggering losses, even without certain…strictures.” He glanced at me, but I kept cool and showed no reaction. Perhaps they only now realized that Con and his people had truly conquered Calanthe after all. I certainly seemed to have lost the power to affect events.

So, yes, there’s more and different information – that’s part of me bringing some points forward in the story – but there’s also changes at every level. Lia and Con know different things, have different familiarity with the characters, see the problem from different angles. Lia is more educated and has more internal, introspective thinking than Con does. She thinks in different words. This POV change is profoundly more complex than switching out pronouns.

As for 1st Person POV being a “gimmick”… I can’t even with that. I, the author, am most definitely NOT one of the characters. Being in a character’s head and a character being an author’s avatar are so wildly different that I’m frankly stunned someone wouldn’t be able to recognize that. Maybe someone who hasn’t read much? First Person POV is difficult to write. It simultaneously gives the reader greater access to the character’s thoughts and feelings, while limiting their perspective to only what that character knows. Some readers don’t like that, which I understand. But using that POV hugely affects how the story plays out.

Also, omniscient narration IS a point of view. I couldn’t leave this without saying that much.

 

Still Bleeding – the Worst Rejection Ever

I had to share this tweet from Agent Sarah. We got the cover flats for THE ORCHID THRONE (out in September 2019, but review copies are going out now – eep!) and they have foil! That’s the shiny stuff on the cover. It shows best in the video from her tweet, but here’s a still pic, in case the video doesn’t play. Super cool, huh? It’s my first cover with foil, and it’s SO PRETTY!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Knife in the Heart: The Harshest, Meanest Rejections from a Publisher/Editor/Agent. Come on over to hear about mine.