2016: The Best Year Yet

I say every year is going to be the best year yet. And I never take it back.

2016 will be the best year yet.

But don’t forget, 2015 was the best year yet. Every year I see late-year posts lamenting how tragic the year has been, and how ready people are for the next one. I don’t subscribe to this view: I view New Year’s as both a time to celebrate the last year, and also set meaningful goals for the next. Sure, the world was rough in 2015. But it was beautiful also! There were many deaths among my own friends and family in 2015, but there were as many births. This is life. Volatile. Fleeting. Raw. Breathe it in and go for it.

I remember wonderful things about 2015. I remember the cold, snowy winter to start the year, and the warm, rainy winter to end it. I remember my mother-in-law picking up a round of top shelf Grand Marnier to celebrate Chris and my wedding anniversary. I remember spending a whole day going end-to-end at Epcot Center World Showcase with my oldest son and finally getting a nice soy sauce pitcher. I remember visiting an Air and Space museum in Colorado Springs on a rainy spring morning, and getting a private tour from a veteran. I remember my grandmother giving me her own grandmother’s framed poem that I had memorized as a child. I met Weird Al for approximately 5 seconds. I wrote Chapter 11 sitting on the ledge of the Lincoln Memorial as the sun set, then got caught in a massive rainstorm on the way back to the hotel. My pants soaked past my knees, I stopped at a bar, and had an expertly crafted cocktail and some lovely conversation. I remember sitting with my mom and son and watching the patriotic parade of boats go by on Independence Day. I got Player’s autographs. I sent my youngest child to Kindergarten. I saw Peyton Manning play again. I took my kids to talk to an astronaut. I hit a Ren Fest three times in one year. I saw Garbage play their first album live just feet from the band. I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family. I saw Star Wars in 3D. Then saw it again.

As for my writing: I wrote a book this year. It’s called The Fettered Flame, and I’ve poured my soul into it. I plan to release it in 2016, and I hope you will read it. If you haven’t read the first book, The Banished Craft, I’d be honored for you to give it a look. I also wrote a satirical online story: Mase the Modern Dwarf. It was all so fun and so fulfilling.

You know what? I bet if you think about it, you’ll see too – 2015 was the best year ever.

Until now.

Next year I will have more writing for you! We’ll start with a Kickstarter relaunch in February to complete The Fettered Flame. Please watch for that. I will write the final volume of the Shkode trilogy, and continue planning for my next project, The A… well, that’s for another announcement. I will debut as a comicon guest! Right now, I’m locked in for the Great Lakes Comic-Con in Warren, Michigan in February and the Gem City Comic Con in Dayton, Ohio in April. If you’re in the area of either, please stop by! And all the other fun things about life – from walks through the neighborhood to new adventures: I will do those too. There is rumor I’ll even turn 40.

I wish for each of you a beautiful 2016. I hope you enjoy your friends and family and pursue your dreams. I hope you have joy for your triumphs and comfort for your trials. Each of us is beautiful. Each of us is unique. Each of us has an adventure waiting for us to grasp it. It may be large or it may be small, but it’s there. Don’t forget. And go for it.

Cheers to 2016!

Much Love, E.D.E. Bell
31 December 2015

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On the Soul

Today, a little cat named Vashti spent her last hours on this Earth. In tribute, I am posting this blog post I made in July 2000, when Vashti was two years old. It’s a bit indulgent, but it reminds me how much I’ve grown as well in all these great years together. Without modification, here is On the Soul:

On the Soul

Today, I was at home working on some things, and I took a break by sitting on my bed for a moment. I thought I heard my older cat, Vashti, somewhere in the room, so I called her name. (If you think you can’t tell a cat by the sounds she makes, you can.) Within a few seconds, Vashti hopped up on the bed and walked over to me. Even though I had intended to just be there for a moment, Vashti seemed to take this as an invitation for quality time. She cuddled up against my chest and rested her head comfortably on my arm, the whole time staring up at me.

I was touched by the cuteness of it all, and thought to myself what a joy it was having my two little troublemakers around. Having enjoyed the moment, I started to get up, but stopped when Vashti gave me an alarmed look, and placed her paw firmly against my face, as if she were trying to stop me. It worked. I paused, and went back to thinking, as she slowly took her paw down. (Yet continued to stare intently up at me.) I thought about just how intelligent her little eyes looked. Humans do get awfully arrogant, I thought. Just because we’re so much more intelligent than other animals, (and we are), it’s like we completely discount the consciousness and intelligence they do have. Consciousness has no value to us if it’s not our own. We kill animals, eat them, torment them, and none of it matters because they don’t have enough consciousness by our judgement. But you could hardly see that in Vashti’s eyes. In her eyes, consciousness didn’t come in levels. It was just there.

I got up to go again, but back came the little black paw, much firmer this time. I chuckled, that I was being commanded by a little cat, and I was actually obeying. I looked down at her again. She was softly purring now, and still staring back at me. I scratched her head, and she closed her eyes for a moment and purred more loudly. Then she looked back up at me so intently. I looked back. I wondered if she was thinking about me as I sat there and thought about her. What was she thinking? She didn’t have words like I did to structure her thoughts. She couldn’t have my understanding of the many differences between us. She couldn’t have much of a concept of a human, or a cat, or where she fit in. That’s it. I thought. She doesn’t. It didn’t matter to her that I was a human. She didn’t know or care that we were so different. She didn’t care about my education, or my job, or my new car. All she knew was that I was her friend, and she wanted me to stay there just a little longer to scratch her ears. So I did.

And I think the people who say that the difference between humans and other animals is that only humans have a soul… have never looked into the eyes of a little black cat.

E.D.E. – 26 July 2000

My Fantasy

There are two questions I often get about my writing:

1) Why do you write fantasy? I don’t read that stuff.

There is often this sense that by putting a dragon on the cover, the book must be for “someone else” – someone who “likes that stuff” – that nephew they have that hangs out at the gamer store. I think it’s a shame that people limit themselves that way. This buys into a restrictive, cool kid mentality that I reject. Fantasy is wonderful and magical and fantasy is for everyone. Fantasy throws out the rules and the restrictions that confine us in our normal life. It lets us discover magic, or see the future, or befriend a dragon. In fantasy, everything is more vibrant, because we are unconstrained. We are free. It is a glorious way to write and to read.

The next sculpture was so low to the ground they almost didn’t see it. It was a field of low waves, like those upon the ocean near the coast. Cor was drawn to its grace. “This is beautiful,” she whispered.

Iohn studied it a long moment. “I don’t care for it,” he said at last in a decisive manner. “It’s exactly what the water was like before it froze. It’s pretty, but it’s not art. That’s just imitating what nature already did. If I wanted to see the ocean in summer I would just wait until summer, then go to the ocean.” He winked at Cor.

– The Banished Craft, Chapter 12: Heartbloom

2) What are you genre-bending? Bending fantasy and what?

Just as fantasy isn’t constrained by the realities of our world, I believe fantasy shouldn’t be constrained in the type of storytelling it undertakes. I’ve had people tell me my dragons are not accurate! Inaccurate dragons! I think they have forgotten: Fantasy is unconstrained. I believe in this. So in many ways, what I write is contemporary fiction. It’s relationships and social themes and dilemmas our world faces today. I just want there to be dragons and magic too because it’s more fun that way. The Shkode trilogy is fantasy and contemporary fiction. It’s also ripe with satire and philosophy, has a little humor, and toys with a little mathematical fiction. It’s all of that because I think the blend is more interesting, and has something for everyone. P.S. If you misread this and still think I’m talking about gender-bending, you’re not wrong either. I love that too.

“Ok. Maybe he’s you.” Iohn’s face twitched, as if saying it out loud didn’t make it any more plausible. “Why do you make him dislike women so much?”

“People enjoy it. Keeps them reading. But really, haven’t you heard of satire? It’s actually a thing now. Very popular. I figured if most women read it long enough, it would start to tick them off. Maybe they’d finally stand up for themselves.”

– The Banished Craft, Chapter 20: Until We Meet Again

In that case, what is the Shkode trilogy, anyway. Who’s it for?

To me, it’s about passion. The word shkode means fire in Anishinaabemowin, the native language in the Lake Superior region. It is a word that speaks to me, and symbolizes passion and struggle and glory. This trilogy is about characters who struggle to see their own potential. It’s different. It’s thought-provoking, satirical, and sometimes just silly. And it’s a piece of me that I want to share with you. Who is it for? It’s written for adults, appropriate for mature young-adults, and I’ve found that it’s liked by a fairly diverse audience. Some people like the fantasy setting, others like the social themes, and others enjoy the unique world-building and rich character development.

Jwala knew she should not speak, knew she endangered herself as her mouth opened. She begged herself to stop. But her body burned with rage, and in the decision to act, she felt the weight of her burden shatter—its invisible shards flying from her, clattering to the ground. It was enough.

– The Banished Craft, Chapter 06: A Change of Plans

If any of this interests you, here are a couple things I’d be humbled for you to check out:

The Fettered Flame Project – I won’t be able to continue editing, illustrating, and printing the Shkode trilogy without your help. It’s that simple. We need all levels of backers, from $5 e-books (these get us more visibility) to larger backers (there are some cool rewards like naming a character!). Please join me.

Mase: The Modern Dwarf – I wrote this short serial on Wattpad. It’s free and it’s ridiculous. If you like it, click the ★ to give it a vote.

Cheers, E.D.E. Bell – October 2015

Book 2 Title Reveal !

Let’s do this! Here is the trailer to Shkode: Book 2, the sequel to The Banished Craft. Click this magic link to reveal the book’s title! Many thanks to a great voice actor Anthony Sardinha for his fantastic rendition of Atesh.

Bottom line / TL;DR – Follow this link to Kickstarter. Pledge an amount. Get a copy of the book (and/or other cool rewards) when the book is done.

So, we are launching a Kickstarter project to run throughout October 2015. Here are a few things I’d like you to know about it:

Book 2 is better. Book 2 is better! It’s the best thing I’ve written yet – by far, I think. The characters are developed further, the flow is better, and there is more action. Yes, still two worlds and lots of characters, but that’s part of what makes it different and interesting. I am really excited about this book and I want to give people the chance to read it.

Argh, I don’t know what any of this is! I’ll explain it! The bottom line is I’m not making enough money with my writing yet to pay for continued illustration and editing of the series. But many fans of the series love the high-quality production, including the beautiful custom covers and offset-printed hardcovers. And they are telling me to keep writing! So what I want from you is to pre-order the book through Kickstarter.com between 1 and 31 October to provide enough money to get it edited and produced. You’ll be the first to get the book, and if it’s a hardcover it’ll have a first-day signature date. Which is fab.

Why am I giving you money? You’re actually pledging for cool rewards so I have money up-front to fund the project. Think of it as pre-orders, or just being completely awesome so I can produce this book. Your pledge helps me a great deal (really!), but it’s not a donation. All the money goes into the project, and you get rewards in return. It’s like a pre-order with extra love.

Why did you raise the Kickstarter amount from last time? There is no trick here. I won an award through my company in 2014 and I invested the award money into the production of The Banished Craft. There is no award this year, nor can I continue to afford to invest the same amount I have been. I need readers as well as general supporters of my type of genre-bending fantasy. I need you! The base amount of $7500 (remember, that includes fees, reward costs, and shipping – it’s a significantly lower amount we actually get) will cover the combined illustration and editing costs. What we’d really need to reach in order to fully cover our up-front costs (including minimum print set-up and basic promotion) is about $15,000. (Again, that’s the Kickstarter total, not the amount we’d get.)

Why should I support this Kickstarter again? If any of these reasons apply (doesn’t have to be all), I’d love to have your support.
– You’re supporting my dream! I love to write!
– You’re supporting indie writing. The Shkode trilogy provides readers something different.
– You’re supporting several other small businesses including editors and artists.
– You support integrating gender themes, equality themes, or LGBTQ themes into fantasy writing.
– You support integrating vegan, animal compassion, and non-violence themes into fantasy writing.
– You like to read books! This is a story! Read the Goodreads or Amazon reviews of The Banished Craft – people have enjoyed it and I hope you will too.

Thanks for your support! I appreciate it so much, and I hope you enjoy The Banished Craft and…well, Book 2. Go watch the video!

Cheers, E.D.E. Bell, 24 September 2015

Writing Adventures

I’m really tired. So that blog title will have to do.

Fortunately the reason I’m tired is that I’ve been hard at work. Here are a few updates –

The Banished Craft: Release date of 1 September is getting closer! Ah! We’ve got some fun events lined up for release, and we are sending the hardcover to print in just a few days. If you are interested in pre-orders (we sure appreciate them) the book is on Amazon (and Amazon Smile) and can be ordered signed and personalized at atthisarts.com/shop. Have you seen the Goodreads reviews lately? They are awesome! I’m so humbled!

Shkode Book 2: I’m over half-way through writing the sequel to The Banished Craft and I am loving it so far. I hope you will too! It starts with big plot twists in each of the first three chapters. When will I tell you the title? When we release the trailer as part of a new Kickstarter campaign, probably 1 October. We’ll offer cool rewards, so please stay tuned!

Spireseeker: Hardcover editions want to be purchased. Just sayin’. So the pacing had its issues – but everyone loves the characters! Join in! Don’t forget, they can be signed and personalized at our shop and I think they make a pretty interesting gift. P.S. Genderless elves.

Atthis Arts: We have two works currently in the editing phase. One is When They Come Calling, a modern ghost story by Sarah Fleming Mountford, and the other is a surprise yet to come. A tiny preview? Tween fantasy that is big on imagination.

Wattpad: So I am going to try and release a free (all the way free) serial on Wattpad late this summer. I am already designing the story and it’s cracking me up. It will, in essence, be a comedy. For updates on this and other projects, just follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, or Instagram.

Ann Arbor Book Festival: A special thank you to the organizers of the Ann Arbor Book Festival Street Fair and Moonlight Book Crawl. I enjoyed the events, and met so many great readers, authors, and others in the business. Had some seriously good local food too – thanks to Seva Ann Arbor, Detroit Vegan Soul, The Blue Grill in Milford, and The Lunch Room in Ann Arbor.

Hope you are having a great summer (or winter) –

Much love, E.D.E. Bell, 10 July 2015


An Open Letter to Drag

I’d like to talk about the other word.

In the wake of the big RuPaul’s Drag Race finale (I was so for Violet; I admit it – she had me at that bearded runway) I had some thoughts about the topic I wanted to share. Yes, I know I’ve experienced a commercialized version of drag and am one of those Midwestern moms the queens chuckle about. Maybe I’m not cool enough to talk about it. But I think I will anyway, because that’s my realness. If you’re interested, read on.

Some of you may know that I have been a fan of RuPaul Charles since the first time I saw him on television in the mid-nineties. (For some of us, that won’t seem very long ago and for others I suspect it will.) I followed his career, bought any magazine that featured him, and listened to, “A Little Bit of Love” constantly.

I’ve never been focused on his famous drag character. Sure, she’s stunning and classic and all that. But it’s Ru himself that has fascinated me. He’s bold, interesting, and revels in a fearless androgyny far ahead of the market’s ability to support it. He’s also entertaining, witty, and uplifting. And have you read his books? They are inspirational as well as entertaining. Ru is an amazing person.

It’s quite ironic that I enjoy drag so much. I don’t wear any makeup or heels of any height. I believe in natural beauty. And velour pants. But I do appreciate art. And to me drag is a fascinating mixture of art. It’s entertainment and sometimes comedy. It’s larger than life – and it’s bold. I can’t turn away. I particularly enjoy Pandora Boxx and Jinkx Monsoon; they are so talented. My fandom has crept into my writing – Rikian (the intersex elf) quotes RuPaul in Spireseeker, and some of you might have picked up that Cor’s mother in The Banished Craft is named Ruby. Mother Ru!

You may or may not have followed last year’s controversy (much of it clearly contrived by the media) surrounding the use of certain terms on the show RuPaul’s Drag Race. The most controversial of these being what I will refer to as the t-word: an innocent or fun word for some invoking Rocky Horror or other diversions, but to others a symbol of hatred and oppression against transgendered individuals.

The drag industry seemed torn on how to respond. Should they defend a pioneer of gender-forward entertainment in the mainstream—the main reason their own careers exist? Should they risk giving the impression they are not behind the transgendered community, a community with a horrifying rate of murder and suicide? Some even got into the debate whether drag itself is a transgendered lifestyle—an argument with cause but that I’m certain is troubling to at least some of those who have lived through hell because they can’t ever “de-drag.”

I also get Ru’s argument on the subject. I’ll paraphrase here, but basically he’s said that drag is punk and censoring it only hurts it. He said people need to grow stronger and remember words are just words. He also suggested that the stir was not being caused by every-day transgender people, but basically by attention-seeking bloggers, looking to play the victim. He made some great points.

Either way, this season the show has backed off some. Their gendered play on “e-mail” has disappeared, and I have not heard the use of the t-word. I’ve noticed other subtle changes as well.

So what’s my point? Why rehash an old conversation? Because something’s been bothering me, and I’d like to talk about it. It’s the other word. The one no one has brought up.

I don’t use this word, so I’ll call it the b-word. And it’s not just the b-word that bothers me, it’s the constant misogynistic references in the drag industry. Do I think that drag queens disrespect women? No, not generally. I just think they have become desensitized to the language and imagery that they use, just as our culture is in places to terms against races, orientation, or other characteristics.

Now, time to get ready, because today I am serving tea.

Here’s my message to queens and gender-blurring entertainers everywhere: You don’t need to degrade women (any type of women) in order to be fabulous. You can be as punk, funny, and bold as you want without laughing at vaginas, or making flippant jokes about dropping babies out of them. Those jokes can be hurtful to people on a very personal subject, and in my opinion it has nothing to do with your craft. You don’t need to call yourself the b-word or cutesy variations on the c-word. You don’t need it. Those are cheap jokes; cheap gimmicks. And you just don’t need them. They lessen your art.

I think many people misunderstand the b-word. They think maybe it means someone is emotional, even affected by hormones. Some people have twisted it to mean you’re tough. Or feminist. Or awesome. Or sassy. Or gay. But maybe they don’t understand that it’s a common term in rape and slavery – against males as well as females. They don’t know that its origins are comparing a woman to a dog in heat – reducing her to an irrational sexual object without the ability to decline. Maybe they aren’t aware that in dog breeding the man often has to hold the female dog down so she is unable to escape while the male dog has his way with her. It’s really an ugly term.

I consider myself a modern woman. I detest gender rules, and love pushing boundaries. I try to be punk. But I am not a b-word, nor would I call anyone else one, even in jest. I used to say it, years ago. But I’ve stopped. And I don’t use it in my writing. Sometimes I think it might be funny, in context. You know, “b- please!” It makes people laugh. But I talk myself out of it every time; it’s never worth it.

I’m not asking for drag to be any less punk. I’m not calling for anything to be banned. But if you don’t use the n-word, you don’t need to use the t-word, the f-word, or the b-word. Be cleverer than that. Promote drag, glamour, androgyny, or just put on a great show. Be rude or x-rated if you want. Be edgy. Wear fabulous wigs, and put them on top of other wigs. But leave the misogynistic language out of your routine. You’re better than that.

What about Ru’s message to be stronger? Women are stronger. Professional women, domestic women, transwomen, women of color, all of them. They’ve put up with a lot over the centuries, and they are stronger than they’ve ever been. As are a lot of people who have been considered lesser or different. We’re really getting there, one step at a time.

So, drag community: I’m not mad, or demanding anything, I’m asking the question. Do you really need degrading language in order to be punk? My opinion: you don’t.

Just something to think about. And RuPaul – I truly adore you, at least as much as I can from what you show the world. Don’t take any of this for shade. I’m just speaking up.

Love and respect, E.D.E. Bell

June 2015

An Open Letter to Drag

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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What’s with the Vegan thing?

Veganism isn’t a widely accepted lifestyle, at least not in the Midwest, at least not yet. I get it. If you don’t, just be grateful your beliefs aren’t judged as harshly. (And if they are, then maybe you understand.)

But I’ll tell you something – I have been very happy about converting to full veganism after about seventeen years of moving that direction anyway. It was time. I’m not apologizing for it or downplaying it anymore. This is who I am. I don’t wear leather, I don’t use animal fat on my skin, I don’t eat meat, eggs, cheese, or dairy – and I’ve never felt better about myself.

So here’s the deal. I’m not going to make the case for it. If you want to learn more about the reasons people live a vegan lifestyle, go to vegan.org or search the wide number of blogs or websites. You’ll read that people become vegans to decrease suffering to animals, to promote non-violence amongst humankind, because they don’t want to support the practices employed by factory farming, because they don’t want to kill intelligent life without cause, because of the health benefits, because it’s more environmentally friendly and sustainable, or maybe just because it makes them happy. Do your own research and make your own decisions.

For fun, check these people out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_vegans

Or, more substantively, listen to this guy: Dr. Kim Williams

So maybe I’ll just answer a few questions people have had for me. Since we’re chatting.

It’s just a diet, right? – Some people eat a vegan diet. I’m a vegan. There’s a difference. That means my shoes, my purse, and the stuff in my bathroom are vegan, and I live a life that looks for opportunity to reduce suffering to intelligent life. I’m not perfect or even that great; I’m just trying.

Ok, but why do you have to talk about it so much? – It seems like we talk about it a lot because it’s different. But I assure you, there are plenty of posts about pig roasts, grilled steaks, and meats wrapped in other meats in my news feed. Plenty. Not to mention jokes about vegetarians. Which, yes, even my friends post.

Everything is cooked in butter. – Yeah, you’re telling me. But it doesn’t have to be. Even if you don’t prefer oils like olive or sesame, try Earth Balance vegan butter sometime. I bet they sell it at your grocery store (though it may be called Smart Balance Light).

How can you not eat cheese? – Actually, I just don’t. It was never good for me anyway, nor was I ever really comfortable with it. Then I learned about spiked nose rings for calves. So I’m good.

How can you not eat pizza? – Yes, pizza is delicious. Vegan pizza is delicious. The fact that most pizza places don’t offer it bothers me much more than it does you. Maybe someday they will. In the meantime, I add my own toppings at home, or buy frozen varieties at the store. (Bold Organics, Amy’s, Tofurky, among others sell delicious vegan pizzas.)

What about protein and vitamins? – My, what a personal question. I have medical care, and they test me for these things. I’m fine.

But B12 only comes from animals. That proves you should eat animals. – First, are you aware that meat and dairy are fortified? Does that prove that a meat-focused diet is inadequate? Second, B12 comes from poop. If anything, this proves we should eat poop. If that appeals to you as much as it does to me, then you have two more choices: eat animals who ate poop, or eat lab-grown bacteria.

But vegan food tastes awful. – No, it actually doesn’t. If you’ve had bad vegan food, I’m sorry. Eat at my house sometime. My husband cooks vegan for our family and it’s all delicious. Also, remember that centuries of research and decades of technology have gone into refining animal-based foods. Once society puts as much effort into plant-based options, the options will accelerate rapidly. The advancements in cashew cheese and other vegan products over even the last couple of years are astounding.

I try to live with respect and tolerance for other people’s views and beliefs. It’s liberating. Negativity will only drag you down. So if you’re still reading, let me challenge you to something. No, not a vegan meal. Something else. For the next week, read your own social media posts, and listen to your comments. Before you write or speak, ask yourself: am I saying something positive about what I think, or am I saying something negative about someone else or what they think?

Don’t want to try it? Then don’t. It was just a thought. Meanwhile, I’ve got an order of Japanese Pan Fried Noodles on order with tofu and extra shiitake on the way. Thanks, Noodles and Company!

With love and respect and only a pinch of snark –
E.D.E. Bell
07 September 2014