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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Author Nisi Shawl, Everfair

It was a real treat to be joined by author Nisi Shawl, who spoke with us about her novel Everfair, which just came out on September 6th. I asked Nisi to tell us about the origins of the novel concept. She told us she was at World Fantasy Convention in 2009 and was placed on a Steampunk panel. She told us she'd always wondered why she didn't like Steampunk because it had many element she enjoyed, and she finally decided that she hated it because of the premise that all Empire is glorious, and colonialism is the way things ought to be. She said, "I wanted to make it better." So at the panel, she proposed to write a Steampunk novel set in the Belgian Congo.

Everfair is just that - a Steampunk alternate history set in the Belgian Congo. I said that didn't sound easy to do, and Nisi agreed it wasn't easy, but that was partly why she did it.

One of the challenges she described in researching the book was that because so many millions of people died, there was not a lot of material available on the indigenous experience in this region at that time. Nisi described wanting to be rigorous in her science. She asked questions like why dirigibles float and what is used for propulsion. She described herself as using science as an approach to the world in which you test how things work.

Much of her work is classed as Fantasy or Horror, but to her, there is less of a division with Science Fiction than most people perceive. Everfair includes a person who can project her consciousness into cats, and plays with the properties of gravity, etc. She compared her approach to the Memoirs of Lady Trent, and to Octavia Butler's Fledgling.

She told us that her research combined internet and print resources, with the internet serving as a scout.

She put a lot of emphasis on music and food. She says she likes to work with music playing in the background, in part to set up continuity between her writing sessions, so for this book she set up a Pandora station with music from Kenya, central Africa, and migrants in north Africa. She discovered that much had been carried over to Cuba and other regions.

She composed a national anthem for Everfair, the country in the story. It's a utopian experiment created by African American missionaries and European socialists who buy land from King Leopold of Belgium and set up a refuge. Naturally, there are tensions with indigenous people.

She did grapple with the magnitude of the project, but decided "I was the person who was going to be able to handle it." She says she would be very interested to hear perspectives on her story from people who are descendants of the survivors of this terrible time in history.

We talked about her use of multiple Point of View. She uses eleven viewpoint characters in this book, and says "That's a lot." When I asked her about how she constructed the voices of the characters, she told me that many of them were modeled on actual historical figures of the time, such as Colette, E. Nesbit, and George Bernard Shaw.

She told us about the character of "Tink," a man named Ho Lin Huang who had no precise real-world analog, but was inspired by historical accounts of King Leopold bringing in Chinese people to build a railroad between the coast and the navigable sections of the Congo river. At a certain point they had had enough of the poor treatment they received and struck out for China - and though they never made it there, you can still find Chinese cultural influence in areas of the Congo today.

I asked her how she tracked all of the various points of view and she said "with a legal pad and a pen." She tried to make sure everybody had their turn on the page. Everfair, the country itself, was the core backbone of the story rather than any single character.

We talked about layers of meaning in the story. Nisi said that back when she was a hippie, she was actually the least political. She told us her character Lisette du Tournier says, "If you don't talk about politics, you don't talk about anything." Politics is a viewpoint, one of the lenses through which to view the story. The visceral and the sensual provide another viewpoint, and the emotional still another. Having multiple points of view helps with triangulation on the part of the reader, where the reader can construct their own judgment based on witnessing the events in different ways through the different points of view.

The book covers a thirty-year period. This means sometimes the gap between points of view is a year, but other times it's just a few minutes.

Nisi said when she constructed the voices of each character, she tried to "imitate what their literary voices would have sounded like" in the text of the book (and this is evident from the very first page). Colette, she said, was easy because she could look directly at her writings. King Mwenda and Tink were filtered through European anthropologists' viewpoints and transcriptions of their voices. There were also some mashups, such as the character Rima Bailey, who was a mashup of Zora Neale Hurston and Josephine Baker. She didn't actually sound like Zora Neale Hurston, Nisi said, but like the voice of someone Zora Neale Hurston would have transcribed in her anthropological work.

The voices came to her pretty naturally, and she had help from her critique group to weed out anachronisms and anachronistic effects. The latter can occur when a word was actually used at the time, but is so heavily associated with aspects of our modern world in the head of a reader that it can throw them out of the narrative even though it would be appropriate. Managing reader expectations is a really important task here. There's also the question of culture: some things would be anachronistic for one culture, but not for another. Nisi said, "I have to be convincing" in how the cultures interact, so she also watched out for things that would be "against place" as well as "against time." A lot of cross-cultural interaction happened over prehistory and history.

In one scene, Nisi's character Daisy looks at a "repeater," which is an early Victorian pocket watch that chimed. She had to make sure distinguish it from the antenna of the same name. In another scene, the character Rima Bailey describes "kissing someone's kitchen," and Nisi chose not to explain that meaning of "kitchen," which is the back of the head between the neck and head. She says this is a sexualized area. If you aren't familiar with the term, then it may seem ungrounded, but if you are familiar with the term, the story in that spot will feel even more deeply grounded. On the basis of this, she chose not do explain, but just to support use of the term in context.

Nisi told us she was quite faithful to history in many places. Hives of bees attack invaders in the battle with France, just the way they did in real life. There was an actual British commander who wore women's clothing into battle; she has a character who does this. His choice meant different things to the Brits under his command, who saw it as eccentric, from what it meant to the indigenous people, who revered him for bucking gender norms.

Nisi says she has had many thoughts for a sequel since she finished the book, but because it covers thirty years, she says, "I can't do another thirty years." She's thinking about looking at other places in this world, and starting to write stories to help her explore. She's also looking at things like the struggle between sustainable and non-sustainable energy sources (petroleum vs. palm oil). There was a huge solar collector in the Egyptian desert between 1913 and 1916, but the British scrapped it for planes.

She imagines that a sequel would look at the worldwide struggle against imperialism, and that peoples across the globe would see the philosophy and structures of Everfair and be inspired to get rid of their oppressors.

Nisi mentioned that she had taken inspiration from Fordlandia when she was thinking about how to try to have happy things happen in the Congo. Fordlandia was a capitalist experiment focused on rubber manufacturing in South America, and there is a lot of documentation about it.

Nisi says she reads a lot of Victorian literature and was always attracted to the myths and legends of Africa.

We also spoke briefly about Writing the Other, a book which Nisi Shawl co-wrote with Cynthia Ward about how to write from the perspective of people who are not of your own demographic group. It's a hugely valuable resource that Nisi said also helped her to write characters in Everfair. She and Tempest K. Bradford will be teaching a live version of Writing the Other on November 6.

Thank you so much for joining us, Nisi! (Now I really have to go and buy Everfair!)


Saturday, October 22, 2016

A place, and a project, close to my heart (funded, with 60 hours to go!)

This is Capitola.
Specifically, it's a view from the top of Depot hill down into the Capitola Village, with just the tiniest peek of Capitola beach. Many people know this place from the perspective of tourists, but this is where I grew up. It's magical to me.
That's why I was really excited when Jason Batt approached me about writing a story for the anthology Strange California. It was the perfect opportunity for me finally to bring together aspects of my real life story with my work in speculative fiction.

As my setting, I chose Capitola and its yearly Begonia Festival. We used to go to it every year. We'd participate in the sand castle contest, and go see the Begonia parade on Soquel Creek. I always loved making big, serious sand castles (they were big and serious even when I was seven). I also loved watching the begonia floats move up and down the creek. One night, after the festival was over, one of the floats came unmoored and floated all the way up the creek to the back of our house. We were having a party with friends, and we all went down to the water and climbed onto it and took a ride before coming back home. My mom says I was about five years old. I just remember the float being SO BIG and still covered with so many flowers.

The protagonist of my story, "If It Were Meant to Last," is a bit older than I was, but she understands how magical these events are. And she gets sucked in. Sand, water and flowers are more than they seem. They are momentous and powerful.

In part because my story was so deeply emotional for me, and in part because I love my home state, this anthology means a lot to me. It's being funded right now on Kickstarter. We only have five days left, so please take a look and pass it on to your friends! My story appears alongside stories from some truly amazing authors like Seanan McGuire, Chaz Brenchley, Laura Anne Gilman, Christie Yant and Tim Pratt. I really want to see this made real, especially since the art will be done by the awesome Galen Dara.

Capitola will always be a part of me, and I really want to share it with you.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Charity vs. Justice

We tackled this topic first by talking about how charity is defined. Often it's defined within a religious context, but not always. It means kindness, and helping the less fortunate. It can mean donations of money, goods, or time. Volunteering is a form of charity in many cases.

One of the special features of charity is that it's kindness without the expectation of reward (other than spiritual). People are given tax deductions on charitable donations that can muddy the waters here, but in general, charity makes a far bigger benefit to the recipient than it does to you.

There are organizations whose mission is to perform charitable works. This is different from an individual doing acts of charity. Some charities gather used clothes or household objects and distribute them to the needy. Some, like Heifer international, use donations to provide animals to people around the world who could benefit from having those animals attached to their households. There are also organizations that allow you to personally sponsor individuals in other countries.

One of the big questions with charity is always "who do you help?" There is an element of individual choice involved, but then, how do you choose? What criteria do you use? Do you try to determine if people are worthy?

Is it because you have some kind of personal connection? Sometimes people support cancer charities because they know someone who is affected by the disease. Sometimes the connection comes through an institution like a church or a synagogue.

In a fictional world, what form does charity take?

In our society (modern US), there is a huge value placed on being able to care for yourself. How do you perceive your own opportunities? Do you consider the world just? Would you agree with the premise that what people have is what they deserve?

Foreign aid is often spoken about as charity, but it often comes with strings attached, requiring employment of US companies. The country exerts control over the recipients of the aid.

We then talked about when charity becomes problematic. Charity has a value; partaking of it can have requirements. The control involved is resented by some people. Colonialism and cultural hegemony can get involved. Sometimes you can't partake of charity unless you "are good." How is that good defined?

We talked about tzedakah, which translates as "justice." You are supposed to give a percentage of your crops or income to the less fortunate in your community.

The idea of community is really important here. The community itself has value, which means its members are inherently worthy of support. The question then becomes "who counts as a person"? What defines community membership?

What happens if people are suffering, but their suffering is invisible? This can easily happen because of distance or because of privilege, i.e. the ways in which we don't share experience with everyone around us. There is no way to be perfectly aware of all suffering. This can include elderly people who can't work, or disabled people.

We talked about equality of opportunity, and what that meant. I mentioned the comic of the baseball game:

If you look into it, you'll find a lot of variations on this image with different discussions of the issue. For one thing, this assumes the presence of the fence, and it also assumes that everyone wants to watch the baseball game. In real life, we don't know what everyone needs.

What are the basics for healthy community life? Roads, schools, electricity, water. We have seen in Flint, Michigan, how lead-poisoned water changes everything about the way that people lead their lives. The complexity of a civilization, and its culture, change what it perceives as necessary for the basics of community life.

What kind of charity is seen as most appropriate, or most righteous?
What is the basic minimum for participation in your society?

What happens when a person is "bad"? We have things in our society like the disenfranchisement of felons. If someone has committed a crime, do you strip them of rights? Is that just? How do you make sure innocent people aren't stripped of those rights?

What makes a worthy member of the community?

We also asked, "Is health care a basic right within a community?" Is the burden of health care on the individual or on the community? If a person has a broken leg, that might appear to be individual because it doesn't affect very much about other community members. However, if a person has measles or any other contagious disease, other members of the community are definitely affected. We can also think about how a person's injury/illness affects the people in their web of normal daily interaction.

How do you establish the rules of a community? Religious prescriptions are one way.

I found this article interesting, about the amazing independence of Japanese children. What is going on here is not so much self-reliance, though, as the basic assumption that a child can rely on the community to keep them from running into trouble.

People depend on one another even in a world like Mad Max.

Evolution has many examples where the existence and behavior of a group allows evolutionary success even though the individual wouldn't necessarily have that same success. (Ants, for example).

We referenced our earlier hangout on Corruption, because any kind of system can suffer abuses, and charitable systems are no different. There are charities who don't give all their money to charity. There are individuals who abuse charitable relationships. There are people who game the system to get more aid than they need. In these cases we have to take a look at how abuses fit into the larger life of the community and how the problems with these abuses balance with the larger achievements of the charitable system.

Thank you for a fascinating discussion!


Wednesday, October 19, 2016


We had a good discussion of hair. Sometimes hair is thought of as a simple thing. Do you have short or long hair? Hair is our personal style choice... but it's also more than that. It's a form of self-representation on both the personal and cultural levels, and as such, has a lot of complications.

Take for example the question of short vs. long hair. This is complex because it's associated with gender roles (long=feminine, short=masculine) and sometimes with religions (like Sikhism where people don't ever cut their hair). Starting with the gender question, you have cases like that of Felicia Day, who was attacked online after she got her hair cut short. Some people clearly think that short hair implies a rejection of men, and some go on to feel that women should be punished for such rejection (assuming of course that it actually is rejection and not just a personal choice). We do talk about some kinds of short haircuts as "butch," implying that they are short and masculine. Our gender presentation is an important part of our personal identities. For men there was the question of the military haircut vs. the Beatles haircut, which started out as quite scandalous even before the Beatles grew their hair all the way out long.

There's also the question of lack of hair. There is an entire industry based around bald-shaming. Patrick Stewart has spoken about how difficult it was for him to accept his baldness, which came on in his teens.

When my family went to Colonial Williamsburg, we encountered the role-players who spoke to us of very different attitudes about hair - in particular, shaving all your hair off so you could wear a wig. In the late 17th century, wigs were super-fashionable. If you were a girl, whether and when you shaved your hair for a wig was up to your father. Brian noted that in the UK, judges wear wigs, and it's a holdover from this era. Barristers sometimes wear the wigs in crown court. Class is definitely a factor involved in the decision.

In America, wigs can be worn for fashion or they can often be worn when people have lost their hair due to cancer treatment. There is definitely a baldness-acceptance narrative around chemotherapy, which is different from, but has some parallels to, the question of baldness as it's dealt with by men. In general, women who lose hair or who have thinning hair get much more shame and trouble for it.  In many cultures, a woman's hair is considered her crowning glory (in the context of male gaze!) That is connected with the idea of covering hair as modesty in certain religions.

Essentially, there are a lot of critical things at stake on our hair: personal identity, cultural identity, virility, attractiveness, and social standing.

Geisha have very specific hairstyles that are held over from the Edo era in Japan. These are not the same as Japanese hairstyles from the Heian period, when it was the fashion for noble women and their attendants to have hair that flowed all the way beyond their feet. It was also important in this time period to wash your hair on an auspicious day.

Sikhs are not the only group that doesn't cut hair. For them it's a religious observance. Some Native American groups don't cut their hair either.

Some hairstyles have to do with professions. The tonsure is a haircut associated with the historical identity of Catholic monks. The topknot began as a hairstyle of samurai in Japan, but is still worn by sumo wrestlers.

Different kinds of hair have different properties and can be styled in different ways. I mentioned the film Kirikou et la Sorcière because it portrays a community in Africa with a wide variety of hairstyles uncommon to straight-haired populations. Another story where hair has a special role is Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, which just won the Hugo for best novella.

Hair can be high-stakes as a result of racism. Black people have sometimes been suspended from school or fired from a job because of wearing dreadlocks (there is an ongoing court case about this right now). There is huge pressure for Black women to straighten their hair in order to look orderly or "professional," but it's a double-standard trap. The hair becomes an excuse to enact racism. Words like "messy" or "inappropriate" can hide underlying racist motives.

I mentioned using hair in a couple of my works - first as a social distinction between aliens in Cold Words, and also as evidence of personal conflict in my novel.

In fiction, hair can be critical to your character.

Different genres can have more or less tolerance of description of things like hair and clothes. This is related to gender bias.

In the military and police, there is starting (gradually) to be more acceptance of different culturally based hairstyles.

Beards have become an issue in the Israeli Defense Forces because ultra-orthodox beards are permitted, but beards are not permitted except in that specific population.

Hair does not have to be a major plot point in order to be used to advantage in your fiction.

Thanks to everyone who attended! 


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Invasive Species

Invasive species are species that travel, come into a new ecosystem, overly thrive and then damage the other ecosystem. We don't apply the term to species that travel and fail. Examples include rabbits in Australia, cats on islands who kill birds, goats, rats, and snakes, all of which have caused damage.

We did note that humans are the most invasive species at all. We are often the ones who bring damaging species into an ecosystem as we travel.

Sometimes invasive species are introduced purposely but have unintended consequences, as when cane toads were brought to Australia in an attempt to control the bugs in the sugar cane fields.

There are other instances when the travel of species is not considered a problem. I mentioned the Columbian Exchange, which caused potatoes, tomatoes, and cocoa to spread outside of the Americas, and diversified food without causing huge disasters.

Plants can be invasive. Kudzu vines, bamboo, and pampas grass are examples of problem plants. Eucalyptus trees were brought to America because they grew fast and people hoped to use them to make railroad ties, but they brought a soft-wood species rather than a hard-wood species. Now those trees are all over... but are generally not thought of as damaging.

When you bring a foreign plant into a new ecosystem you can get the "silent forest effect," which is where none of the local insects or birds are able to interact with the foreign species and so the ecosystem's diversity becomes suppressed. This has happened sometimes when forest-planting charities have planted non-suitable trees.

We asked, "Would we survive on another planet? Would our crops interact well with bacteria and fungi?" I mentioned the case of Chris McCandless, who was poisoned when he ate the wrong kind of grain in the wilderness of Alaska. Che suggested that we might not survive unless we terraformed from the ground up.

Whales eat krill which in turn eat phytoplankton, but if you try to remove whales from the web so you can use the krill yourself, you forget what the phytoplankton survive on, which is the fecal plumes of the whales.

Sometimes we don't realize what impact a species can have on its ecosystem, and only discover it later after it has been lost and then reintroduced, like wolves in Yellowstone. What would happen if beavers returned to California?

What if a species on another planet died out but could somehow be replaced by a species from our planet?

What if you introduce something invasive accidentally - should you bring something else to keep it under control? What kind of trouble would that creature cause? What kind of research might prevent the problems?

Two stories that deal with these questions are "Contaminated" by Jay Werkheiser (Analog) and the novel Archangel by Marguerite Reed.

As a group, we had seen instances of invasive species less often in fantasy in science fiction, though the phenomenon happened as soon as sailors would start landing on islands with things like goats that endanger tortoises, rats that endanger insect or bird species, etc.

The water buffalo is an invasive species in Australia. Australia has many examples of harmful invasive species in part because it is a (large) island that separated off from the other continents very early. People who traveled did so without any concern for people already living there, and even less for animals already living there.

In my current novella, I'm working with a transplanted species called haali (a flower bush), but it is not invasive, needing tending in order to survive. I mentioned how when I was weeding in my yard over this winter and spring, I left some areas wild in order to preserve the insect population of the yard. Morgan said she had deer in her yard!

There are wild parrots in Britain (more invasive) and a flock of parrots in SF that seems relatively stable. They affect the grape harvests.

Mint will take over your yard. Blackberries are a scourge from Northern California up into the Pacific Northwest, and gorse is a problem in Oregon.

We imagined what it would be like from a dragon's perspective, seeing humans as an invasive species. We also wondered what ecological effects would have cascaded from the genetic engineering of fire lizards into dragons on Pern.

If you took invasive species into fantasy, they might cause change in magic systems as well as physical ecology.

We saw invasive buzzy cute critters in My Little Pony. There were also green Smurfs.

Morgan suggested that it would be interesting to consider the introduction of magical species where there was no magic, which made me think if the changes in Jeffe Kennedy's novel world. You could easily see a magical imbalance grow out of that.

Thank you to everyone who attended! Next week, on October 19th, we'll be discussing Social Class and its values. Our next guest, Marshall Ryan Maresca, will be joining us on November 9th to talk about his latest novel. More on that soon!


Monday, October 3, 2016

Author Carrie Cuinn, Semiotics, and Worldbuilding without Visual Imagination

Author Carrie Cuinn joined us for a fascinating discussion. What would worldbuilding be like if a writer had no visual imagination? Carrie described to us how she had perceived herself as quirky adn different from everyone else, but only later realized she had a condition called aphantasia, which means she has no visual imagination. She is in fact participating in a study at the University of Exeter on this very subject. It's a more common condition than you might think.

So what are writing, and reading, about if you can't visualize? They are about meaning rather than images - and that brings us to the study of semiotics. Carrie notes that we should not trust Dan Brown to inform us on the subject. It's actually a school of philosophy, and one of her favorite sources is in fact Umberto Eco. Essentially, there is a language of iconography, which is how you put images and objects together.

Carrie introduces this concept by talking about Renaissance paintings. If such paintings featured small dogs, that would mean loyalty, for example. There was a deliberate symbolic significance to the inclusion of this image. She also encouraged us to think about the various features we associate with US images of the Virgin Mary, who is an icon archetype. It's about more than these simpler associations, however. The clothes (or hats) someone wears have meaning, etc.

Semiotics is culturally constructed and contextually based.

Often, Carrie says, people will write a story and give a person clothes or food but not think through the subtext.

Even the significance of an action like wearing a kimono to school will be vastly different depending on where the person lives, what kind of event (or not) she's attending, and what year it is.

When you're working in a secondary world, you have to consider two layers of semiotics: the secondary world semiotics, which are internally referential, and the real-world semiotics that the reader will be inclined to detect.

Ask yourself is something you include is appropriate to the context. Make sure you have knowledge about that context. Make sure you are saying what you intend to say.

Writing without visual imagination depends on you knowing the properties of an object, which you can do without seeing it with eyes closed.

Carrie says she only rarely describes people. She told us about a story she'd written where an editor asked her why the protagonist was a white male when everyone around her was a person of color. In fact, Carrie had written this character as a person of color appropriate to the context, but because she hadn't described the protagonist, the editor had filled in the identity of that protagonist with the cultural default. Internal point of view can remove you from the visuals of a character [my note: avoid mirror scenes!] quite a bit, but certain kinds of cues are needed by certain readers.

Carrie feels that with skin color, either none of it matters or it all matters - that we should describe light and dark colors with equal frequency. In context, objects and clothes also become very important. Carrie says she creates the semiotics of the secondary world, but if it runs counter to the defaults of our own world, she makes sure to explain it. She also told us about a workshop she was part of where a student had submitted a flash story involving the arrangement of dinner forks (fish, meat, vs. salad forks). Some people who read the story didn't look up the manners and rules surrounding the placement of silverware. They could enjoy the story, but those who took the time to look up those rules got more out of the story.

Carrie wrote a story where a weird owl appears - it's got long stork legs and a crown. In fact, it's a demon called stolas, who is a prince of Hell and has special knowledge in science and astronomy. She leaves it there as an Easter eggs. She says she leaves Easter eggs like this "in everything I've ever written."

Much of our knowledge - of symbolism, etc - is subconscious.

Carrie said when she watches movies it feels "like two people are speaking at the same time" because of the explicit messages of the dialogue and the implicit messages of the imagery. When she edits, she catches extra layers of mean (intentional or unintentional).

You may catch a lot subconsciously from a painting that comes from a familiar culture, like the French painting of freedom, but critics at the time had explicit knowledge of the significance of particular details of appearance, clothing, who is present, physical position, etc. in such a painting.

The more distant you are from the origins of an image, the more you will be inclined to overlay the meanings taught by your modern culture onto it. People who "discovered" Troy or Stonehenge did just this. The discoverers of Egyptian tombs didn't understand what they were seeing. They thought "Oh, how primitive," and only later did they realize this was language and culture from a different time period.

When you see ruins (in a story, a movie, or in life) you have history in front of you. You may not immediately know what it means, or which room was the kitchen, or what you did there. It's useful, as in Tolkien, if you have a three thousand year old person who knows exactly what it meant.

Carrie feels that food needs to be more of a quest, because people have historically done a lot of work to procure food. She also notes that if you find shells eighty  miles from the seashore, they may not have special significance, but may have hopped there via normal trade routes.

It's interesting to write a story where the reader knows the meaning of the symbols but the characters don't. That includes stories like Planet of the Apes, or The White Mountains, or anything containing ruins of things from our own time. (Of course, there are many other options, too).

You can apply archaeology to almost anything, even if it's relatively modern. Carrie told us about a dig that took place in Vinland, New Jersey on the old location of Welch's Grape Juice factory. Just a couple of things they learned were that the kitchen wasn't attached to the house, and that trash was buried in the back yard.

Carrie says she loves to yell at the show Ancient Aliens, because it's a great example of people overlaying their own interpretation of context and applying it. The people on the show ignore scholarly writings about the meaning of the things they are seeing, and just make things up. This is one reason to be very careful about research if you are, say, a white person from Chicago trying to write a story about ancient India!

Carrie pays attention to how people dress on the news, or on reality shows. Clothes can give hints about genre and character. She says in the genre of noir, a woman wearing a tight dress and sensible shoes is usually a secretary, while a woman with a tight dress and non-sensible shoes is usually a femme fatale.

Sometimes the people of a region will turn some important symbolic landmark into a tourist thing to attract money to the region. So a show like Ancient Aliens can help a region because they can help get the message out that the government needs to recognize the importance of a particular site.

Carrie has some semiotics-related links on her blog, as for example a semiotics primer for writers, part 1, and a semiotics primer for writers, part 2.

Consistency is important. The rules are yours, and if you know what things mean, your readers will start to pick up that meaning. The hard part is to figure out why it means this to you. It's a good idea to study a place, to talk to people in that place, and to read about the place. Write a draft, she says, and then edit it. Find knowledgeable friends and then listen to their advice. Carrie says, "If you mean to be offensive, own it," but if you hear from a friend that something you've written has an offensive meaning and that is not your intent, then change it.

Everything relies on context, and each person's context is different.

This is one of the reasons that academic writing dedicates time and words to defining the terms that they will use. It gives them a chance to refer back to the context of the meaning and try to establish shared context.

Every person who will read your story is from 1 to 6 degrees of separation away from our context.

One reason it's easy to offend people is because you don't know what you're saying. Watch international movies made by local people, she suggests. She recommends the first season of Cleverman.

Go through your manuscript and look for anything visual (there will be a lot!). Each one is an opportunity. Characters will react to those things, adding judgment to the situation.

Carrie, thank you so much for visiting the show to share your experiences and insights!