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March 2012 Author of the Month

M.C.R. Hogarth featured story The Aphorisms of Kherishdar

Daughter of two Cuban political exiles, M.C.A. Hogarth was born a foreigner in the American melting pot and has had a fascination for the gaps in cultures and the bridges that span them ever since. She has been many thingsweb database architect, product manager, technical writer and massage therapistbut is currently a full-time parent, artist, writer and anthropologist to aliens, both human and otherwise.

Her fiction has variously been recommended for a Nebula, a finalist for the Spectrum, placed on the secondary Tiptree reading list and chosen for two best-of anthologies; her art has appeared in RPGs, magazines and on book covers.

Her current focus is new business models for artists and independent marketing and distribution innovations. Its an exciting time to be working in the arts, with expanding choices for creative professionals willing to capitalize on those opportunities! Her first crowdfunded fiction project kicked off in 2004 before the word was even coined. M.C.A. has experimented with everything from choose-your-own-adventure style serials online to kickstarting creative projects and is looking forward to future experiments in using technology to bring art directly to the audience.

For the Ai-Naidar, a species of slim, gracile aliens, caste and tradition are not the shackles that imprison the spirit but the silences that make sense of the music of their lives. The Aphorisms of Kherishdar collects 25 short tales about what it is to have an Ai-Naidari soul: to find comfort in tradition, law and structure; to revere interdependence over individualism; to know one's place... to always have one

ishan [ ee SHAWN ], (noun) . appreciation of fullness of a thing's span, from its inception to its ending; implies that it is worthy at every moment of its existence, and acknowledges that it is different in the beginning from how it is at its peak and how it is at its end, and that this too is part of its worth.

The honeyed light of early spring glowed on the cream stone of the library. I entered the round building through the great arch and into cool brown shadows and intimate spaces scented with paper and leather and ink, an incense headier than a temple's. Near the threshold I was greeted by a slim Ai-Naidari whose robes served to anchor him; he was old enough to seem ethereal, the thin velvet of his pelt worn almost to translucence.

"Seeking inspiration, Calligrapher?" he asked in the grammar of caste-equals.

Though we were both public servants, I bowed to him, in veneration for his wisdom and our long and enigmatic association. We had known one another from before my elevation to the public servant caste, when I found myself so drawn to the words and arts of other Ai-Naidar that I would make pilgrimages here from the country, where my family dwelt. "As always, Librarian."

He studied me with pale lavender eyes and then laughed. "Go you to the insights of others, then."

And so I lost myself in the shelves, in the scrolls and pages and parchments and maps, for to be a calligrapher is not solely to paint words beautifully, but also to choose beautiful words. I brought a stack to the garden in the center of the library, to the sunlight and the delicate flower buds and the benches and tables there. I read as the light blanched, until the shadows of the graceful arcs of the trees crossed my spine... and still, I wrote nothing in my notebook, no basis for a new aphorism, no new thought on what it was to be who we are.

As I closed the last book, the Librarian took form from the light. "No food for the spirit, then?"

I shook my head. "Not today."

He smiled. "The day is young yet. The temple of Shemena is having a dance of veils and blossoms."

I glanced at him.

"I'll reshelve the books," he said.

So I walked the gold streets of the capital to the temple of the Maiden in the burnished light of a spring afternoon, and there I found the priests dancing with the adolescents who would soon be adults. And I laughed at their delight, and let the priests coax me into spreading the flower petals, and learned something there surrounded in the gaiety of youth, just as I had in the library at the hands of the clear sight of age.

I went back to my studio then in the blue light of evening; made a tea from tender leaves. I remembered the sight of the coral-colored petals strewn on the blond stone of the temple stairs, softer than new skin and yet already browning at the edges. And I found my pen in my hand.

Wisdom begins in full living.

interviewed by Kero

Do you have any suggestions for people that get writer's block? What do you do to overcome it?

There are a lot of ways of dealing with block, and at one time or another in my life I might have said "practice," or "keep lists of ideas for when you've run out of them." These days I suspect my answer is less concrete. When I run into writer's block, it's usually a sign that this isn't the right story for me at the right time. It might later be the right story--the novel I just finished was one I started two years earlier and set aside--but it's not the story now.

Now is important. There is something Right Now that you are passionate about--passionately terrifed of, passionately in love with, passionately angry at--and that's the thing you should be writing about. Nowadays when I don't want to write, I suspect that the thing I'm passionate about is frightening me into avoidance. So with some gentleness and understanding, I have to remind myself that being frightened is okay, and try to work past it to get to the thing that Now wants me to deal with. And if the thing that's frightening me is legitimately too much for me that day, then Now and I agree to work on other things that might prepare me for it.

I make a pact with Now, that I will come back to what it wants if I can't handle it at the time. That seems to work well for me.

I know how writing can be very personal to some people. Have you shown your work to friends or family? If not, have you thought about showing it to them? If you have, what was their reactions and was it hard for you to let them read your work?

For the most part, I neither hide my writing nor try to push it in front of family and friends. A lot of what I write is niche work: aliens with strange biology/cultures, odd takes on Christianity, military science fiction told in weird formats, etc. I accept that what I do isn't everyone's cup of tea, including my family's. In a way that was useful; it taught me early that art is subjective, and that people can still think you're a fine person and not like what you do. They can even like some of what you do but not all of it, and that's not a reflection on you, but on the fact that everyone has different tastes.

How did you decide what words would mean? Did you use root words, or did you make all of it up?

Ah, in the Kherishdar books, I'm assuming? I have made a lot of constructed languages in various settings; they're a by-product of the process of creating the culture and I like to make aliens. The Ai-Naidar's language is certainly the best developed, though, so the answer to whether there are root words is "sometimes." Just like in real languages, some words are built up from bits, others come out of nowhere, and some are made by jamming existing words together... it's a bit of a dice roll...! But if you mean are any of them taking from root words in human languages, and the answer to that is no (or at least, not intentionally. I know a couple of languages well enough to converse and have a smattering of vocabulary in a bunch more, so there's no accounting for subconscious associations..!).

What's your favorite word? Is that your favorite chapter?

Oh, hmm, yikes. Not an easy question to answer! It would be hard to choose (and interestingly, I find the chapters I'm fondest of in the text and the chapters I'm fondest of in the audiobook are different! The narration makes a big difference!). I guess, for words, I like ajzelin; I like the meaning, and it's fun to say, and later on in the novel-length sequel (Black Blossom, which follows The Admonishments and The Aphorisms) I get to talk a great deal about what it means to be ajzelin, touch-beloveds. But for story, it's probably hard to top the last chapter. I have a fondness for happy endings.

What do you think is the most important thing to say that hasn't been said yet? It could be related to the writing process, the story, advice, or just something that you want to say. Anything.

Be patient with yourself. I think when writers decide to take their work seriously they throw themselves into the practicalities: be disciplined. Execute this many words a day. Be brief. Learn structure. Avoid cliches. Write this certain way. It's important to learn the craft. But writing is not craft. Craft is the tool that allows you to write without getting in your own way. What you are expressing and how it wins free of you, that is the art your craft serves. Don't punish yourself when the art doesn't respond to the habits you've learned to become a competent craftsperson.

Practice, of course. Get good. Do it so you won't frustrate yourself, trying to say something and not being able to get it right. But at some point, trust yourself and those skills you've worked to earn, and learn to listen to what's moving inside you. If something whispers 'don't write today, you need to think,' honor that voice. If something says 'not this project, but this one,' listen. If something says, 'but that's not how it's supposed to go,' then ask why instead of insisting it must.

Writing is a joy and a shattering, a quest and a learning experience. Be open to its irregularities. Life doesn't come neatly packaged, a thousand words a day.

What was the hardest part The Aphorisms of Kherishdar to write? The most fun? Your favorite?

The hardest part was definitely writing to a word count. I like to write long; left to their own devices, my stories are novella-length at the shortest. But I wanted each of the Aphorisms to be 500 words or less: that's two paperback pages! I'd been working as a technical writer for half a year at that point, and I found that background helpful; when you only have six words to make a tool-tip work, you learn the power of brevity. I think of all the projects I've done in the fifteenish years I've been writing professionally, The Aphorisms (and later its companion, The Admonishments of Kherishdar) taught me the most about how to make every word count.

Appropriately, it was a little like a prose form of haiku, one of the few poetic forms I enjoy writing.

The most fun, the most favorite... hard to say! I enjoyed all of it. Exploring the words and the culture, describing the calligraphy works themselves, when it was appropriate... but you know, I think my secret favorite part was talking about the food. I didn't do it often, but I liked describing the food...!

What book or author has influenced your life? Your writing style?

This is not an easy question to answer; I read broadly and wherever and whatever I can find, nonfiction, fiction, classics, books in translation, new and hot things, things in genre, things out of genre, indie and mainstream... I remember reading Clausewitz for my military science fiction novels, which got me some odd looks in coffee shops! If I'm going to be writing a project with a specific flavor, I try to find books that will put me in that headspace; for instance, I read Sherlock Holmes and Sector General while writing my xenopsych case studies and now I'm reading urban fantasy to prepare for my latest serial, The Faerie Farmer.

When writing the Aphorisms, I had some divergent influences; one, a book of Tibetan wisdom tales I read on the heels of a class on Buddhism, over a decade ago (ouch, where does the time go!); and the other, the Anne of Green Gables series. The first for the sense of the format, and the latter for the pastoral feel. There's no real conflict in The Aphorisms of Kherishdar; it's all slice of life. It just happens to be an alien slice.

What helps you write? Do you listen to any music or go to a quiet place while you write?

I don't listen to music while I work, since I find that I start writing to the cadence of whatever I'm listening to. Most of my stories have a "voice" that I'm trying to write to--the Calligrapher's, for instance, was heavy on mid-sentence pauses, rather like this one!--so I don't want anything subconsciously directing the rhythm. The more I write, the more I pay attention to rhythm; there have been pages I've rewritten because I wanted to make sure the reader paused in the right place before moving to the next thought.

I do listen to music between writing sessions, though, and in that way a lot of what I do has a mental soundtrack.

Otherwise, I try not to let my environment influence me. I don't have a schedule that permits me to decree "this is when and where I'll write" so getting too used to any one thing would be counter-productive. If I have to write in a noisy coffee shop, I do that. If I have to write at home, standing up; at a cold and empty clubhouse; at night, during the day, when I'm half-drunk with fatigue... whenever I have time and it's the right time, that's when I write.

And this isn't really a question, but I'd like to say that I think the term the Ai-Naidar use for these stories is quite fitting. The Ai-Naidar call stories of this length and type fil ekain, or "incense stories," since, as a small stick of incense can perfume an entire house, these stories are short but linger. I wanted to commend you on that, and let you know that these stories did linger for me.

Thank you. Creating that kind of cultural detail is definitely part of the pleasure of writing Kherishdar.

Resistance Fun