The power of storytelling

I rarely do personal posts, but something in my recent interaction with my children, currently 3 and 5 years old, prompted me to write one.

I am a lousy disciplinarian. I don’t like to tell people what to do or to structure their time. In the case of my children, it leads to many lovingly spent hours where I tend to follow their whims and their moods, good or bad. I am sometimes able to reverse the bad (and I always enjoy the good), but I can’t stop wishing I was better at it and could do it successfully every time.

My daughter is generally a very nice, responsible child, but she has her bad moments every once in a while. During one of those, she told me and her baby brother that she wished we were just not there. Unwilling to let this go, I told her a story about a little girl who wished away her parents and her little brother, and then started missing them terribly but could not bring them back (of course, eventually, she did, and they all lived happily ever after). I was surprised how this story was met with captivated silence, as both children forgot their play and just sat there listening. When I was done, my daughter told me that she felt a little bit tearful, and that she would never say nasty things to us again.

A little while ago, my daughter was playing with a bowl of dirty water, and, predictably, toppled it over and spilled the water all over the floor. It was late, I was tired, so I snapped at her. In response, she told me a story about a little boy who was making bread with his mommy and dropped an egg, so that it cracked and made a mess all over the table. He was afraid that his mommy would get angry, but she only smiled and said “It’s OK.” She told me they read this story in a book at her day care, and she often wishes I would be like that mommy and don’t scold her for accidents or something she did not mean to do.

I felt exactly the way she did: tearful, and resolving never to scold her again. I apologized. And then, I thought of how much power stories have over us, serving as much more effective forms of discipline, and communication, than other words could ever be. It is said that one picture is worth a thousand words. In a way, one story is the same, it’s worth a thousand explanations.

I also thought of how the stories my daughter and I told to each other did it in different ways. My story reflected the reality as is. My daughter’s painted the reality as she wanted it to be. Both reached their targets, more efficiently than anything else we could have said at the time.

As a writer, I realize that every time I write, I am wielding this power of storytelling, one of the most ancient powers that can be ever put into words. I have the power to reflect and alter reality, make it good or bad, paint the visions others can relate to massively. Different visions reach different people, we all find the ones that work for us. When they work well, it can be a truly powerful feeling.

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READERCON 2014

I am attending Readercon this year, help in Burlington, MA from July 10 to July 13. Tomorrow I will appear on a panel on Russian Speculative Fiction, chaired by J. M. Sidorova, the author of the Age of Ice.

We have prepared an interesting overview of the Russian traditions in spec fic, starting with myth, folklore, and 19th century classics, and ending with post-Soviet era. If you are at Readercon, please drop me a note or stop by the panel, it should be fun!

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BLADES OF THE OLD EMPIRE on Amazon bestseller lists!

Thanks to yesterday’s Kindle Daily Deal, “Blades of the Old Empire” has the following sales ranks on Amazon right now:

Thanks to everyone who supported this promotion! I hope you enjoy the Blades, and its upcoming sequel “The Guild of Assassins”.

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BLADES OF THE OLD EMPIRE: today’s Kindle Daily Deal for $1.99

I am very excited to announce the one-day sale of BLADES OF THE OLD EMPIRE, discounted for today only to $1.99. This promotional sale comes just in time for the upcoming release of its sequel THE GUILD OF ASSASSINS in early August.

Check out the sale and other books of the Majat Code at:

 

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Sexual attraction, scents, and smells

I have recently seen some on-line discussions (including those of my books), questioning the use of scents and smells, especially in romantic fiction. This also came up more than once during some fiction workshops I was on, and I thought that overall it is an interesting topic to be discussed.

Scientific research shows that sexual attraction is actually to a large part driven by smells — usually not the overt kind that we can easily detect from a few feet away, but the more subtle kind, the chemical stimuli that we often don’t consciously register. These smells actually transmit a signal of genetic compatibility, since biologically sexual attraction is all about procreation and in the end the main reason for being attracted to a partner is the subtle sense that she/he will be the right parent for your offspring.

Some people are more sensitive to those smells than others. Those more sensitive people can actually distinguish the smells of human skin at a very close range, and those of attractive partners would resemble something pleasant, while others would not. This has nothing to do with the smells of sweat or unwashed body, but with those chemicals that signal compatibility.

I am one of those people overly sensitive to smells. Without going into any evocative examples, I always feel that my daughter’s skin smells of honey, while a guy I hated in college had a distinct smell of butter at a very close range (I hate butter, and please don’t ask me how I detected his smell so close :-). I have met people whose skin, to me, smells of fresh grass, sour milk, steel, tulips, musk, juniper, and violets — just to name a few. To me, these factored into my interaction with these people, even if some of those with less pleasant smells were still great as colleagues or conversation partners. My own skin has a distinct smell to me which I cannot name, but it is, fortunately, pleasant. I assume it is this way for most people, otherwise it would be very hard to live with yourself.

Scientific research suggests that even for those people who don’t feel such smells consciously, they still define, to some extent, the experience in their personal interactions. We sense smells even if we don’t know it, in the end these are just molecules floating through the air and landing on our receptors.

Being so keenly aware of smells, I cannot help using them as a tool in fiction. The romantic relationships I describe are often driven by those smells, and this is just part of a personal experience, nothing to do with perfume or exaggeration. I have seen it in at least one other case — in Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent”, where Rachel’s skin smells of fresh water. This immediately resonated with me when I read the book.

In my recently released “Blades of the Old Empire”, Kara and Mai are described through these smells by people who are romantically attracted to them. Kara’s skin smells of wild flowers, while Mai’s, to different people, smells of river water and pine. It is always interesting for me to see how some readers love it and others tend to comment on “how come she had a flower perfume on her when she should have smelled of nothing but sweat?” or “how come at this moment the air has been conveniently infused with pine?”. This, to me, reflects right there the extent of olfactory perception people experience in their every day life. And, by the way, different people’s sweat also smells very different, and it can be pleasant to some but not others.  In the end, it’s all in the nose of the beholder.

Writing to an audience always involves making these decisions, compromises between what you sense and what the majority of readers would likely relate to. My use of smells is, to an extent a conscious choice. I would be curious to see how many people can connect to this, and how many tend to discard it as an oddity or an exaggeration.

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THE MAJAT CODE: in thanks to everyone’s support for the series

Amidst the drama that has surrounded the release of the “Blades of the Old Empire” earlier this year, amidst the work on the next installments in the series, I had very little time to sit back and enjoy some of the readers’ reactions to the MAJAT CODE books. For an author, nothing compared to the gratification of finding like-minded readers, who not only love your book, but comment on the exact same things that I found the most enjoyable as I wrote.

I have been blessed with some of those, posted on Amazon and other venues over the past couple of months. I have been even more thrilled to see that my short story, MAJAT TESTING, written as a very short introduction to the world of the Majat Code and posted for free at all major on-line retail sites, is getting an even better response so far.

So, here is some thanks to all the people out there who are enjoying my books and have supported me during all these times by reviewing, tweeting, posting, sharing–and simply by reading!

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MISTRESS OF THE SOLSTICE wins an Independent Publishers Book Award

Last week I drove up to New York to receive my IPPY silver medal for “Mistress of the Solstice”. It was so much fun. I met a lot of authors and publishing professionals. And yes, the medal itself is very impressive and heavy. Wearing it for a day made me feel like an achiever.

Here are some pictures from the event:

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