Who is this, really?

For a long time I've had a bio here that was, essentially, the biography of my TBP character with various aspects of myself added in. This made it rather difficult for people visiting my site to find out about Raven, the author, as opposed to Raven, the character.

So, who am I in real life?

Schooling & Career Goals. I was born in Rochester, Michigan on May 19th, 1979. My sole brother would be born three and a half years later. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, in a large-ish house on 1.5 acres of partially wooded land. I attended a Montessori school during first and second grade and was home-schooled from third grade through high school, graduating with a degree from the Clonlara School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I attended college locally -- two years of community college followed by three years at Oakland University in Rochester. I majored in Biochemistry, minored in Spanish, and graduated in December 2000.

In September 2001 I moved to Santa Cruz, California, where I joined the masters program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California - Santa Cruz (UCSC). My first day in town was actually September 11th, which should give you an idea of how big a transition that was in my life. I took classes, did research, TAed courses, and finally defended my masters thesis on September 10th, 2004, almost three years to the day after my arrival. My research focused on water conservation strategies during fasting in Northern elephant seals -- I realize that probably sounds incredibly weird and obscure, but it was one of the best experiences of my life, and we learned some cool things about what mammals are capable of in the struggle to deal with extreme environmental challenges. In October 2006 the Journal of Experimental Biology published a paper I had written based on that research, finally confirming my identity as a "real" scientist.

On September 15th, 2004, I left Santa Cruz and returned to my hometown in Michigan. I have spent the last few years paying off debts and saving money while simultaneously trying to get back into grad school for my PhD -- a process made more difficult by the shortage of funding that is currently available for scientific research. I was turned down by Stanford in 2005 because my prospective professor was nearing retirement and had decided not to take on any new students. I was nearly accepted to the University of Maine for fall 2006, but the funding fell through and the professor I had been hoping to work with was not able to bring on any new students. I am currently seeking re-admission to UCSC, where a professor I once TAed for is now hoping to start a very cool-looking new project on neuroglobin in dolphins. If the pilot project goes well, I hope to begin my PhD program in her lab in Fall 2007.

My eventual goal is to become a tenured professor of biology at a major university, balancing my interests in research and teaching. I love marine mammals and want to find out more about how their bodies are able to do what they do, and how they deal with the unique challenges of being an air-breathing, terrestrially-derived critter living in a marine environment.

Religion & Philosophy. I consider myself both a scientist and a mystic. I make my living putting things in boxes, giving order to our understanding of the world, and uncovering more of the inner workings of creation. At the same time, though, my heart longs to experience things that shatter my orderly perceptions and transcend logic, things that remind me that we can't know everything. I have a deep hunger to experience God's presence on a personal level, and much of my daily life is focused on building an individual relationship with Him. My spiritual journey is perpetually being revised, reevaluated, and subjected to experimentation, but I think that's pretty normal for anyone trying to grasp the transcendent perfection of divinity.

While I am a mystic, I am a thoroughly Christian one. I have had personal, transcendent encounters with God, and I firmly believe that Jesus Christ is God in human form, who came to Earth and let himself be killed so that we imperfect beings could be transformed and embraced into perfection. I don't accept a lot of the traditions of the modern, present-day church, and I am constantly reexamining what I believe and what I practice to see if it matches up with my understanding of who God is and what He wants from humanity -- but the Bible is always the last word on the subject, as far as I'm concerned. I think that other religions and other cultures have understood aspects of God and spirituality that the modern church is missing out on, and I'm open to embracing some of those things -- but only after they've been filtered through my own understanding of the Bible. I may be a postmodern Christian mystic, but I'm not a pluralist.

Politically, I've come to consider myself a Libertarian. Unlike many Christians, I don't think it's our place to use the law to impose our moral views on the rest of society, though we within the Church must be consistent in obeying our own moral code. I do not believe it is the place of government to protect people from themselves; if something involves only consenting adults, and does not endanger anyone else's life, liberty or property, the government should leave it alone. As such, I support civil unions for gay couples, and don't really even have much issue with them calling it marriage. I don't think that gay relationships fit the ideal pattern that God established for human sexuality, and I think that many aspects of the gay subculture promote behavior that is risky and destructive (particularly among gay men), but I don't think it's my business to interfere in their right to hold property in common. I also think that there are other things people do -- such as adultery -- that are potentially much worse for them than being in a stable, committed relationship with a gay partner, and on the whole I think Christians spend way too much time being outraged about this subject when we should just be loving people.

This is one of the reasons why some of the protagonists in my stories are gay or bisexual: I believe it's important for my fellow Christians to see sympathetic portrayals of gay and bisexual characters and to understand that they are people, no better or worse than anyone else. I think that the homophobia that permeates Christian society persists because so many believers refuse to read, watch or listen to anything involving gay characters, even if the story is not attempting to preach at the audience or push an "agenda." We need to not be afraid of seeing such characters represented, even if we disagree with their choices about how they live their lives. As for my stories, I never make a character gay just for the sake of "diversity;" if it's in there, it's because it fits the character and the story, and neither one would be quite right without it. If you can't understand that, you don't understand what it means to write fiction.

Getting back to the politics, here's a bit of encouragement for my more conservative readers: I do believe that human life is sacred and must be protected. Because of this, I am anti-abortion; I do not believe that the mother's right to choose outweighs the child's right to live. That having been said, I am a realist, and I understand that abortion cannot be done away with entirely until people's hearts are changed. (My hope is that the increased availability of emergency contraceptives will soon bring us to the point where unwanted pregnancies can be prevented and abortion doesn't even have to be considered.) I am opposed to "assisted suicide" (read: euthanasia) for the same reason: I believe it diminishes respect for life and dishonors something that is sacred. While I support the principle of the death penalty in cases of murder, I oppose it in practice, because I do not believe that human justice systems are reliable enough to ensure that only the guilty will be killed. I also believe that life imprisonment gives more opportunities for people to repent from their evil acts and seek God's forgiveness. (It's also a lot cheaper than execution, when you factor in all of the additional appeals that take place when a death sentence is involved.)

Writing. I've been writing or telling stories for about as long as I can remember. I joined a story contest at my school in first and second grade, dictating my stories to a helper who typed them out for me. During my home-schooling years, I wrote a number of stories, first by hand on looseleaf paper and later on a series of word processing programs. Most of what I wrote was, to put it charitably, junk, but it was all part of the process of growing as a writer.

It was also during this time that I developed my interest in transformation as a literary device. Between 1993 and 1995 I wrote a story called Wolfsong, in which a woman in a near-future world was given the ability to change into a wolf by a mysterious piece of mad-scientist technology that had been abandoned in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. There were a lot of things about the story that were amateurish and made no sense whatsoever, but by the time I finished the story I really felt like my skills as a writer had improved enough that I could tell a really good story, and tell it well enough to make it worth reading. All I needed at that point was an idea.

In 1996 I came up with my Big Idea, a five-part science fiction arc focusing on a race of shapeshifting humanoid aliens who had tasked themselves with protecting Earth from outside threats. Between 1996 and 1998 I wrote the first two novellas in this series and plotted out and began writing the third. Ultimately, however, I had too many disparate ideas that were trying to make themselves part of this story, and some of these components didn't really mesh well with each other. I also felt that, while my narrative was pretty good, my characterization was decidedly lacking. I felt like I needed more practice in developing well-rounded, interesting and distinctive characters before I could really do my story justice. The Big Idea went on the shelf, where it remains to this day.

In 1997 I discovered the Transformation Story Archive and the TSA-Talk writers' list. I was amazed that there were so many other people who were interested in transformation fiction, and I quickly immersed myself in stories from such shared universes as Tales From the Blind Pig. I decided that this was a perfect opportunity for me to work on characterization, since I wouldn't have to build an entire setting or an elaborate story arc. I developed my intro character, the eponymous Raven Blackmane, and began writing short stories in the TBP setting. TBP was largely "mature" at that point, however, and it seemed that my character would have little opportunity to be involved in any major events within the setting.

In 1998 Copernicus introduced Metamor Keep, and this time I got in on the ground floor. Raven hin'Elric was a powerful, important figure in the Keep, one I knew I could count on other people wanting to use. It wasn't until Charles Matthias introduced Christianity into the setting, though, that I realized what I could do with this character. A story arc quickly took shape in my mind, which would eventually become The Starchild Prophecy, and I started writing intensely. And so, almost by accident, I found myself doing in-depth character-work, and elaborate plot arcs, and extensive world-building.

And that's the point where I finally decided that I had all the skills in place to really be a good writer. Not that I think there's nothing left to learn -- not by a long shot -- but at this point, I really think I could do a novel that's at least as good as a lot of stuff that's in print.

For now, though, short stories are what's capturing my interest, and so that's what I'm writing. I'm not doing this to make money, or to be famous; I'm doing it because I love it. I love the characters, I love the stories, and I love it when other people enjoy what I've written. The only things that are really better about in-print publishing, to my mind, are the broader circulation and the impression of professionalism it puts in people's minds. Unless the way we distribute fiction changes dramatically, people are always going to take a published author more seriously than one who puts all her work out on the Internet for free. Well, so be it. I do hope to get in print someday, but it's not the be-all and end-all of my existence; what really matters to me is that people see my stories and have fun reading them. If that's you, then welcome -- and do me a favor, okay? Spread the word. :)

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