Friday, December 30, 2011

Living Now With Cancer

From my dear friend, Bonnie Stockman, as she faces her third recurrence of ovarian cancer, posted with her permission:

I'm going into my third lap.  One is such, ah, a virgin the first time.  So hopeful and optimistic for a cure even with less than charming odds.  The second time is a denouement of sorts, but a thin thread of hope hangs in there - I've talked to a couple of people that had a recurrence many years ago and are here to tell about it.  The third time... haven't run into anyone that's a long term survivor after the third time.  The stats for treatment effectiveness are similarly less than cheerful.  At this point, one term I saw used was "salvage chemo".   Buys one time - and hopefully salvages some decent quality of life.

I will miss hearing what happens in all the stories, but I am reminded that the stories are endless and the beginnings before my time.  I wonder about both ends of them, but all I have is my part right here in the middle of beginning and ending.  It was for others to know the beginnings and it is for others to know the endings, if indeed there ever are any endings.  Like the saying on the hippie school bus:  "Now is all we have".  
Indeed, we have now. And if we have been generous with our hearts, we have each other. Sometimes, we have each other even if we haven't, because life itself is full of gifts. Every day.

Open your eyes. Tell someone you love them. Listen when they love you back.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Exordium: From Star Wars to Epublishing

From Sherwood Smith on the Book View Cafe blog:

It’s the summer of 1977.
The buzz along our apartment building in Hollywood is that Star Wars is better than it sounds. I’m thinking, gheck. Except for the Salkind Three Musketeers movie, I loathed seventies films, especially the sf ones: either they were fight-the-monster movies, or else long, boring screeds in which the furniture was plastic, and everyone wore these jump suits that looked like they’d take an hour to get out of if you wanted to pee.

This one (Star WARS? Oh please)  sounded like car-crash derby only with space ships.
...
We get out at two a.m. (we’d miraculously gotten into the midnight showing), passed the enormous line waiting for the next showing, and Dave grins at me and says “Well?”
 
“I’m going back.”

And we did. We did for about six weeks, every weekend, and then we said, “We can do that.” So we got together one evening (I still have the notes) and wrote down all the elements that we loved in fiction that had been missing from movies for years, that Star Wars was tapping into, and we wrote down every extravagant swashbuckling trope we adored and wanted in a story, came up with Exordium, our space opera extravaganza.

I grin every time I hear this story. Dave is my husband, Dave Trowbridge, and today is his debut as a member of Book View Cafe (and the second Exordium book, Ruler of Naught, is now available!)

From Sherwood and Dave on John Scalzi's The Big Idea:

Ruler of Naught is Book Two of our space opera Exordium, which began life as a mini-series screenplay over twenty years ago, morphed into a mass-market paperback, and is returning again as an e-book series.

E-books are not only giving new writers an alternative to traditional book publishing, but letting oldsters like us resurrect yellowing paperbacks from used-book crypts. That’s a fun process (mostly), but from Exordium’s beginning we’ve struggled with the skiamorphs (shadow shapes—like wood grain on plastic) that are left not only when you move between media, but when your twenty-year-old vision of a technology’s cultural impact collides with present-day reality.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Lesbian Chocolate Sex Scene, or Life With Exordium

This appeared today on the Book View Cafe blog

Among the joys of living with a fellow writer (in this case, my husband, Dave Trowbridge) are the unexpected things that come up during dinner conversation


“How was your day, dear?”

“Splendid! The lesbian chocolate sex scene works better than ever.”

It always was a terrific scene. Even in the original print version of Exordium 2: Ruler of Naught. I wondered what he and Sherwood (Smith, his co-author and co-conspirator) have done to make it better. Ruler of Naught, like the first Exordium volume, The Phoenix in Flight, have been extensively revised for their Book View Café ebook editions.

He goes on, “They’ve covered themselves in chocolate and are licking it off one another, and this of course distracts the enemy general enough to change the course of the entire space battle.”

Thursday, December 22, 2011

And Now A Word From Our E-Publisher...

Both my out of print novels -- Jaydium and Northlight -- are available in electronic form. They're fun reads, if I do say so myself, with adventure and romance and cool nifty stuff. So if you haven't read them, you should hie yourself hence to the appropriate site and indulge yourself.

You could zip over to amazon.com...but I'd like to convince you not to. Instead, buy from Book View Cafe. There's no need to give your business to the 800-lb gorilla that seems bent on putting everyone else -- including our favorite indie brick and board bookstores -- out of business. You can download any of BVC's publications to your Kindle (or Nook) (instructions here).

First of all, it's better for the authors. We get a far greater percentage of each sale -- and the cost to you is the same. We decide on how much goes to BVC and none of that end up in the pockets of fatcat investors -- it goes right back into the site so we can pay our tech person decently and other things we decide collectively.

Second, it's much better for you. You purchase a subscription that allows you to download in as many different formats as you like. Once downloaded, the files remain on your devices -- BVC can't "pull the plug," the way they did with Orwell's 1984. If you chuck your Kindle and go for a Nook, you don't have to pay for another download.

Third, you'll find original as well as reprint books by seasoned pro authors, all professionally edited and beautifully formatted (unlike a lot of the ebooks out there!) Some of these are not available anywhere else.

Not sure? You can read sample chapters of all of them to give you a taste.

(After you've downloaded and enjoyed your copies, you could sneak over to amazon.com and leave a short review, of course.)

Here are links to Jaydium, Northlight, Other Doorways - the omnibus that includes both, and the short story, The Casket of Brass. More shorts coming in Spring 2012!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Gift For Your Favorite Author

Michael K. Rose blogged here on 5 Ways to Help Authors Without Spending a Dime. He suggests using Tags and other tools on Amazon.com, as well as Facebook shares and Twitter ReTweets to "boost the signal" for your favorite author's books. I think this is all very well, using the system of referral algorithms ("Readers who liked this book, also liked that other book") to direct potential buyers.

Catherine Mintz, over on Twitter, pointed out that a thoughtful review is even more effective. Depending on where the review gets posted, that can be the equivalent of "word of mouth," which is a good thing. But it leads -- for me, anyway, and I suspect for far too many other readers -- to daunting prospect of actually writing such a review.

Between them, high school book review assignments and professional reviewers had done a disservice to the greater mass of readers (my husband subscribes to the New York Times Review of Books, which always comes to my mind as an example of reviews that look to be as demanding to write as the books themselves!) Although I may appreciate the exercise in comparative literature, historical perspective, and contemporary social values -- these are not the reviews I want to write, or can write with any degree of facility.

For a long time, I felt guilty because I couldn't bring myself to write such detailed and well-researched analyses. That guilt turned into a major obstacle to my writing any review at all. With time and professional confidence, I reached the point of being able to chuck the old expectations. It's not that I lack opinions on what I read, but rather that for the most part, I read subjectively and for my own pleasure. Therefore, my experience of a book is highly colored by the specific environment -- inner and outer -- in which I read it. Here's my second revelation: Personal, subjective reviews are as interesting and valuable as scholarly dissertations.

I think it's valid to talk about books that rescued us from despair, entertained us during illness, comforted us like companions, or transformed our worlds. I love hearing those stories from others. So why shouldn't I tell my own versions -- as reviews? Maybe review is a poor vessel to hold both such idiosyncratic, emotional responses, but it's what we've got.

I'm trying to make a habit of writing a few lines about every book I finish (or fail to finish, and why). Sometimes, I put them up on various review sites, including online bookstores, LibraryThing and Goodreads; other times, they end up in a blog or LiveJournal post. I encourage you to do the same, even if it's just a few lines. You don't have to repeat the plot (that's one part I always hated, although -- paradoxically and capriciously -- I sometimes like that in a review if I want to know more about the book). How did the book strike you? Would you have enjoyed it more at a different time of your life? Did it remind you of other times, other places? How does it stand up to the book before that? Would you read this author's next work? Would you recommend it to a friend and if so, which friend?

And also... would you like to see my own reviews here?

The painting is Young Man Reading by Matthias Stom, 1600-1649. When I look at it, I wonder who he is, what he's reading, and how it is changing his life. He looks a little sad, so I wonder if it's poetry. Probably not The Lives of the Saints. What do you think?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What We Lose, What We Gain

Wright & Teague Delphi Rings
Some years ago - like maybe a decade - most of my jewelry was stolen. None of it was very valuable, although there were some pearls and jade and a little amber, and a lovely pair of moonstone stud earrings. But, as is the way of things, each piece had a story that was part of my life. That was the real value, and hence the deepest loss. I'd had some of them since my childhood, and some had been gifts from loved ones who've since died. Some of it was my mother's.

I went through the expected rage and frenzy, scouring local flea markets in the forlorn hope that I might spot a piece or two. Of course, I did not. When that stage had run its course, the police report filed (and, doubtless, forgotten), anger turned to grief, and grief to acceptance, and acceptance to looking in a new way at what I'd lost.

I wrote in my journal that the thieves had taken bits of minerals, crystals, shells, fossilized tree sap, but they could not steal:

the stories in my mind
the books I've written
my children
the redwoods
my dreams
my friends
their kindness and generosity to me
my capacity for joy...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

GUEST BLOG: Linda Nagata on Writing Young Adult Science Fiction

Linda writes: Most of the fiction I write is aimed at the general market, basically meaning adult readers, but a strange thing happened over a Christmas holiday several years ago.

My daughter was a precocious reader, and in her early teens she tackled my science fiction novels, reading the first three books of The Nanotech Succession. The third book, Deception Well, includes a minor sidekick character in the form of a little “biogel” robot by the name of Ord.

Never mind the handsome young men in the story! My daughter loved Ord. She wanted more of Ord, and she wasn’t at all happy to hear that Ord didn’t even appear in the next book in the series—so I got to thinking. Deception Well is a setting made for adventure. The name of the book is the name of a wild, unsettled planet overrun by remnants of alien nanotechnology. A space elevator is anchored in an equatorial jungle, and access to the planet is strictly controlled. People live in a very high-tech city perched on the elevator column two-hundred miles above the planet’s surface. It occurred to me that it would be great fun to have a chance to play in that world again.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Give Books This Holiday Season

It's gift-giving season for many of us, and what better gifts than books! In looking over those I have recently read, I'm struck by how many would make a wonderful introduction to sf/f for mainstream readers. This is a very, very partial list (some are series, so in most cases, I've listed the first volume, and these are fairly recent releases), and I'd love to hear your own suggestions.

For music lovers:  
The Brahms Deception, by Louise Marley.

For wine afficionados:
Flesh and Fire (The Vineart War #1) by Laura Anne Gilman

For those who left their hearts in San Francisco:
License to Ensorcell by Katharine Kerr  
Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

For lovers of The 1001 Arabian Nights 
Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed
The Desert of Souls, by Howard Jones

For swashbucklers-at-heart:
Coronets and Steel, by Sherwood Smith
The Sleeping Partner, by Madeleine E. Robins

For carnival-goers:
Carousel Tides, by Sharon Lee

For horse-crazy girls:
House of the Star, by Caitlin Brennan

For star-gazers:
Last Day On Earth, by Cecil Castellucci

For teens who are way too smart for Twilight:
Bones of Faerie, by Janni Lee Simner
Ice, by Sarah Beth Durst
Bruiser, by Neal Shusterman
Enchanted Glass, by Diana Wynne Jones.
Cold Magic, by Kate Elliott

For Sinophiles (lovers of all things Chinese):
Moshui trilogy (Dragon In Chains, Jade Man's Skin, Hidden Cities), by Daniel Fox

What else comes to mind?


So trot yourself down to your local brick-n-mortar bookstore, or order online from one of the fine independents. You'll not only make the recipient of your gift happy, but your favorite authors and booksellers as well.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Where Do You Write?

Springtime writing
I've been pondering this question as I shift my writing location. I do this every winter. My primary spot is my office, a little cubbyhole on the north side of the house. In the summer, it's glorious, with a view of lilac bushes and a beautiful old California oak. There's even a kestrel house on a pole, although in all the years since my husband put it up, it has not attracted a resident. Shaded as it is, and far from a heater vent, it's chilly in the winter. We've looked at increasing the insulation of the window (double-paned glass) and the possibility of a small space heater. In the end, though, my usual solution is to follow the example of birds -- and migrate to a warmer clime.

The warmer clime is just across the house. A sunny, south-facing bay window overlooks our garden. It's equipped with a cushy recliner and a bookshelf (upon which sit two cat baskets) with space for reference books, writing journals, and a CD player. The cats know this is a Good Place. I take my netbook there, or a hardcopy manuscript, and curl up in the sun. I also appreciate being able to shift my position -- first, sitting cross-legged, then reclining the chair and propping the netbook or clipboard on my legs. (And yes, I've been known to tilt the chair even further back and take a nap!)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Loscon: Book View Cafe Panel And Driving Home

The Book View Cafe panel went smoothly, although in a much livelier fashion. The person-we-didn't-know-but-who-was-supposed-to-moderate never materialized, so I stepped in. Not everyone is comfortable moderating (and some people that want to do it should be politely but firmly discouraged0, but I am and I know I do it well. If I have a weakness, it's that once the discussion is going, I tend to take a hands-off approach and I'm perfectly comfortable with other panelists acknowledging questions from the audience. We roped Dave (Trowbridge) into participating (he's a yet-unlaunched BVC member), so we had a range from Maya (Bohnhoff, a founding member) to Dave, who has yet to debut but has been doing much work behind the scenes. I've been on BVC panels at other conventions, and this was the best-attended so far. A few people in the audience seemed to be looking for a publisher (not appropriate as BVC is a cooperative of established professional writers), but most wanted to know more about what we have to offer, what the future holds, and how BVC came into being. A few had suggestions of what they'd like to see on the website.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Loscon: Saturday Morning's Deep Listening

Saturday morning, Dave (Trowbridge, my husband and fellow writer) and I met with Sherwood (Smith) for a planning-breakfast in preparation for the deep listening panel. We had no difficulty rearranging the chairs in a circle, and were gratified by how many people turned up for a 10 am event.

After a short description of what we were going to do, the three of us went first, to model both speaking and listening. We had chosen the subject -- a book that changed your life when you were still of an age when a book could do that -- so that most everyone would be able to share a meaningful experience. Indeed, it would be unusual for an attender at a science fiction convention to not be able to name one (or many) books that were significant. In thinking about this beforehand, I ran into the problem of having too many books come to mind, until I realized that I was restricting myself to works of science fiction and fantasy, which I had not discovered until my high school years. Once I softened my concept of what the book had to be -- it had to be sf/f, right? since that is what I write professionally -- a very different sort of reading experience emerged from the mists of childhood.

I remembered vividly the summer between second and third grades, when reading suddenly made sense to me. Before that, I'd slugged along with how reading was taught in the mid 1950s, neither catching fire nor lagging behind the class. But that summer I did catch fire. I sat in my rocking chair in my bedroom and devoured a third grade reader. Illustrations in bright, almost luminous colors adorned the pages, and although I didn't care for every story, enough of them hit just the right tone for me. One of these was an excerpt from Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield. The story was about a thin, anxious city girl who goes to live with country relatives and discovers her own strength and resourcefulness. I was very like that girl, growing up in a family that was the target of a McCarthy-era investigation, and in Betsy I saw that my life didn't have to be that way, that I too could become assured and competent.

As story after story unfolded in the circle, I heard the echoes and variations of this theme. At some point in our young (or not-so-young) lives, a book showed us that our lives could be different -- richer, more powerful, filled with fascinating things to learn and people who shared our passions. What separated this experience from any other gathering where readers compare their "gateway" books was that each speaker had the undivided attention of the whole group, and each listener had only to listen, knowing that when his or her time came, that respectful silence would be theirs.

Afterwards, I'd hoped to hear former astronaut Rick Searfoss, but word was that he was stuck in freeway traffic; he might have showed up later, but I had my own panel to get to.








The illustration is by Jessie Willcox Smith, from A Child's Garden of Verses, 1905

Monday, December 5, 2011

Loscon: A Friday of Unexpected Events and Regency Dancing

Friday began with the usual "you plan, God laughs" disruption of the natural order. I'd planned on going to a panel on "Believable Pasts and Futures" (with Harry Turtledove, Laura Frankos, Barbara Hambly and a couple of other people) when a writer with whom I've shared panels in the past, VJ Waks, pleaded with me to join her on "When is it proper to use violence in your story" because she was the only panelist listed. This being the first time slot of the convention, no one expected a heavy turnout, but I'm a soft touch, so I sent Dave off to the Pasts/Futures panel with a request to take notes on the cool bits. VJ and I waited until we had 2 attenders, made a circle, and had a lively discussion, mostly about the portrayal of violence in our media, but also about how other cultures view retaliation and reconciliation as affecting the entire community, and some painful and moving personal stories.

I had a lovely lunch with a fellow writer I don't see very often, did a tour of the Dealers' Room (where I succumbed to the usual lure of Buy! Books!), got seduced by one conversation after another, retreated to the hotel room for a little lie-down time, and then dinner with Dave and a friend of his. This took a long time, as had dinner the night before, even though the hotel restaurant was not particularly busy either time. Our poor waiter kept apologizing and thanking us for our patience. Really, the only people who would be affected by our failure to be gracious are we ourselves. And I got to go Regency dancing (taught by John Hertz) afterwards.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Loscon: On Panels and My Schedule

Convention programming varies in structure from basically a single track (one choice of a panel or event for each time slot) to many, none of them heavily attended. Needless to say, there are benefits and drawbacks of each approach. I used to prefer several choices, toward the lower end of the scale, until I attended a single-track convention and loved the sense of community that resulted. I found that the topic mattered less than the shared experience. Likewise, there are many instances where the topic is irrelevant compared to the pleasure of hearing those particular panelists in conversation. This can be true for individuals or for combinations of people with opposing opinions and wicked senses of humor. As a member of the audience, I don't particularly care if the discussion stays on its designated topic, although when I am moderating, I make an effort to keep a modicum of focus. Just because I love conversations that fly off in unexpected directions, with participants running away with each other's ideas, I can't assume the audience feels the same way.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

New Story Up!

"A Wolf In The Fold," one of my early Sword & Sorceress stories, is up for your reading pleasure. Click "Read A Story" or go here:

Enjoy!

Loscon: Attending As Part Of A Writer Couple

For much of my convention-going, I have come on my own (or occasionally in the past with one or both kids in tow). It is a strange and wonderful thing to attend with a spouse, but more particularly a fellow writer spouse. We've long since worked out the subtle communication of when we're available for conversations, when we are deep in writerly-concentration mode, and when we would like to discuss what we're working on (not asking for a critique or UnHelpful Suggestions, but a space to vent and brainstorm, for someone to listen thoughtfully as we thrash our way to our own insights). We also know when it's encouraging to ask, "How's it going?" and when such a question is annoying and intrusive.

I have always loved communal-writing, that is, being in the same space as other writers as we all work on our separate projects. This was my version of a fun way to hang out with my friends in high school. We used portable manual typewriters and composition books, so you can imagine two or three teenaged girls, sitting cross-legged on a bed, typewriters on our laps. When you do this often enough, the group finds its own rhythm, so that it seems you all feel the need to pause and chat at the same time. I never attended Clarion, but I expect the participants had much the same experience, only at a much greater intensity.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Loscon: Some General Thoughts on Conventions

The very first convention I attended, before I had any professional story publication credits, was Fantasy Worlds Festival in Berkeley, put on by Marion Zimmer Bradley and her staff. Around 1980, I'd written her a fan letter and she'd written back. Knowing that I studied martial arts, she invited me and my sparring partner to work security (and also give a demonstration) for her convention. I knew nothing of conventions, so I had visions of staying up all night, dealing with one crisis after another, and was relieved to find everyone friendly and well-mannered, at least in the public areas. I had no idea of the delights of thoughtful, lively panel discussions, a dealer's room full of books, jewelry, and music, and the wonderful costumes, not to mention a whole weekend spent with kindred spirits and fellow book lovers. Not long after that, I made my first professional sale to Marion for the first Sword & Sorceress (DAW, 1984) and began taking this writing business seriously.

At that time, I lived on the west side of Los Angeles. I soon discovered that LA (more precisely, LASFS, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society) had its own convention, LosCon, which met every Thanksgiving weekend. For quite a few years, I was a regular attender, commuting from home. Then came a period of time when my family alternated Thanksgivings between Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley area, juggling the demands of home and more-distant relatives (who did not understand that fellowship trumps turkey). After I moved north, my attendance became even more irregular. It's been quite a few years since my last LosCon, it's in a different hotel (not to mention a different city, moving from Burbank to near LAX) from the one I knew way back when, but there is still a sense of homecoming, that this was "my local convention" as I was coming of age as a writer.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanks, Anne McCaffrey, and Genre Boundaries

Reposted from Book View Cafe blog:

Anne McCaffrey’s death, and all the reminiscences and tributes offered in her memory, intersected with what-I-am-thankful-for. Many people, writers and readers both, have described the ways they are thankful for her work and her personal presence in their lives. They’ve said it far better than I, but each memory is personal and hence, unique. Writer Juliette Wade blogged on how McCaffrey’s “Pern” set an example for her own work by blurring the borderlines between fantasy and science fiction.

One of the things about McCaffrey’s work that left a deep impression on me was not so much the “blurring” of genre lines as how she combined story elements in interesting ways. More than that, when I read everything of McCaffrey’s I could get my hands on, I was astonished at how many genres she wrote in. I saw her telling stories in whatever form they needed to take; I saw that she, like me, was interested in a lot of different things and she was fearless in pursuing them.


Certainly, it’s become much more difficult for anyone but a Big Name Writer to switch around from fantasy to science fiction to something in between to romance/women’s fiction, and so forth. The bean-counters and marketing departments hold the purse strings. Many of us have found, to our sorrow, that such limitations are not lightly flaunted. “Marketing says they can’t place this,” is too often a death knell.
Even while we wrestle with the practicalities of trying to earn a living by writing, we should not — we must not — allow such forces to hedge in our imaginations. About the time I sold my first novel, I remember people talking about how important that debut was because it was the book you’d be re-writing for the rest of your career. I was appalled, for much as I loved the story, the characters, the world of Jaydium, there were many other stories, characters and worlds screaming at me — pleading with me, haunting my dreams — to write them. That’s one of the glories of short fiction, which allows me to play in diverse and alien sandboxes, with no computers tracking my sales figures to determine if my next novel will be marketable.

I don’t expect I will ever get to the point where a publisher will gladly bring out my next book, regardless of genre. But I never, ever want to stop dreaming in more than one color!

Thanks, Anne, for this and much more.

Award Nominations Are A Wonderful Start to the Day

Hastur Lord was nominated for the 2011 Gaylactic Spectrum Award! It didn't win, but it's in some very fine company. Since the core of the novel was a partial manuscript Marion wrote during the final year of her life, and since it continued the characters and relationships she'd established in The Heritage of Hastur, focusing on a heroic and sympathetic gay protagonist, one that appeals to a wide range of readers, I am especially pleased. I think Marion would have been, too.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gossip and Community

The internet is practically an engraved invitation to indulge in gossip and rumor. It's so easy to blurt out whatever thoughts come to mind. Once posted, these thoughts take on the authority of print (particularly if they appear in some book-typeface-like font). Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to question something when it appears in Courier than when it's in Times New Roman? For the poster of the thoughts comes the thrill of instant publication. Only in the aftermath, when untold number have read our blurtings and others have linked to them, not to mention all the comments and comments-on-comments, do we draw back and realize that we may not have acted with either wisdom or kindness.

To make matters worse, we participate in conversations solely in print, without the vocal qualities and body language that give emotional context to the statements. I know a number of people who are generous and sensitive in person, but come off as abrasive and mean-spirited on the 'net. I think the very ease of posting calls for a heightened degree of consideration of our words because misunderstanding is so easy.

I've been speaking of well-meaning statements that inadvertently communicate something other than what the creator intended. I've been guilty of my share of these, even in conversations with people with whom I have no difficulty communicating in person. What has this to do with gossip?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Howard Jones on The Roots of Arabian Fantasy (on SF Signal)

Awhile back, I wrote about my experience moderating a panel on "Islamic fantasy" at World Fantasy Convention. On of the panelists was Howard Andrew Jones, whom I had not met before but whose name I recognized from the small amount of research I was able to do in preparation. Howard was a delight (actually, all the panelists were wonderful, but in different ways) and his knowledge of Middle Eastern folklore and the traditions of written literature of the Muslim world were a wonderful resource for the panel. I especially enjoyed how he would offer some bit of fascinating scholarly background and then apologize, with genuine modesty, for going on in such detail -- when the rest of us were going, More! More! I wished I could have taped or transcribed the whole thing to share with you.

Now Howard's article on Arabian fantasy is up on SF Signal here: so you can get a taste of the discussion, and an eensy bit of the benefit of his knowledge. Here's an excerpt:

[The] version of the 1001 Nights we have today is not the same as the version from the 10th century, or the 15th century. More and more layers were added by succeeding storytellers. A few generations after the 8th century when they lived, Haroun al-Rashid and his best friend and vizier, Jafar, were dropped into the story mix, sometimes adventuring in Baghdad in disguise at night. In later centuries, characters and place names from Muslim Egypt were added. When Antoine Galland assembled his collection of Arabian Nights in the 1700s and launched a sensation, he used some stories that he claimed came from a Syrian Christian. They're probably of Middle-Eastern origin, but perhaps it shouldn't really matter. (I'm not really troubled by this sort of "cultural appropriation" because it strikes me as essentially good natured. I liken it to someone excitedly joining a game that is already under way. Should that person be excluded because they lack the appropriate ethnicity? Should the Indians have excluded the Persians, and then the Persians the Arabs, from joining in the fun? Why then should we dismiss Antoine Galland because he is an 18th century Frenchman, even if he invented rather than found Ali Baba and Aladdin? All of the tales were created by someone, some time, and Galland's "discoveries" are pretty nifty.)

Doesn't that make you want to click over to SF Signal and read the whole thing? And then rush out and get Howard's books? It does to me!

Monday, November 21, 2011

On Naive Prose

Photo by Pauline Eccles
"What did you think of (self-published first novel)?" I asked my husband, fellow writer Dave Trowbridge.

He paused for a moment. "The ideas were interesting, and the sentences grammatically correct..."

I waited, since he was so clearly trying to identify what bothered him. Finally, he added, "but the prose was naive."

Now that's a description you don't often hear. I'd read the first few pages out of curiosity after I was on a panel with the author. My initial reaction had been that I understood why the book hadn't sold to a traditional publisher. I wouldn't say the prose was awful or unintelligent, only that it didn't feel professional. And yet even in those few pages, I was able to discern enough of a "hook" to suggest an actual story. You know the phrase, "You can't get there from here"? This was a case of, "You can't get there by this method."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Percolation and Writing Goals, thanks to Linda Nagata

Linda Nagata (who incidentally is a terrific writer, and you can find her work in ebook form at Book View Cafe) offers some thoughts on writing goals versus "Percolation" here.

The problem with the word-count-per-day goal — that is, swearing to oneself to write a thousand or two-thousand words everyday — is that to be successful you have to have a pretty good idea of what happens next in your story.
 ....
It’s pretty clear that, for me at least, ideas need to percolate. I wish it weren’t so. I wish I could sit down and know what comes next, and write it, and then move on to another project. I wish I didn’t squander so much time that could be put to productive use doing other things. But it is what it is, and I’ve been dealing with the process long enough that, despite the frustrations, I can remain fairly confident that the words will eventually come.

I suspect that even those of us who are not participating in NaNoWriMo are thinking about the process of "just writing."

Here's my response: We think very much alike on this. It's so easy to fall into quantifying creative output -- so many words per day, so many pages per week. Goals are good, but creating a story involves so much more than those final words.

I'm a revision-based writer, so I do push myself to draft quickly when the story is flowing. But I'm experienced enough to realize when it isn't, when it's time to step back, go off and do something else, and get my mind derailed from the oncoming train wreck. If the bones of the story are sound, even if they aren't all there, I have what I need to work with.

I wonder if this is why NaNoWriMo doesn't appeal to me, but I've done well with shorter length/time challenges. Novels are too complex to barrel through in a month.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sailing the Seas With Horatio

Today's blog, on reading the C. S. Forester "Hornblower" books (after watching the A & E series with Ioan Gruffudd) appears on Book View Cafe. Here's the beginning...

I’ve been reading the C. S. Forester “Horatio Hornblower” novels, one after the other. It’s really my husband’s fault. He’s usually extraordinarily recalcitrant about watching movies, whether at home or in a theater. One Friday night, he indicated his willingness to consider it, so we looked over the DVD collection and embarked upon the A & E “Hornblower” series at the sedate pace of one-episode-per-week. (Of course, we did not stop there, but proceeded to Master and Commander and the 1951 Hornblower movie with Gregory Peck and Virginia Mayo.) For those who have not had the pleasure of reading these stories, Horatio Hornblower is a fictional naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars. Actual events and personages are woven into the tales, although Forester takes care that the exploits of his hero do not alter history.

As visually appealing as the films are, we immediately reached for the books. I’d read a few of them many years ago, but never had the experience of moving from one adventure to the next, watching the maturation not only of the titular character but of the author.

C. S. Forester must have been quite a character. After writing propaganda for Britain during WW II, he came to Hollywood to write the script for a pirate film. Before he could finish it, the Errol Flynn movie Captain Blood came out, effectively stealing the thunder from Forester’s project. To make matters worse, Forester was facing an impending paternity suit (I am not making this up — it’s from the biographical notes at the end of the Back Bay Press editions), so he “jumped aboard a freighter bound for England.” He spend the voyage outlining the first of the Hornblower novels, Beat to Quarters (The Happy Return), which was published in 1937.

.... for more, click on over to the Book View Cafe blog...

Friday, November 11, 2011

GUEST BLOG: Steve Harper on Writing Steampunk

THE SPEED OF STEAM, by Steve Harper

A couple weeks ago on a Friday afternoon, a file landed in my email. Big one. It was the copyedited manuscript for THE IMPOSSIBLE CUBE, the sequel to THE DOOMSDAY VAULT (which is now on sale and has mad scientists and zombies in it). Could I go through the manuscript and pop it back within ten days?

Whoa.

A number of writing blogs have already commented on the speed of writing these days, how just a few years ago, I would have received a big pile of paper in the mail with red marks all over it, and after I went though it, I would have had to make a trip to the post office. Now I read and upload a file, yada yada yada.

I just want to add that it feels wrong.  For steampunk, I mean.

See, I think part of steampunk's appeal is the way it slows us down. Steampunk puts us in a world before telephones and jet planes. When communicating with someone on the other side of town meant dashing off a postcard. When newspapers lived by the telegraph wire. When international travelers went by train or ship or even dirigible, and going around the world took eighty days instead of eighty hours. When a new advancement in processing speed meant the Royal Mail had worked out a more efficient sorting system. Our world goes so fast, it's nice to take a break in a place in which everything goes a little slower.

As a result, it feels like all steampunk should be written at a rolltop desk on a big, clunky typewriter with a sticky H and a crooked M while a Victrola plays scratchy music in the background.  Manuscripts should be bundled into boxes tied with brown string.  Letters to one's editor should be scribbled with a fountain pen and dropped into the afternoon post.

And yet, I flip words into a 2-terrabyte computer with dual-core processor hooked up to the Internet via high-speed DSL cable modem while four speakers croon a mix by Danny Elfman, and I toss letters to my editor into the aether of the Internet  It makes me feel out of sorts and wrong.

Not wrong enough to make write the long way, mind. Anachronism does have its limits.

But I'm a writer with a good imagination. So when I write steampunk, in my head my computer becomes a typewriter and my contact lenses become spectacles. My sweatshirt becomes a tweed jacket and my study with central heat becomes a drafty garret. My dog and my pot of tea become . . .

Well. I suppose not everything has to change.


Steven Harper usually lives at http://www.theclockworkempire.com . His steampunk novel THE DOOMSDAY VAULT, first in the Clockwork Empire series, hits the stores in print and electronic format November 1.




Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Critiquing Vs. Editing

Renoir, 1889
Editor Jessica Faust at BookEnds Literary Agency blogged on "How I Edit," ending with these words:

As far as I'm concerned you can run with my suggestions or you can ignore them altogether and go off in your own way. I don't care how you want to fix the problems I see, I just care that when I read it the next time those problems/my concerns are gone.

This inspired some thoughts on the differences between critiquing and editing. Both involve handing your precious manuscript, child of your dreams, the darling of your creative muse, to another person and asking what they think of it. In other words, even as we cringe inwardly at the prospect, we have granted permission for them to say things we aren't going to like about it. Of course, we want to hear how much they loved it and all the things we did brilliantly. The point of the exercise, though, is to improve the story.

The most useful things I find in critiques are reader reactions, comments like, "I'm confused," or "This doesn't make sense," or "I don't believe this character would act this way." Or, simply, "Huh? You've got to be kidding!" Snarkiness aside, such comments tell me where there is a problem. The reader may be right about what the problem is, or what they object to may be the tip of an iceberg and the true problem lies elsewhere.

In critique format, I really, really don't want to be told how to fix those problems, and I don't know any writers who do.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Today's blog... Connections — convention panels, knitting, and Afghanistan

is over at Book View Cafe here. An excerpt:

Now comes the interesting part. At breakfast, I noticed a group of women wearing hijabs (head-scarves) sitting together at a table. Clearly, they were not attending the convention. I greeted them, explaining that I was to moderate a panel on Islamic fantasy and asking if they had opinions about how Muslims are portrayed in contemporary literature, who gets it right, what they find offensive. Only one of the women spoke English, and she referred me to their (male) translator, who was quite willing to speak with me, but only about the purpose of the group. 


It turns out that this was a group of Afghan women, traveling in the United States to heighten consciousness of the plight of women under the resurgent Taliban. “Do not forget Afghanistan,” he told me. “Do not forget these brave women,” and went on to describe how they had, at great cost and danger to themselves, set up schools and businesses.

It turns out that one of my charitable causes is afghans for Afghans, which sends hand-knit and crocheted blankets and sweaters, vests, hats, mittens, and socks to the beleaguered people of Afghanistan.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Delicious lines

The Spangled Pandemonium
Is missing from the zoo.
He bent the bars the barest bit,
And slithered glibly through.

from the poem by that name by Palmer Brown

Why didn't I think of "Spangled Pandemonium"? It's so wonderful!

Twitterview tomorrow!

Monday, November 7th, at 10 am PST, I'll be interviewed on Twitter. Just follow the hashtag #twitterview and join in!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

World Fantasy Convention - Re-entry

H. Bosch, c. 1480
I don't know if the 12-hour drive home was a good thing or a bad thing. Certainly, it was tiring when we were already saturated with meetings and ideas, too many parallel tracks of sensory input, too much intellectual and creative stimulation and not nearly enough sleep. But also, it gave us time to make the transition from con-world to mundane-world. Via Denny's, which is neither here nor there except that we know the senior menu by heart, so it requires no functioning neurons to order.

It can be jarring, to say the least, to go from a community in which it's okay/expected to meet the eyes of anyone else wearing a badge, to smile, to feel free to introduce yourself, to assume that you have something in common, to discover that not only you do but that it's deeper and more delightful complex than you anticipated. Etc., etc., all the reasons we love conventions. We go from there to the world of freeway road rage, to knowing ourselves to be isolated geeks, and environments in which it is definitely unsafe to make eye contact with strangers, especially if we are female.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Q & A On NaNoWri Mo (borrowed from Jim C. Hines)

Horace Scudder, 1903
Jim C. Hines posted an interview with himself on the national write-a-novel-in-a-month challenge, with such wonderful questions I've borrowed them and supplied my own answers. 

What are you doing National Novel Writing Month this year, Deborah?
Cheering on my friends. I'll be starting the first round of editorial revisions for my fantasy trilogy, The Seven-Petaled Shield. Revising is a very different process from drafting. I find that drafting goes better when I do it quickly, so I don't get caught in second-guessing myself or editing as I write. Both are recipes for disaster and paralysis. Revising, on the other hand, does not reliably produce any measurable result in terms of pages or words. I dive into it and call it quits every day when my brain won't function any longer.

How does NaNoWriMo compare to real writing?
Writing is writing, as Jim pointed out (you have read his post, haven't you?) Every writer does it a little differently, and I think most of us change from project to project and also over the course of our careers. Challenges, whether novel-length or short-length, can be fun or oppressive, pointless or a marvelous way to jump-start a new story.

Doesn’t it bother you when hundreds of thousands of people every year turn your career, the dream job you’ve worked at for 16 years, into some kind of game?
You say "game" as if it's a bad thing. If some aspect of writing isn't fun -- and there are wonderful professional writers who hate to write but love to have written -- then why do it? The community-building that happens during NaNoWriMo is one of its more attractive aspects. Writing is a solitary activity, so it's wonderful to have those "hundreds of thousands" of compadres cheering you on.

Sorry. Do you think it’s possible to write a good novel in 30 days?
Yes and no. Some writers can produce a solid first draft in a month, so that's the yes part.On the other hand, I'm skeptical of any first draft, no matter how long it takes, being "a good novel." I suppose some writers do so much planning and so much reflection on each sentence that their first drafts-on-paper are really third-drafts-in-the-mind. In the end, though, the goal is not to produce a good novel but to write quickly and and consistently and to push through to the end.

Isn’t the emphasis on quantity over quality a bad thing, teaching participants to write crap?
Most writers don't need to be taught how to write crap. We do that very nicely all on our own, thank you. However, writing challenges can teach us to get the story down on paper (or phosphors), which is a necessary first step to a polished final draft. The rewards of actually finishing a novel draft, no matter how much revision it will need, should not be underestimated. Even if that novel is indeed crap, it is finished -- the writer now knows that he or she is capable of completing it. That in itself is worth celebrating.

Another thought on crap. If you aren't writing it and you never have, you aren't doing your job. You aren't taking chances or pushing edges or just splatting out what's in the back of your semi-conscious mind. You are allowing your inner critic to silence your creative spirit.

Eric Rosenfield says NaNoWriMo’s whole attitude is “repugnant, and pollutes the world with volumes upon volumes of one-off novels by people who don’t really care about novel writing.
I seriously doubt that what is wrong with this world is the surfeit of aspiring novelists. And I can't imagine why anyone would put herself through NaNoWriMo if she didn't 'care about novel writing.' Good grief, if you want to be irate about Bad Things In The World, there are plenty of issues out there, things that actually impact people's health, liberty, and lives. Too many one-off novels is not one of them.
  Well, what about Keith DeCandido’s post, wherein he says NaNoWriMo has nothing to do with storytelling; it teaches professionalism and deadlines, and the importance of butt in chair?
Can storytelling be taught? I'm not sure. Yep to the other parts.

Fine, what do you think NaNoWriMo is about?
Why is it about anything than a community of people hell-bent on crash'n'burning their way through a short novel in a month? That makes more sense than it being a nefarious conspiracy.

Any last words of advice, Ms. Very Important Author?
I'd love there to be a parallel track for those of us who have other deadlines, such as revisions or finishing in-progress novels. Certainly FiMyDaNo (Finish My Damned Novel) fits the bill, and I encourage anyone in mid-draft to jump in. Revisions, at least mine, mean taking notes, cogitating, making flow charts of structure, correcting maps, ripping out chunks and shoving them around, not to mention generating piles of new prose. These all count. The thing with revisions is that sometimes a lot of thinking and a small amount of actual wordage change -- if it's the right change -- counts for a solid day's work. It's exhausting, too. So maybe the goal is, "I will think about my revisions every day this month." 


Okay, Ms. Interviewer, if you're not doing NaNoWriMo, what are your goals for this month?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

World Fantasy Convention, Part the Fourth - Immortality and Fangirl Squee!

"Aften ved kysten" by Amaldus Nielsen
I've found that attending a convention alone and attending as part of a couple are quite different experiences. Although I relax and socialize, I'm mostly there as a working author. I interact with fans, network with writers and booksellers, and -- depending on the size of the convention -- meet with editors or those writers I edit. Some of this is scheduled, but other parts arise spontaneously. This makes it difficult to plan ahead -- mealtimes or panels I'm not on, for instance -- or to take into account anyone else's daily rhythms but my own. Over the years, my husband -- writer Dave Trowbridge -- and I have figured out some strategies, given the differences in our tolerance for crowds and our needs for meals, when and what kind. It is an amazing pleasure to touch base during a hectic day with someone who understands you well, someone in whom you find a haven of peace. It is also a delight to sit in the audience and bask in your spouse's participation in a panel.

For me, this was doubly true because I'd finished with my own panel and was just beginning to "wind down" from moderator-hood and also from lunch-with-editor. Dave's panel was on Immortality. I took a few notes, but make no claim for their accuracy.

Immortality isn't necessarily the same thing as agelessness;

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

World Fantasy Convention Report, Part the Third - Showtime!

Painting by Hendrik Vroom, 1628
Saturday was my "scheduled" day, meaning I had made commitments of various kinds. Of course, they all happened on the same day.

Dawn -- or as close thereto as made no functional difference -- found me trying to find the room in which the SFWA (Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America) Business Meeting was to be held. The convention center, where the panels and other official events were held, was closed up, and the few bleary-eyed souls there had no idea. I found out later that there indeed had been "signage" -- in 12 point font. The con suite offered me orange juice but no information, and this is a good place to say what a splendid job those folks did in supplying real food -- tasty and sustaining -- on a regular basis. Eventually, someone suggested I check out the building aptly named "Meeting House" and indeed this proved to be the right place. I arrived in time for tea, yogurt, fresh fruit, and various business stuff. If you're a SFWA member, you can read about it in the official report; if you're not, I'm not supposed to divulge the secret handshake. I hung around afterwards for g/o/s/s/i/p professional conversation. The reason the meeting had to be so early was that under the rules of World Fantasy conventions, "outside" organizations may use the facilities only "outside" convention hours, which meant we had to be done by 10.

Then came the high point of the convention for me -- lunch with my editor! It's always lovely to be treated to a nice meal and even nicer to hear that the person into whose care you have entrusted the precious child of your creative spirit is as excited about it as you are. Mutual appreciation ensued.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

World Fantasy Convention Report Part The Second - First Daze

Sailing the Seas of Imagination
(A Disclaimer: Part of me is kicking the other part for not having taken better notes, but the other part insists that Friday, my first day of convention participation, was so saturated in conversation, in meetings and greetings and reunions, that it wouldn't have mattered anyway.)

World Fantasy Convention differs from smaller regional cons in several important ways. For one thing, everyone pays for their membership (this is true for WorldCon as well), and this has the effect of placing readers and writers, newbies and big names alike on an equal footing. Second, participants get one panel or a reading. This nicely gets around the "he got 12 panels and I got only 2" hierarchies and resentments. The exceptions, of course, are the Guests of Honor, Toastmaster, etc. As a consequence, perhaps, panelists really focus on doing a good job. (Another difference is that publishers and sometimes authors donate piles of books, which are stuffed into bookbags for each attender.) There's no masquerade and I didn't see a single costume, Klingon, brass bikini or otherwise. This is a serious reader/writer gathering. And the conversations and informal gatherings are glorious!

When I studied the program, I kept going, "I want to hear this! And this! And this!" And made it to only a few, because whenever I tried to walk anywhere (and the venue this year was a sprawling "resort" with many mini-environments and long distances Between Things), I'd meet so many old friends, writers I desperately wanted to meet, or people who desperately wanted to meet me. I've long since given up any expectations that I will actually make it to any panel besides the one I'm on.

Monday, October 31, 2011

World Fantasy Report, Part The First - Getting There

Friday October 27, 2011 was a travel day. It's a long drive to San Diego, even if we don't get caught in traffic passing through or around Los Angeles. "We" are husband Dave Trowbridge and me. This leads me to some thoughts on packing for conventions. You'd think that after all these years of con-going -- going on 30 -- that most of it would be rote. And it is, at least when it comes to what to throw in my suitcase. One nice outfit if there's a publisher's dinner, underwear for n days plus one, layers to cope with the vagaries of hotel air conditioning, that sort of thing. I've got a travel kit of teas, packets of instant oatmeal, sweetener, spoons and immersion heater. I could throw together toiletries and prescriptions in my sleep. Then there are things I sometimes forget, like gold stickers that say, "Autographed Copy" (left at home this time), old cover flats and bookplates for autograph freebies (also left at home), and copies of the collection of my short fiction that I published through Anthology Builder and offer for sale at cost (also left at home). Mostly, these "left at homes" are not a big deal. I'm better and more organized some times than others, and I'm pretty relaxed about it.

Then there are the moments of sheer panic.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Off to World Fantasy Convention...

and will be either offline or too blitzed to make sense for the next few days.

Be patient, all, and a report shall be forthcoming!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Interview in Portuguese

Waldir Ramos Neto, a Brazilian fan, translated part of an interview with me on his blog, Flor de Kireseth. 
 
Em visita ao Flor de Kireseth, Deborah elogiou a qualidade visual do site (já que não fala portugues) e me deu diversas dicas de sites, blogs e grupos de discussão onde posso pegar mais informações sobre MZB, Darkover e Deborah J. Ross.

Hoje ela me enviou uma entrevista que concedeu a um site italiano sobre Darkover. Traduzi os trechos que achei mais pertinentes.
 
..... 
 
It is a strange and wonderful experience to read one's words in a different language. (And to see the covers with different artwork and oh yes, I see what that title was originally.) 

How I Find New Authors to Love

E. Duranty by Degas
Once upon a time, I gobbled up every new book of fantasy and science fiction that I could find. I'd trek to my local independent specialty book store or my local branch library and devour each month's arrivals. Now getting to the closest (general) bookstore requires a trek, our local library branch is in danger of closing (or maybe not, it keeps changing), not to mention losing its human librarians, and the number of new books has multiplied beyond any hope of keeping up with everything that's being published. I don't recognize many of the authors, at least not under those by-lines.

One way through the deluge is to connect with authors online. (Shameless Promotion Hint: Book View Café is a wonderful way to get acquainted. A whole community of fabulous writers with a wide range of styles and genres is right here -- we will now pause while you read a short story from a writer new to you. Okay, aren't you glad you did?)

Conventions also work well for me as a way to sort through the enormous number of new titles. I'll hear someone talk on a panel or read aloud from their work and be impressed with what a strange and thoughtful mind they have. Sometimes, I'll meet them afterwards and be curious about their stories. Sometimes when I hear a writer in person, I'll pick up a book whose title or cover would not otherwise appeal to me or I'll be willing to read something outside my usual "taste zone." Since I believe in supporting other writers, especially newer ones, I usually buy (at least) one "unknown" book from the dealers room. This has the additional benefit of helping out my friendly convention dealers, who get even friendlier and more diligent in carrying my own books. The next step is a request for an autograph, which is a pleasure for everyone involved. So many times, the few moments it takes can give a writer, even an established writer, a lift. "Wow! Deborah J. Ross bought my book -- and asked me to sign it!"

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Lady (Actual and Honorary) Writers' Lunch

Writing is a lonely business. Well, maybe if you write screenplays as part of a committee, it isn't, but for most of us, the process involves endless hours with just us and the words on the page. No wonder we end up talking to our characters and listening when they talk back. There's a listing for that in the DSM-IV.

One of my secret weapons against the perils of isolation is the writer's lunch. When I lived in Los Angeles, I joined my first critique group, an eclectic mix of sf/f writers, mystery writers, and mainstream "literary" writers, with a core of Clarion and UCLA Advanced Writing class graduates. One of the other sf/f writers and I started going to lunch once a month or so. The group meetings were tightly focused on critiquing manuscripts and there wasn't much time for schmoozing about general writing issues, nor was the group atmosphere hospitable to sf/f shop talk. I quickly learned the value of having a writing buddy, someone to cheer me on, help me choose markets, analyze the personalities of editors, commiserate with about rejections (and try to interpret those letters), and more.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gender, Sex, Identity and A Bunch of Other Fascinating Issues

Last year, I attended a workshop at the Ben Lomond Quaker Center on "Gender, the Search for Self and the Search for Acceptance," facilitated by Chloe Schwenke, an ethicist who is herself a transgendered woman. (There's an interview with her here.) Although much of the workshop centered on personal issues of gender and identity, it struck me that as writers, we can discover much depth and richness by asking the same questions.

For the workshop, we defined sex as the classification of people as male or female. Intersex individuals, that is, people possessing the external characteristics of both, are usually "assigned" to one sex or the other. Gender, on the other hand, is a personal sense of being a man or a woman (or both, or neither). Each of these is distinct from sexual orientation, which has to do with an enduring physical, romantic, and emotional attraction to another person. Gender has been described as "who you want to go to bed as, not who you want to go to bed with."

In science fiction and fantasy, we have been playing around with such notions as more than two sexes/genders, none, fluid sexes/genders, and a diversity of gender role expressions. Every so often, a story that takes a new or not-new-but-splashy look at the field garners a lot of buzz, particularly in the queer and queer-friendly community. Yet much genre writing continues to perpetuate the world view of two oppositional and fixed genders, each with equally unyielding behavioral expectations. For many writers and readers, a character or society that goes too far outside the familiar becomes so uncomfortable as to fracture sympathetic identification. It strikes me, however, that even within the limitations of conventional portrayals of sex and gender, we can reach for greater depth. We can go beyond the Caveman Model of Gender Roles, the Separatist All-Men or All-Women Worlds, the Rambo-in-Drag/Supersensitive Male dichotomies and other variations already done to death.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

YA to look out for

First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci

I've long thought that one reason we love stories about aliens (or sentient nonhuman creatures) is that at one time or another, we've all felt like aliens ourselves. I know I have, and I'll bet that just about everyone who's survived adolescence has, too. (The "just about" is a hedge in case there are, somewhere in the world, people who just sailed through; I'm willing to allow for the possibility, even if I don't know any of them.)

Cecil Castellucci takes that experience and whirls it around in a blender with the mythos of alien abduction and a protagonist who's not only smart but has to face a whole lot more than many of us. Mal's the kid with the greasy hair, slumped in the last row of seats in class, the kid you're afraid to talk to. He's got secrets, too. Years ago, he disappeared, but whether those missing three days were a "breakdown" or an alien abduction, even Mal isn't sure. His alcoholic mom lives right on the edge.

How far away from here is far enough? Mal asks. How far away would I be willing to go?
Light-years.


Do you remember feeling like that? Doesn't everyone?

Castellucci's characters are uncompromising and her prose cuts right to the core. Not just for teens, First Day on Earth is both gritty and lyrical, subtle and over-the-top. It shows with poignant eloquence how the symbols and tropes of speculative fiction can convey our deepest human experiences.

Janni Lee Simner on "Telling the Wrong Story"

This is from Rachel Ann Hanley's interview with the wonderful YA author Janni Lee Simner.

"The first draft is the one where I pretty much tell the wrong story. By writing the wrong story--and seeing why it's the wrong story-- I learn things I need to know about the right story."

This is so true for me! I need to hear it over and over again, because the gremlins that live in my brain insist that I have to get it right the first time. If I listen to them, the result is the most insipid pap you can imagine, because I'm terrified of making a mistake.

Somewhere I read that Dick Francis wrote his early novels in ink in school composition books. He didn't know that you could change things, so he worked hard at thinking through every sentence before he put it down. If I did that, I think I'd get maybe one or two sentences into the story before I freaked out. I used to think this meant I would never improve as a writer, that I was terrible and hopeless and would never produce anything that wasn't drek. Where do such notions come from? I'd like to have a word or two with whoever's responsible!

For some reason, this reminds me of something my calligraphy teacher, Lloyd Reynolds, used to say. He wanted us to hold the pen softly, to create a supple and responsive connection between the center of our bodies and the words on the paper. Isn't writing like that? We want to be fluid, sensitive, nimble in the sense of being able to perceive the deeper promptings of our creative selves and then to act on them. He said that the clenched fist cannot receive any of life's gifts -- only the open hand. Only the open heart.

Thank you, Janni, for reminding me that not only is it okay for me to write the wrong story, but that it's a necessary step in the process of writing the right one!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Juliette Wade on Characters as Flawed Detectives

Juliette Wade is definitely a writer to look out for. Her short fiction (look for it in Analog) is beautifully crafted, thoughtful science fiction. She uses her background in linguistics to create alien races and worlds that are among the best. (What can you say about a race of space-faring otters -- that works?)

So I paid particular attention to her blog post on It's good to be wrong - Or, why my characters use the scientific method. She says:

I especially enjoy it when I've got two or three different points of view, and each of them is wrong about something, and nobody really has it right. It creates such great opportunities for conflict and learning and personal growth, and often makes the story that much more worth reading.

The more complex the real solution is, the more valuable it is for you to break it down into smaller steps. I write pretty complicated puzzles, and I really need to make sure I'm keeping people with me. I need to make sure I'm showing exactly the thought process that leads the characters to the conclusions they draw. That's why this is so valuable for me. That's also why I get so gleeful when I discover a moment where the characters think they have it all put together. Readers will know we're close to the end, and when the characters go, "Aha!" the readers will likely go "Aha!" as well. But there's still something left to learn.

The thing that strikes me is how respectful this is of the intelligence of the reader. Whether a story is specifically a puzzle (mystery, etc.) or not, reading a story -- entering a world which you know nothing about -- is like a mystery. The writer hopefully gives you all the information you need to imagine the world, the characters, the situation... One way is to hand it to you on a plate, omniscently. First of all, that's condescending. And boring. And what do you do when you think differently from that know-it-all narrator? Grinding of teeth, gnashing of jaws, soaring irritation, books thrown across the room...

As writers, we learn to take our readers by the hand, introduce story elements sequentially, and leave room for the readers to interpret, anticipate, guess rightly or wrongly. In other words, to participate in the story. We do this through our point of view characters, and that's why Juliette's approach -- letting her characters be fallible but intelligent -- works so well.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Mini-Interview, thanks to Jay Lake

From Jay Lake:

1) What creative project are you working on right now?

I'm noodling around with a YA science fiction series, the first book of which is called Sabertooth Dawn. The short version is: When a space ship of orphaned kids is marooned on a world of prehistoric animals and even more ancient alien ruins, the fate of the colony depends on teens Danica, Eli, and Anjali, Eli's foster kid sister. But in order to work together, each must overcome their own fears and deeply-buried secrets.

I'm also starting to think about the next Darkover book, in which the Terran Federation returns to Darkover. I have a nebulous idea about a clash between machine-created psi and Darkover's natural laran psi. I keep throwing things into that "back burner" pot until they start to ferment. Or turn into bouillabaisse. Or something.

I'm also co-editing (with Irene Radford) an anthology of re-telling of fairy tales for Book View Cafe. It'll be out next March and oh, my, are there some seriously wild and twisted stories! And some wonderfully touching ones, too. And... and... you'll just have to wait!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Death Penalty Statement - October 13, 2011

A number of people have asked about the statement I made in opposition to the death penalty, before the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission. Much of it was taken from "September Grieving," which appeared both in my LiveJournal and on the Book View Cafe blog. Because the different social media sites reach different audiences, I'm posting this statement here, behind the cut.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Focus

I love the way ideas and circumstances collide to create today's writing theme. In this case, it's (a) chatting with a friend who's been asked by her editor to revise a story to suit the needs of a different genre; (b) reading Larry Brooks (http://storyfix.com/) on how to structure your NaNoMoWrite (writing a novel in a month); and ( c) doing my own revision of a novel I'd drafted 15 years ago (needless to say, I am more skillful now than I was then and this rough draft exhibits many of the weaknesses of its time.)

I suggested to my friend that she might approach the rewrite as an exercise in structure. That is, to look at how successful stories in the target genre work, to think analytically about what elements are important (these aren't the same for all genres or types of stories). Then I got some feedback on the plot outline for my own novel and realized the underlying nonspecificity of  my characters' goals (aka chocolate pudding underfoot), definitely one of the aforementioned weaknesses -- I used to get so enamored of a world, I'd forget about "storyness." Then, although pep talks about writing tend to drive me more than a little bats, I read over today's StoryFix blog.  

Bingo! This is how to do it. 
Wrong.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

First Impressions of New Orleans

Over on Book View Cafe's blog, I burble about exploring the French Quarter of New Orleans for the first time. Instead of taking a guided tour, I found some wonderful books on what I was interested in -- history, architecture, stories of people and places -- and designed my own.