Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Homemade Pizza Humor

My husband is wheat-intolerant, so I make gluten free crusts from scratch. Recently, the result (although delicious) was way too greasy, so I used a paper towel to blot up the extra fat. My husband insists I have discovered "the face of Cheesus." I think it's a Rorschach ink blot test, subject to many interpretations. What do you see in it?




Sunday, December 28, 2014

Boxing Week Sale at Book View Cafe






Book View Cafe offers many yummy ebooks at half off -- including some of mine (Jaydium, Northlight, Azkhantian Tales, and Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life).

Downloading is simple (if I can do it, anyone can), and there are step-by-step instructions on how to load the files on your ereader. Plus, the book files will stay on your computer, yours forever.

Enjoy!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Kindness of the Season

Amidst the wishes of merry this and joyous that, I am reminded that for far too many of us, the winter holidays are stressful to the point of crazy-making. The pressure to buy things we don't have money for, or even if we do, the pressure to find "just the right present" sends us into a frenzy of consumerism. Most of us eat and drink far too much, don't exercise enough, and in general let good intentions go by the wayside.

Then there are the family dynamics. The winter holidays are like putting dysfunctions old and new on steroids. Under the guise of ho-ho-ho bonhomie, whatever has been hurtful and unresolved resurfaces. Alcoholism and abuse emerge from the shadows. Unhealed wounds re-open.

The shortness of the days and the difficulty of getting fresh air and sunshine add to the gloom. Instead of green leaves and flowers, we find ourselves surrounded by frozen slog or mud. If we have any predisposition at all to Seasonal Affective Disorder, it perks right up.

To resist all this, we need black-belt self-care, not just for ourselves, but for the people we love. Kindness, simplicity...slowing down. Breathing. Stretching. Reflecting. Taking the time to feel what we need to nourish our bodies, our mind, our spirits.

The best holiday gift we can give is to be fully present with one another. To do that, most of us need reminding that we ourselves are precious. When our hearts are open, not only do we become fully alive, but we inspire and complete the aliveness of those around us.

In this, and every season, be peace. Be joy. Be love. Be yourself.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Tajji Diaries: Rainy Day Dogs



First, a confession: the title is misleading. Every German Shepherd Dog we’ve owned has not cared at all about rain, even Oka, who thought water on the ground was poisonous. Puddles, lakes, the ocean – not going there. But water from the sky seemed to be unworthy of notice. It is, however, noticed by the resident monkeys, who have devised utterly senseless rules regarding what must be done before entering the house.

First, the rubdown. There is no need for this from the dog’s perspective. German Shepherd Dogs have double coats: an outer coat of long hairs that form a water-repellant layer, and an inner coat of soft, fluffy fur. (When bathing the dog, it takes forever to wet the inner coat and even longer to rinse it and even longer to dry it. Fortunately, GSDs “blow their coats” – explosively shed the under layer – twice a year, so there’s no need to bathe them often.) So the dog’s skin is dry and warm while the outer coat gets covered with drops of water. Tajji sees no reason why she must be massaged with a towel, but she enjoys it anyway. Then comes the belly and inner sides of her legs, also fine. Then lower legs and paws.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Midwifing a Story: Beta Readers and Critiquers



A “story midwife” is someone whose insightful feedback helps the writer to make the story more fully what it is intended to be. A while ago, I wrote about Trusted Readers, the unsung heroes of this process. Sometimes they receive thanks in the Acknowledgements page of a novel, but rarely for a short story. Now let’s talk about more visible helpers: beta readers and critiquers.

Most of the time, there is little functional difference between beta readers and critiquers. Both read a story in draft form and respond with comments and analysis. Unlike a Trusted Reader, a beta reader or critiquer is usually either a writer or someone knowledgeable about the internal workings of fiction, like a professional editor. So the feedback may go more along the lines of technical criticism and less a generalized “this didn’t work for me.” A  beta reader acts like a Trusted Reader-with-expertise, whereas a critiquer focuses on pinpointing weaknesses and often suggesting solutions, many times in a workshop or other group setting. For this blog post, however, I’ll use the terms interchangeably.

Critiques often take place in a structured setting, such as a workshop. My first experiences with exchanging critiques were done through the Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop, a by-mail-with-newsletter forum run by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury (back in the 1970-90s or a little beond, if I remember correctly). I’ve also attended ongoing face-to-face workshops, as well as weekend groups at conventions. All have involved both giving and receiving critiques. Like many writers, I have cultivated a small group of “go-to” beta readers. Although it’s often not stated explicitly, the understanding is that over the course of time, each of us will critique a story from the other. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Career Chat: Writing Progress Goals



One of the most common questions I get asked is how I schedule my writing time. Non-writers often think we either write only when the muse strikes (and then, accompanied by quantities of alcohol, swathed in tobacco or other botanical smoke, and living in the most depressing garret imaginable, surrounded by the wreckage of countless relationships) – or we get up at 7, sit down at the computer/typewriter at 9, take a one-hour lunch break at noon, and work steadily  until 5. I am quite sure there are writers who do follow those schedules, but I’m not one of them.

 Some writers need long stretches of time to dig deep into their stories. I’m not one of them, either. I’m a slow-and-steady plodder. There’s nothing right or wrong about either way; each writer discovers what’s right for them. So the following comes from my own experience.

If I’m going to write a novel and a couple of short stories every year (or two novels in 18 months), I need to write consistently, especially when I’m in the early drafting stages. All bets are off when I’m writing proposals, rewriting, or revising to editorial order. Most of the time, I find daily goals helpful, so long as they are achievable. I don’t find it at all supportive to post my progress in terms of words of pages. One writer of my acquaintance used to post not only words written but anti-words; words the writer had deleted. I like that the writer acknowledged that not all progress can be measured by the total number of words.

A better goal for me is to write well.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Giveaway: My Holiday Gift to You

12/13/2014 Update. The giveaway is over. From my standpoint, it was an enormous success. Many happy fans, which makes this writer happy, too. I hope you'll consider reviewing the books and telling your friends about them. Word of mouth is the best promotion, and that means a happy publisher and MORE books.

Blessings of the season to all, 
Deborah 

'Tis the season to express our gratitude for friends and family, and to share many wonderful things -- gifts, memories, fun times...books! I offer my readers a selection of my books in thanks for their enthusiastic support. I'd likely keep writing even if no one every read a word, but there's immense satisfaction in hearing that my stories have touched the hearts of my readers.

The deal:

1. Send me an email (click "Please Let Me Hear From You," upper left, with your choice of books and a mailing address. Limit one of the starred books or two of the unstarred ones. In your email, let me know if or how you'd like the book signed (to you or someone you're giving the book to, or just a signature). If you select a starred book, give me an alternate title in case I'm out of them. (First come, first served on the limited quantities.)

2. I'll pay domestic mail, although contributions ("Donate" button waaaay down on the lower left) for postage are most welcome. I'll split postage for overseas.

3. Autographed bookplates (great if you already have my books!) - let me know how many you'd like.

4. Should you feel moved to review the book, that would be most welcome.

The books:

 Zandru's Forge (Clingfire #2 but works as standalone) (hardcover)
Hastur Lord (standalone) (hardcover)
*A Flame in Hali  (Clingfire #3) (hardcover)
*The Children of Kings (standalone) (hardcover)
The Children of Kings (mass market paperback)
*The Heir of Khored (Seven-Petaled Shield #3) (mass market paperback)
*Collaborators, my Lambda Award Finalist sf novel (standalone) (trade paperback)

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Tajji Diaries: Treat!


The foundational concept behind positive training techniques is that behaviors have consequences. Pairing a desirable behavior with a reward increases the likelihood that behavior will be repeated. (Punishment, or an unpleasant consequence, is far less effective because while it may decrease the frequency of the undesired behavior, it also increases the response of fear, which makes it harder for the animal to learn anything.) In working with dogs, we often use food as a reward. Since human language means nothing to a dog, we need a means of communicating “Yes, you did the right thing!” 

Food is a primary reinforcer because it’s a basic need, and yummy food lights up the brain’s pleasure centers. To more accurately identify the desired behavior, we can use a secondary reinforcer (like a clicker or a word such as “Yes!”) that we then associate with the primary reinforcer. (Click = treat.)

Food is not the only possible reward. Depending on the dog’s temperament, a suitable reward might also be a favored toy, something to chase, or praise. I saw this in the mother of the puppy we owned a couple of summers ago; she was so play-driven as to be oblivious to food but would immediately respond to commands for the chance to play with her favorite toy, a ball on a cord. Whatever it is, the reward must be something of high value to the dog.

Folks attempting to train their dogs with reward-based training can run into problems because they don’t use sufficiently yummy food. Kibble isn’t going to cut it for most dogs, especially if they’ve already been fed and aren’t hungry. Think of it this way:

You’re wandering around a playground, trying out various equipment. Some things are just plain fun, like whooshing down the slide. Others, meh. But when, in your ramblings, you jog a hundred feet, someone hands you a nickel, is that going to make you eager to repeat it? How about if someone hands you a dollar? Twenty dollars? A thousand dollars? Or, in food terms, a stalk of celery versus a Godiva chocolate (versus a whole box of Godiva chocolates). In training, the treats must be sufficiently yummy to that particular dog to elicit the “Wow, let’s do that again!” response.