Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Eve Wishes

2015 is winding down -- how did that happen? It feels as if it had just gotten some momentum. It's been a year of changes for my family, as for many others. Not as rotten a year as 2013 in terms of my personal losses, but not my favorite year, either. Still, there were bright spots and occasions for joy and hope. It's a little like eating horseradish and charoseth at Pesach, the bitter with the sweet.
May we strive together to create a world of peace and justice for everyone. And may we and our loved ones find much to celebrate in the coming year, remembering to be gentle with ourselves and tender with others, most particularly those already burdened with sorrow.

B'shalom, Deborah

Monday, December 28, 2015

TRANSFUSION is An Anthology Builder Best Seller

My first excursion into the wonderful world of making my short fiction available (to those fans who don't have the inclination to rush out and buy dozens of anthologies, not to mention old magazines) was through Anthology Builder. This nifty site allows you to choose from a library of short fiction, pick a cover, and create your own anthology.

Some of the work is in the public domain, such as stories by Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Agatha Christie, and Arthur Conan Doyle. But there's lots more by wonderful contemporary writers like Jay Lake, Mary Robinette Kowal, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Cat Rambo, Sarah Zettel, Aliette de Bodard, and Ann Leckie (and me!)

I put together a bunch of my best stories, slapped on a nifty cover, and came away with a nicely printed book to offer at conventions and give to family.

Later, I published another collection by the same name (and with the same lead story), available as an ebook from Book View Cafe, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc. Please to notice, dear friends, that the ToCs are not identical. The Anthology Builder version contains some science fiction, like "Mother Africa" and "Madrelita." Here's the list of the stories.

Transfusion and Other Tales of Hope is listed as one of their best selling pre-made anthologies (although technically it's a collection, since all the stories are mine). What a lovely way to start the new year!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

[personal] Goals, Resolutions, Wishes, 2016 version

This blog post is from a few years ago, but it's worth repeating. Be kind to yourselves and your dreams.

I'm not big on resolutions, New Year's or otherwise. More often than not, all they do is set me up to fail, or put me in competition with others, and who needs that? However, I do see a great deal of value in taking some time to clarify where I'm going in my life, if it's where I want to be going, and what I'd like to see different.

Years (as in, decades) ago, a friend suggested making a list of goals instead of resolutions, and to break them down into 1-year, 5-year, 10-year, and lifetime goals. I did that for quite a while, and I still have the notebook I kept them in. It's fascinating to look back at what I thought I wanted, 30 years ago -- what I have achieved, what I no longer want, and what is no longer possible.

Along the way, I realized that some of these things were within my power to achieve, but others were not. I might long for them, but I could not bring them about, or not entirely by my own efforts. For instance, finishing a novel or studying Hebrew are things I can choose to do, but my children being happy, however much I might want to see that come about, is not something I myself can create. These things are wishes, not goals. Of course, many things are both. On my list is to write a work of enduring value -- I can write the best stories that are in me, but how they are received and how they endure the test of time is another matter entirely. I have no say over that.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Four Paws To Light My Way (excerpt)

Tajji
Tajji, our retired seeing eye dog, has made such a difference in our (sighted) lives that I wanted to feature a dog like her in a story. Being a fantasy writer, and one who loves strong women characters, I came up with a blind swordswoman and her guide dog. The whole story appears in Sword and Sorceress 30 (in print and ebook editions at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, other venues). Here's the opening:



Four Paws To Light My Way (excerpt)


The curse lay heavy on the Shining City. Jian could smell it in the dust and the sourness of the leaves of the ginkgo trees that lined the approach to the royal palace. They fluttered unseasonably to the ground and crunched under her feet. Here and there, the paving stones, once so level and smoothly joined that she had felt as if she were walking on glass, had buckled. From time to time, Dog nudged her knee in one direction or tugged on the heavy leash in the other, guiding her along the crowded streets.

Dog didn’t like this place. Jian could tell from the stiffness in his muscles, the staccato tapping of his nails on the stones. He preferred bare earth or the windswept hillsides around their home, where wild cattle grazed. Jian did not allow herself the luxury of an opinion; she came when the Emperor commanded, and she would continue to so until he released her from her oath.

The quality of air and sound changed as they passed the outer gates. Here was naked wall, there the many-times-lacquered wood of the gate, here the density of living flesh. Guards would be posted, watchful and still.

Dog slowed, a slackening of the leash. Jian bowed. The guards did not ask her name. How could there be two of her — a blind woman dressed in patched and faded soldier’s garb, a sword in its battered sheath tucked into her sash, a scarf of imperial silk tied around her neck? At least, they were not so foolhardy as to suggest she leave Dog outside the palace.

“Forward,” she said, and Dog guided her inside.

Footsteps on the raked dirt of the courtyard came nearer, then stopped in front of her. She paused, nostrils flaring even though she lacked Dog’s keen sense of smell. There was something familiar about that stride…but she’d been sighted when she’d last heard it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Inevitable Consequence of Rain

Rain and more rain. This is good.

Power has gone out. This is predictable. (I live in a forested, mountainous region.)

Backup generator has failed to go on. This is catastrophe.

Wait! My Chromebook battery is all charged so I can write! I can play my piano! I can read a book! I can play with the dog!

(I can have a cold breakfast or go get the Sterno from the emergency supplies...)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Monday Joy

It's raining. This is a good thing. I have yoga class today with a teacher I like very much. This is an even better thing.

What's new and wonderful in your world?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Cheering Each Other On


"When someone does something good, applaud!" said Samuel Goldwyn. "You will make two people happy."

The past few years in the science fiction and fantasy communities (no slight to you horror fans, you can have your share) have been rife with insults, denigration of one another's work, and -- not to put too fine a point on it -- downright nastiness. More than once I have wondered why folks who think that tearing down someone else's book will somehow make theirs better. This is not to say there is no place for literary criticism or personal taste. Not every book that's published qualifies as great literature. I've done my share of scratching my head, clueless as to why a book that did nothing for me has made best seller lists. And there are authors I won't read because I find their public statements, actions, or subtext abhorrent. (When Mein Kampf goes off copyright anon, I doubt I'll purchase a copy.) So the discourse about negative reactions to authors and specific books is complex.

I find the reverse to be quite simple. If I enjoyed a book, I like to praise it. Or a movie, or a piece of music, or a painting, or a dance, or any of the thousand other things that light up my day. It might not be perfect, but a thing doesn't have to be flawless to be enjoyable. When I share my private delight with others, I find it makes me even happier. If the other person also loved whatever it is I'm applauding, that's even better. Curious, how human nature works. We all smile together. Our hearts lift.

And of course, whoever created the thing I'm applauding is happy, too. I've been on both sides -- giving and getting applause. How great is that?

The thing about writing is that so much of it is done in solitude, where our fears and self-doubts multiply in the dark. No matter how thick-skinned we tell ourselves we are, we are not immune to gloom. So instead of looking at another writer's success and thinking, "I suck, I'll never be that good" or "There goes my readership" (or reeling under a review or a rejection letter that compared my work unfavorably to a piece by A Bigger Name -- don't laugh, both have happened to me), I remind myself that no matter who wrote it, the world is a better place with this story in it. I'm a happier reader for having found it. Some day, I'll write a story that makes other people this happy. The other author's success shows me that mine is possible. It gives me hope, as well as something to aim for.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

New Story to Read

Click Read A Story for a free short story,"Bread and Arrows," first published in Sword and Sorceress 30, now collected with other short fantasy fiction in Pearls of Fire, Dreams of Steel and available from  Book View CafeAmazon.com, and Barnes and Noble)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Galaxies Dance to the Death

This image  from the Hubble Space Telescope was so striking, I could not resist sharing it with you.



These two galaxies (NGC 3808A on the right and NGC 3808B on the left) are distorted ("peculiar") by the massive gravitational tides of a near encounter. The one on the right shows areas of new star formation as a result. Eventually, they will merge into a single galaxy. The bridge between them is made up of gas, dust, and stars.

I wonder what the night sky looks like from a planet in either one -- delicious fodder for a science fiction story! Or a fantasy? What will the two galaxies look like in a billion years? Computer modeling can give us a fascinating peek. Meanwhile, (thank you yet again, Hubble!) we get to enjoy this beautiful, dramatic image.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Kindness in Fictional Characters

"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless." -- Mark Twain

As I read these words, I am reminded of what William Penn, Quaker and namesake of Pennsylvania, said: "Let us then try what love can do to mend a broken world."

When I talk about kindness and compassion, the state of the world often is the first thing that comes to mind. As I write this, folks are struggling to come to terms with and respond appropriately (or not) to events of spectacular violence. We're all feeling shaken. There's a great deal of public discourse about compassion vs retaliation vs pre-emptive action vs addressing root causes, so there is no need to elaborate here.

Kindness can exist "out there in the world" and it can exist inside ourselves, a quality to be cultivated. It is also an important consideration in the creation and development of fictional characters. First and foremost, just about everyone except sociopaths has some degree of kindness and it manifests to one degree or another in various ways under various circumstances. Sometimes it seems that authors are so fixated on dynamic action or escalating tension or nifty gee-whiz ideas that they forget the role of kindness in every human interaction. (In science fiction and fantasy, this includes non-humans as well!) It may be a small role, or so tiny as to be undetectable, or it may be the dominant emotional axis, but it is always there.

Last night, I was watching a movie and noted that a series of breakneck action scenes was followed by a short catch-your-breath pause. Characters are binding up their wounds, repairing their weapons, that sort of thing. And there was a moment of kindness. Not the expected sort of comforting the injured or checking to see how everyone fared. This moment had more to do with taking that kindness a step further so that the care-taking character could see the good they had done.

Nationally, we talk about the Gross National Product, the total worth of all the products and services produced in one year in a given country. Well, the ones that are typically measured in dollars or shekels or pounds. Some years ago, the King of Bhutan talked about the Gross National Happiness, as if that, too, were something that can be quantified. How about a Gross National Kindness? Or, more specific to story-tellers, the Greater Narrative Kindness?

Kindness isn't about feel-good, let's-all-be-best-friends naive solutions to dramatic problems, or conflicts arising from powerful forces like scarce resources, injustice, blind ambition, or utter evil? It's about small deeds that weave together the lives of the characters, creating and sustaining loyalty and friendship, even devotion. It also isn't an either/or on/off thing.

One way to add depth and complexity, not to mention sympathy, to your characters is to take note of where they are on this spectrum of kindness at any given time and with these particular other characters. The most straightforward presentation is externally observable kind words or deeds. But it might also be that your character is feeling distinctly unkind -- how does that influence his behavior? her speech -- words, tone, contrast with body language? Or your character might be feeling kindness but unable to express it. This opens a host of possibilities for letting the reader know, for revealing and deepening that character.

Or -- and here the potential gets really juicy -- a character who feels no kindness but nevertheless acts in a kind way. Why the discrepancy? Is this an unfeeling person? Or a person who might be kind under other circumstances but not these? Why then behave contrary to genuine feeling? What does she have to gain? And how does the very act of kindness change her?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the role of kindness in character and story.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

GUEST POST: Amy Sterling Casil on "We Can Write Our Lives; We Can Write The World"

Toni Morrison did. She healed vast trauma through her books and is the embodiment of a different way of living. She is her own miracle and that of all of ours, the entire world.

She told The Guardian. “So much contemporary fiction, even when it’s well written is sort of … self-referential. I used to teach creative writing at Princeton and I would say ‘Don’t do that. Don’t write about your little life.”

Toni’s life, Toni’s job has been to be this and she has done it so brilliantly, so perfectly, so magnificently. She wrote others and in doing so she created her incredible self. An impossible person. People who do not see, who are not aware, don’t realize the extraordinary thing she is; more extraordinary than our black President. A Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning black woman writer who was a major editor at a major publishing house, an Ivy League professor and mother of two, with more than a dozen bestselling novels of her own. All about black women. Yes, how they were traumatized and brutalized, but also how they transcended. And look at how magnificently she lives, how magnificent she IS.

I hear things. I feel things. I see things. The more aware I am, the more I see and feel and hear. I’ve been tentatively telling people the concept that came into my mind a few weeks ago. What if, I thought — what if when people thought the world was flat, it really was? The time when that was, was in reality — much longer ago than we, today, likely think.

No one saw the globe from space until 1945 when the first hazy image showing a curved horizon appeared. No one had a clear picture of Earth’s true appearance from space until the 1972 “Blue Marble” photo taken from Apollo 17.

Greek people knew that the Earth was round and even accurately calculated its circumference. A thousand years later, this had been largely forgotten. It’s part of our general theoretical concept that we somehow have “progressed” since ancient Greek days.