Friday, September 21, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Interstellar Chocolate Thieves

Free Chocolate, by Amber Royer (Angry Robot Books)
Ah, chocolate. It must be one of Earth’s finest natural creations, right? That’s the premise underlying this charming YA novel in which First Contact with all those alien worlds out there is not for the purpose of cultural exchange, mathematical enlightenment, military domination, or any of the hundreds of rationales. It’s to raid Earth of its chocolate! Well, and a few other things, too, like coffee and vanilla beans.

Within a short time, humans and alien races are mixing freely, some combinations with more success than others, and chocolate production is rigidly controlled by a huge corporation, HGB – Hershey, Godiva, and Bissinger -- which “sprouted in the wake of the First contact War. They quietly made proprietary trade agreements with other planets…making it the most powerful organization ofn the planet.” Bodacious Benitez is living her life as a student, dating a gorgeous guy from Krom (whose irises change color depending on his emotions), when she’s catapulted into an interplanetary scheme to liberate chocolate. Her mother hosts an immensely popular cooking show, bolstering the HGB image.

The most charming aspect of the book, however, is its use of language. It’s told in first person, as is much YA today. Bo is fluent in several languages, notably English, Spanish (her birth language), and Portuguese. This makes sense when you think about it because most cacao-growing regions are Spanish or Portuguese speaking. Bo liberally strews her English with words in Spanish and teen-speak:

I need a hot shower and un poco alone time with Love Hurts, my favorite flufferiffic soap opera – a guilty pleasure Brill knows nada about. 
Icy certainty settles in my stomach. I am muerto. Pero, I keep fighting the womborg [a wombat cyborg] anyway. 
“Mamá, I only tell the celebarazzi things like how unfair it is that the chocolatiers have to work and extra hour…”

On the down side, the deliciousness of the language forced me to read more slowly than usual. Although most of the meanings can be deduced from context, I kept consulting my Kindle dictionary to get an added bit of certainty. This, combined with the length of the book, had the effect of flattening the dramatic intensity. There’s plenty of action in the story, but it takes place over such a stretched-out length that the overall shape of rising tension and climax, etc., is diminished. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hours spent with Bodacious, Brill, and their friends.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Guest Blog: Jane Lindskold on Emotional Continuity in Series

Jane Lindskold has been writing full-time since 1994. She is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of over twenty-five novels, including the acclaimed Firekeeper Saga, Changer, and the sword and sorcery classic When the Gods Are Silent. Her most recently released novel is Asphodel. She has also had published over seventy short stories.

Welcome, Jane!

Editor Deborah J. Ross interviewed me about writing, my story in the forthcoming issue of Sword and Sorceress and other things. In it, I touch on how negative influences have had a strong impact on my writing.  Here’s an example.

Last week, I took a week off writing to immerse myself in various aspects of the Firekeeper universe before moving into the next part of the story.  One of the complications about writing the seventh novel in a series is how easily it is to gloss over small details.  Add to this that I haven’t written a Firekeeper novel in over a decade and the complexity grows.

By coincidence, my pleasure reading included a series I am enjoying very
much – especially for the evolving relationships of the central suite of characters.  I’m not going to go into details, but something I read made me think about an often neglected element of continuity – emotional continuity.

When something traumatic happens to a character, something that is key to a great deal of the action of that particular book, and then in the next book, something similar (but not identical) happens, I expect the characters to comment, to remember.  When they don’t, my sense that the characters are “real” suffers.

I’m not saying that the author must provide  a full recap of past events, not at all.  However, real people remember what happened to them and those memories influence how they act in the future.  Indeed, one could argue that our core self consists of an accumulated suite of experiences.  Whenever something new happens, we seek to understand it by relating it to what we have experienced before.  When something recurs, the most common reaction is “Here we go again!”   Even new experiences are often understood by how they relate to past ones: “I’ve had milk chocolate with fruit and nuts, but never with chile pepper flakes!”

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Today's Moment of Art

Coastal Scene With Figures And Ships, by Melbourne Havelock Hardwick (1857 – 1916)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Auntie Deborah's Advice to a Young Writer Suffering From Writer's Block

As a young writer, you’re probably grappling with learning many different literary skills at once. One is how to write a story, any length story. Another is how to determine the best length for a story idea. When I started selling professionally, over 30 years ago, the conventional wisdom was to begin with short stories and master craft issues at what was presumed a more manageable length, then go on to novels. (And this is what I did.) Since then I’ve met (and become friends as well as colleagues with) writers whose natural story length is long. Novels. Trilogies. Series. After years of writing at a pro level, most of then can write short as well, but it would have been a bad choice to begin with. Most, however, are just the opposite.

So one possibility is that you’re attempting a novel before you have all the necessary literary tools. You may have a solid beginning idea but not the skill to develop it into enough substance to sustain 100K words, so you’re running out of steam, as it were. Perhaps you don’t know where the story is going and have written yourself into a dead alley, but don’t yet have the critical eye to see where you tied yourself into knots.

Another possibility, as I indicated above, is that a novel isn’t your natural story length. You may be trying to stretch a short story-sized idea over 500 pages. Or you may have insufficient twists and turns and whatever nifty stuff lights you up about writing so that all the fun has gone out of it.

Whatever you do, though, don’t give up. I can’t tell you how many of us who’ve gone on to successful careers writing novels have trunks of unfinished novels. If yours isn’t a source of joy, set it aside. Or steal the juicy bits and weave them together with new! improved! sparkly! bits. Try writing short or short-short. Try poetry. Write journal entries. Blog. Keep at it — and notice when you hit your stride. In other words, go where the fun is. The fun and the heartbreak and the adrenaline. That’s what will sustain you page after page, novel after novel, for an entire career.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Sword and Sorceress 33 Author Interviews: Jane Lindskold

Enter a wondrous universe…the latest volume of Sword and Sorceress, featuring stories from new and seasoned authors. Herein you will find tales of fantasy with strong female characters, with some version of either martial skill or magic. Not all the protagonists will be human, and sometimes the magic will take highly original forms, but the emotional satisfaction in each story and in the anthology as a whole, remains true to the original vision. The release date will be November 2, 2018.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Jane Linskold: I’ve been a storyteller since I was very young, but I didn’t really make any sort of focused effort to write those stories down until I was a college undergraduate.  By the time I finished my PhD, I knew that I wanted to be a fiction writer.  Therefore, as soon as my dissertation was completed, I put the time I’d been using to write that into writing fiction.  I had a lot of rejections, but finally started selling.

DJR:  What inspired your story in Sword and Sorceress 33?
JL: As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in the non-human perspective.   For various reasons, I found myself wondering what it would like to be a familiar.  Many Fantasy stories feature familiars, but I couldn’t think of any where they weren’t either sage advisors, flippant commentators on the action, or (worst of all) simply another tool in the wizard’s kit.  I decided to try my hand at writing a story from the familiar’s point of view, and this is what resulted.  I very much like both the (currently nameless) familiar and the people it meets.  I definitely plan to write more about them.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Victims No More

Fury, by Rachel Vincent (Harlequin)

This is yet another book I’ve innocently dived into, unaware it was part of a series. “Series” can mean a number of things, from stand-alone complete-in-themselves novels set in the same universe to one long story that extends over several volumes. Recently I listened to an interview with Peter Jackson in which he discussed the decision to not put a recap at the beginning of The Two Towers, the second part of The Lord of the Rings. He felt that one year between film was a short enough time for viewers (those few not intimately familiar with the books) to remember and anyone who went to see it without having seen or read The Fellowship of the Ring, oh well… I admit to not being as careful as I might about checking to see if a book is a sequel, so I rely on the skill of the author to furnish necessary backstory without inundating me with it, and to draw me into the story so that even if I have to work a little harder to figure out what has gone before, I’m already hooked.

Rachel Vincent’s Fury definitely falls into this category. For the first couple of chapters I vacillated between “this is a sequel and I can’t keep straight who and what all these characters are” to “this is a stand-alone that brilliantly weaves the backstory into the present, trusting the reader to gradually put it all together.”

The book begins with parallel stories from the past and present. In the past, we learn of a mysterious rash of murders that leave one child survivor, always a six-year-old. In the present, a small band of cryptids (werewolves, redcaps, oracles, a minotaur, and the like), having escaped a brutal captivity, struggle to maintain their freedom while tracking down their abusers. Their journeys kept me reading on, dying of curiosity about how the two story lines would come together, and I was quickly so in love with these characters that discovering there were not one but two previous novels filled me not with disappointment but anticipation. There’s lots more, even if I read them in the wrong order. You, on the other hand, can reap the benefit of my experience and start at the beginning.

In some ways, this book made me think of the flip side of Seanan McGuire’s “Incryptid” series, which I like very much and have reviewed elsewhere. In McGuire’s world, as Vincent’s, these nonhuman people are at tremendous risk from the mundane world, only there is an extended family devoted to their protection and preservation. While it’s a terrible shame such heroes do not exist in the world of Fury, here the cryptids are their own saviors, which makes for a different but no less satisfying tale.

The usual disclaimer: I received an advance reading copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything in particular about it.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Short Book Reviews: An Unrealistic Depiction of Recovery

The Shifting Pools, by Zoë Duncan (Trafalgar Square Publishing)

I requested a review copy of this book based on its description: 
Fleeing war and the death of her family, Eve has carefully constructed a new life for herself in London. Yet she is troubled by vivid, disturbing dreams, symptoms of her traumatic past, which intrude increasingly on her daily life. As she is drawn further into her dream world, she finds herself caught up in a fresh battle for survival. A dark, lyrical fantasy about healing and reconnecting with the full richness of the self.

As the family member of a murder victim, I am especially interested in stories of survival and healing. Although competently written on a prose level, The Shifting Pools turned out to be an example of telling the reader how to feel. (Actually, bashing the reader over the head.) Sections alternate between modern London, where Eve has begun psychotherapy (not, as the author says, psychoanalysis, a mistake that threw me out of the story!), Eve’s childhood trauma, Eve’s dreams that make no more sense than any other dreams, and a “fantasy” fairy tale that lacks the internal structure, sense, and mythic elements that make such a tale work psychologically.

Besides being confused by constantly switching from one brief scene to another, I found each thread unbelievable. I’ve already remarked on the fairy tale. Although Eve and her family are brutalized by an invading army, they read like an ordinary Western family. Given what has been happening to refugees in the past few centuries, this depiction of white privilege, with all its wealth and resources, struck me as shallow. Certainly, wealthy people can be victims of violence, but in this case there was the opening for a deeper cultural context.

More than that, modern Eve didn’t feel like a person grappling with buried trauma. Her journey into the dark places of her own psyche came across as superficial and trite, much too easily accomplished, without the soul-deep agony and strength of real survivors. The list of references at the end is light on psychology, and includes the outdated psychoanalytic work of Frankl and Jung but none of the modern understanding of PTSD and its treatment. Medication, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), PE (prolonged exposure) and other clinically proven methods aren’t even mentioned. The result might be poetic and overly dramatic but struck me as not at all realistic. My suggestion is to go spend some time with people who actually have survived PTSD and listen to how they talk because I didn’t believe Eve was one of them.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything about it.

Short Book Reviews: Another Bannerless Winner from Carrie Vaughn

The Wild Dead, by Carrie Vaughn (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

I loved Vaughn’s Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, Bannerless, and eagerly dove into this, its sequel. Vaughn’s vision of an egalitarian, post-collapse world struck me as a welcome and necessary antidote to the commonly portrayed descent into dog-eat-dog chaos. In her world, people worked cooperatively after “The Fall” to select and preserve technology and to establish social structures that promoted communities living in ecological balance, carefully limiting overconsumption, overproduction and birth rate. In other words, the survivors were intelligent about how they went about rebuilding civilization. That’s just the background, the setting, to the murder mysteries in Bannerless and The Wild Dead.

Given lots of knowledge but scarce forensic resources due to a generation-ago picking and choosing, how would you go about solving a murder? You know basic chemistry and anatomy, and you have solar power and well-machined instruments, but have no way to analyze DNA, trace evidence, or microscopic kerf marks. When Enid and her apprentice, Teeg, arrive at the Estuary as investigators, this world’s traveling magistrates, their initial task, the one they’ve been requested to adjudicate, pertains to the fate of an old house that’s one of the few relics of “Before” yet is too badly damaged to be easily repairable.

As they examine the issue of the house, a body washes up in the river, a young woman of the wild folk who live outside the communities of Coast Road, and it’s up to Enid and Teeg to solve the murder. Without modern forensics or knowledge of the history and social interactions of the Estuary households, yet with a deep moral sense and compassion for this unknown victim, Enid dives into the case. As with Bannerless, Enid’s own intelligence and intuitive understanding of human nature guide her to the unexpected but perfectly prepared result.

I can’t praise Vaughn’s work highly enough. The elegance of her prose rises and falls like harmonic waves, from serviceably transparent to downright poetic, enhancing the emotional beats. Even her secondary characters are beautifully depicted. Most of all, I admire her decision to place her unusual murder mysteries in a world that gives me hope for the survival of sanity and kindness.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything about it.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Belated 2018 WorldCon Report

With fellow Book View Cafe author, Madeleine Robins
I confess to a love-hate relationship with big conventions. I love the energy. I love seeing friends and colleagues from all over the world, particularly since most of the time, I am something of a hermit, nesting in my redwood forest. The prospect of so many of us getting together in one place at one time is intoxicating. Likewise, the richness of the programming (in this case), the celebration of creators and fans, is powerfully attractive. On the other hand, big conventions like WorldCon never come at the right time in my life. There seems to be a universal constant that says t(WC) = D(stress)max, where t = time, WC = WorldCon, and D = Deborah.

This year was no exception. The reasons are many and mostly personal, but suffice it to say that when August rolled around, I had not had an emotional break or a chance to fully recover from earlier events. When I pushed “Send” to email the latest Darkover novel to the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust (which holds the copyright and must give their approval before it goes to the editor), I felt as if I needed a month’s “dodo time.” Dodo time being an expanse of possibilities without any expectations of productivity.

Nevertheless, I had made a commitment while my brain was under the influence of the first paragraph. I had requested (and been granted) several events, including an autographing session, hosting a KaffeKlatch, and being a pro writer for the writers workshop. Stories from participants had been duly received, read, and critiqued. Not only that, but my publisher, DAW, would be in attendance, and I’d set up meetings with both my editors.

Since San Jose, locale of this year’s WorldCon, is local to me, I had originally intended to commute from home (an hour-plus drive, mostly along twisty mountain roads), but my friend and fellow writer, Juliette Wade, invited me to stay with her — and to drive us both. So Friday morning, I presented myself at her place, and she and I and her kids, and the wonderful Kate Johnston headed for San Jose.

This is what WorldCons are like for me: I see a panel or twenty I’d love to hear, I start in that direction, I meet a friend I haven’t seen in x years (where x = 1-30), we hug, catch up on news both personal and professional, we each say we have a panel to get to, I return to my path, I go five paces, I seen another friend, and so forth. It’s a sort of Brownian motion and almost always results in many joyful reunions and lively conversations but few if any panels attended.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Magical Stitchery

Torn, by Rowenna Miller (Orbit)

In a land and time not too distant from our own Western European late 17th Century, first-generation immigrant Sophie is at last achieving her dream and pulling herself out of poverty. She’s managed to get a license to operate her dressmaking shop and even hire a couple of assistants. It’s enough to not only support her but to help her brother, Kristos, a day laborer who also has a dream: achieving fair working conditions for his comrades. But Sophie is no ordinary seamstress: she has a flair for design, and she’s inherited her mother’s magical gifts. For special projects for special patrons, she stitches in spells of love, of protection, of luck. Her upward mobility blinds her to the nativism and bigotry that give rise to endemic social and economic injustice. Just as Sophie gets her big break, creating spell-stitched garments for the aristocracy, the workers’ revolution begins to heat up. Initially nonviolent, the protests become increasingly confrontational -- and deadly -- under the direction of a mysterious leader, an academic who himself has foreign roots and who has an agenda of his own…and a use for Sophie’s special talents.

Sophie is an interesting character, and we see her changing world through the lens of her own frantic attempts at head-in-the-sand neutrality. In times of upheaval, those who have scratched together a little are even more desperate to hold on to it than those who have nothing. It would be easy to portray the workers’ movement as ill-conceived and naïve, playing into the hands of an unscrupulous, power-hungry manipulator. Certainly, from Sophie’s vantage, the revolution lurches from one fulminating disaster to another, and if the leaders would just go home and let her continue in her business-as-usual, that would be fine with her. In some ways, the noble ladies who include her in their salons are more politically astute, and more aware of how unstable their society has become. For this very reason, telling the story from Sophie’s viewpoint highlights the hypocrisies on all sides, for she is both an innocent victim caught in the cross-fire and complicit in the maintenance of an oppressive regime. Yet if bloody upheaval comes at too great a cost, what is a better path forward? Our world has yet to figure that out. Perhaps, as this series unfolds, Sophie’s world will.

The verdict: Surprisingly deep socially aware fantasy, plus a very cool magical system.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Short Book Reviews: World-Hopping Middle Grade Adventures to Delight the Parents, too

Unwritten, by Tara Gilboy (Jolly Fish Press) 

A story in which a character finds her way into the world of a book has enduring appeal, and I’m at the front of the line to read such adventures to my favorite imaginary places. So when I read the description of a story in which our young heroine escapes from the world of a book into our own, I was intrigued. Unwritten fulfills the promise of its premise with quirky, immediately sympathetic people whose personalities warp and evolve as they are revealed through the plot. Gracie and her (single, waitress) mother are exiles from a storybook world in which, Gracie has always been told, she dies. Our ordinary world is the only place they’re safe from the evil queen. They keep their heads down, trying to not attract any attention that might draw the queen to them.

When the author of the book comes to town to do a bookstore signing, Gracie defies her mother and sneaks into the store to find out more about her own story. “I don’t know,” says the author, “that book never worked, so I threw away the manuscript.”

A series of mishaps, catalyzed by Gracie’s act of rebellion, catapult her, her mother, the man who might be her deadbeat father, and her best friend and his parents, along with the author, into the storybook world. Just as she was warned, the story itself begins shaping each character according to how she has been written. Despite her best intentions, Gracie finds herself acting out her own plot line, not as the tragic victim but as the villain.

The way the book played with subjective versus consensus reality, not to mention a plot paced briskly enough to hold the attention of younger readers, was enough to carry me along, through twists and turns, star-crossed love stories, and questions about how much control any of us have over our destiny. Although it’s marketed as Middle Grade (Gracie is 12), it’s a fine, fast read for fantasy lovers of any age.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything about it.

An unusual disclaimer: Rumor has it that the author will be making a blog tour for her next book, including a guest appearance here. Stay tuned! 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Cover Reveal: Lace and Blade 5

Lace and Blade 5, an anthology of elegant, witty, romantic fantasy, will be released on Valentine's Day 2019. The Table of Contents is here. And here is the gorgeous cover, trade papberback print version, designed by Dave Smeds:

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Where's Deborah?

With Cliff Winnig at BayCon
I haven't been posting as frequently as I once did, but for the next few days I'll be even scarcer around here. I'm finishing up the second pass of the next Darkover novel, The Laran Gambit, before I meet with my NY editor this weekend.

If you're attending WorldCon, please stop by my KaffeeKlatch (Sat 5-6 pm 211B1 (San Jose Convention Center)) or my autographing (Sunday 12-1 -- I'll have print copies of Pearls of Fire, Dreams of Steel for sale, and free book plates). If not, have a grand weekend anyway and I'll see you once I come up for air!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Pearls of Fire, Dreams of Steel – A Journey into Print

I am what’s called a slow adopter of technology. I’m not the draggiest of the late-comers, but I am a far cry from the cadre of those eager to try out all things shiny and new, especially electronic gadgets. I got dragged, kicking and screaming, into the world of cellphones when my tempestuous younger daughter started community college and for various reasons it was important that she be able to contact me in a speedy fashion (and vice versa, although less crucial). We tromped down to the physical store and came away with a pair of stupidphones, sequential phone numbers, and a family service plan. Needless to say, one of the first things she did when she was on her own was to get a smartphone with a new number. My stupidphone lasted almost another decade, when I broke down and joined the app-generation. (I am gradually learning new things to do with my device, although I keep leaving it at home or forgetting to charge it, which tells you how important it is to me on most days.)

My relationship with e-readers followed somewhat the same path. I kept having the thought that one would be handy but there wasn’t money in the budget for it (and it wasn’t high enough priority to shove other things lower on the list – I had plenty of paper books to read, after all). That same daughter, now in college, passed on her very-early-version Kindle to me, and I loaded up a bunch of BVC editions and jumped in. I took that Kindle with me while taking care of a friend in the final months of her life. Being able to carry around an entire library in an object the size of a thin paperback opened up a new world for me. Now I tuck my much newer e-reader into my purse whenever I expect to have to wait, and I get a lot of reading done that way.

In these two examples, I was the consumer, the recipient of technology or technological products. As a professional writer, though, I have learned how to actively use this technology. I came of age as a writer long before electronic publishing appeared on the horizon. My first sales, in the early 1980s, were to print markets, mostly mass market books, anthologies, and magazines. Vanity presses existed but were not to be considered by any serious author (money flows to the author, remember?) Fans produced various ‘zines, using mimeograph or ditto machines. Eventually publishing shifted from print-only to the digital era. For a time, neither publishers nor agents considered how to treat royalties for sales of electronic copies, but eventually terms that were more fair to authors became the standard. I watched and tried to stay informed. Then I found myself in the same state as many authors: I had a growing list of out-of-print novels and an even longer list of stories in out-of-print anthologies and magazines.

Enter Book View Café.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Encrypted Blood

Implanted, by Lauren C. Teffeau (Angry Robot)

This dystopic YA novel revolves around several nifty premises: the Earth has been so polluted that the majority humans survive only in domed cities, while efforts are underway to ameliorate the toxins and re-establish a viable ecology; the dome cities are stratified, with the rich elite living on the topmost levels, with access to greenery and sunlight, while the poor scrabble for a living in the “Terrestrial” slums; brain implants that permit direct mind-to-mind communication as well as social media are near-universal and because of this, data is highly insecure, so... sensitive material gets encoded in the blood cells of specially trained couriers who physically transport it from sender to 
recipient. That’s only the setting.

The plot itself draws together a variety of threads. The heroine, Emery, comes from a lower level and has worked her way to better prospects. She’s been on a crusade that’s pit her skills against the thieves who rip implants from the skulls of their victims. She’s also become romantically entangled with a fellow gamer, although they’ve never met in person and she doesn’t even know his real name. As for the agency that recruits her to carry encrypted data in her blood, she uncovers plots within plots as New Worth (the city built on the ruins of Ft. Worth, Texas) stumbles toward “Emergence” into the supposedly restored outer world.

The setting, main character, and evolving action were absorbing enough to keep me reading for most of the book, but toward the end I had problems with the lack of focus. It seemed to me that the book couldn’t decide what it was about, and my attention kept being pulled in different directions: ecological disaster story? Romance? Techno-spy thriller? Victim seeking revenge? “Betrayal and reconciliation”? Other readers might feel differently. The book certainly stands out for creativity of conception and narrative voice. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the author’s next adventure.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Short Book Reviews: The Last Man Alive

Relic, by Alan Dean Foster (Del Rey)

In the far future, humanity has managed to wipe itself out not only on Earth but on every other colonized planet. So far as he knows, Ruslan is the last human in existence. He’s not alone, though. A race of benign (seeming?) aliens, the Myssari, have taken him under their care. Their goal is to use his cells to clone a new generation of humans, thereby extending their knowledge of sapient races. His price for participating: their help in rediscovering Earth, birthplace of humanity. Of course, things go wrong, among them the appearance of a rival alien race who also want to form an alliance with him. And various other things that fall under the “spoiler” category.

This sounds like pure, classical Alan Dean Foster, full of action and imagination.  Alas, that is not the experience I had reading this book. I’ve loved Foster’s work for decades, and I don’t know if he ran out of ideas, got sedate in his prose, or simply tried something more thoughtful, but the result was a soporific, meandering narrative punctuated here and there with a bit of suspense or action. (I highly recommend it for insomniacs.) It felt like a perfectly respectable piece of short fiction padded out to novel length with emotionally distant, almost Victorian prose.

Here’s an example:
He had no doubt that the dedicated if diffident Wol’daeen and her colleagues would try their utmost to successfully revive some of the other cold-stored humans. It would be a scientific triumph for them if they could do so. But having seen what he had seen and heard what he had heard, he was not sanguine.
The ratio of prose to passage of time in the story varies from plodding and repetitious to the whiplash feeling that all the interesting parts got skimmed over and it’s months or years later.

In the end, the story elements came together well. I would expect no less from an author as seasoned as Foster, but on the whole I found it neither absorbing nor satisfying. Which was a pity, because I'd been so excited to read it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

New Paperback: Pearls of Fire, Dreams of Steel

I have now embarked upon the wonderful and terrifying world of Print On Demand. My first project is a print edition of my collection of short fantasy fiction, Pearls of Fire, Dreams of Steel, that spans my literary career from my earliest sales to more recent work. It's been available as an ebook for awhile, but now is in tangible, hold-able, sleep-with-it-under-your-pillow form.

And, need I say so, it's gorgeous. Both the wrap-around cover designed by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff from an initial design by Amy Sterling Casil, and the amazing interior formatting and designs by Marissa Doyle make the physical book a delight.

It's available nowat Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the usual suspects, plus will be orderable by your local brick-and-mortar local bookstore through Ingram. Only $12.99 for right now.

The Table of Contents:

Bread and Arrows
A Hunter of the Celadon Plains
Storm God
Nor Iron Bars
Poisoned Dreams
The Sorceress’s Apprentice
Under the Skin
Our Lady of the Toads
Pearl of Fire
Pearl of Tears
Dragon Amber
The Casket of Brass
The Hero of Abarxia

Monday, July 30, 2018

Scientific Wonders, July 2018 edition

A potpourri of nifty discoveries to remind us, in the midst of so much political anguish, what an amazing universe we live in.

Baby Snake That Lived Among Dinosaurs Found Preserved in Amber

Using uranium-lead dating, a research team led by Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences and Michael Caldwell from the University of Alberta dated the fossils to about 99 million years old. A technique called synchrotron x-ray micro–computed tomography allowed the researchers to get a close look at the tiny specimens inside the amber without having to break them apart.

Wandering Star May Have Disrupted Outer Solar System's Order

Astronomers have been wrestling with a few puzzles about the neighborhood for a while now. First, there's just not nearly as much stuff out there, all told, as they would expect. Also, it's odd that Neptune is more massive than the closer-in Uranus. And many of the small objects in the outer swath — like Sedna, a strange dwarf planet — follow extreme, stretched orbits at stark angles to the rest of the solar system's more orderly inhabitants.
Those quirks suggest that something must have stirred up the pot after the planets and large moons clumped together and formed out of the cloud of dust surrounding our sun early in its life. One possible culprit is a star that might have slipped next to our solar system and tugged objects off their original paths, throwing some out of the solar system entirely and skewing the orbits of others.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Short Book Reviews: The Ghost Who Said No to a Mortal Life

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)

This novel continues the story of Rose Marshall, killed in the 1950s when her car was forced off the road by a lunatic bent on immortality. She’s bound to the “ghost roads” (the name of this series), taking on physical form to steer drivers safely away from avoidable accidents and guide the newly dead to a more peaceful place. But Rose’s nemesis isn’t done with her, and now he’s scheming to harvest her soul to buy him more time. After he strips away her supernatural protections, she makes a desperate bid to be rid of him, but he’s a step ahead of her and she ends up in a mortal body. 

From there, as to be expected, matters descend into chaos as Rose realizes that she has become, essentially and forever, a road ghost. The changes a living person experiences, whether a cold or a cut or the slow aging of her cells, are now intolerably terrifying. The way back to her ghostly condition involves a journey to Hades to petition Persephone for aid, but a journey that depends entirely upon a human ally, the woman who had sworn vengeance on Rose for the death of the drag racer boyfriend.

The “Ghost Roads” series continues to delight me with its combination of angst-ridden narrative voice, plot convulsions, and moments of unexpected compassion and wisdom. My suggestion is to start at the beginning, because on the Ghost Roads, the ride is the destination.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Lace and Blade 5 Table of Contents Reveal

The fifth volume of Lace and Blade isn't scheduled for release until next Valentine's Day, but here's a sneak peek at the delicious treasures within. (Stay tuned for the cover reveal, and author interviews...)

by Dave Smeds
by Shariann Lewitt
by Harry Turtledove
by Gillian Polack
by India Edghill
by Doranna Durgin
by Marella Sands
by Adam Stemple
by Steven Harper
by Julia West
by Robin Wayne Bailey
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
by Pat MacEwen
by Anne Leonard

Monday, July 23, 2018

My WorldCon Schedule (yes, I actually have one)

There's a whole lot of outrage and discussion right now about the failure of WorldCon 2018 programming to accord even a single panel to many long-time professional authors. I'm not going to comment on that here, but to invite any of you who will be there to come hang out with me at my two events (I believe sign ups are necessary). I'd love to see you!

Kaffeeklatsch: Deborah J Ross

Format: Discussion Group
18 Aug 2018, Saturday 17:00 - 18:00, 211B1 (San Jose Convention Center)
Deborah J Ross

Writers Workshop #11

Format: Workshop
19 Aug 2018, Sunday 14:00 - 16:00, 212A (San Jose Convention Center)
Writing Workshops are one of the best opportunities to get your work in front of published authors and publishing professionals for advice and critique. The format is as follows:
Scheduled workshop participants will apply to submit the first 5,000 words of a work in progress (novel, essay, short story, novelette, screenplay, videogame script, etc.) via email to the Area Head for Writers Workshops. A panel of professionals will read your work in advance and then critique it at WorldCon76. There will be time for questions as well after each critique. Each workshop lasts 2 hours, so each work will receive 30 minutes of critique and 5 minutes for questions, with a 5 minute break between participants. There are three participants in each workshop. You'd be surprised at how much you can learn from someone else's critique.
Jason Schachat (M), Kevin Andrew Murphy, Deborah J Ross

Friday, July 20, 2018

Short Book Reviews: A Welsh Legend in Chicago

Rough Justice, by Kelley Armstrong (Subterranean Press)

Continuing stories that center on the same cast of characters, advancing their relationships yet complete in themselves, face a number of hurdles. Whether linked short stories, novellas in this case, or entire novels, they must furnish enough backstory and setting to orient the reader. The first episode is in many ways the easiest; everything is new, nothing taken for granted. Often the protagonist explores the world via the plot, taking the reader along. In subsequent stories, the task requires progressively higher levels of finesse to give the reader the necessary history and detail in a smooth, unobtrusive fashion without interrupting the dynamic flow of action. Too much information will becalm the reader in a Sargasso Sea of exposition; too little creates disorientation and puzzlement.

At the same time, each story must stand on its own in terms of plot: inciting event, reversal, tension building to a resolution, and so forth. Not all ends need to be neatly tied up, but the reader should finish with a sense of satisfaction.

Rough Justice succeeds to a greater or less degree in these areas. Two concepts drive the story: a set of characters, avatars of ancient Welsh figures, who lead the Hunt, giant black red-eyed hounds and all, while wrestling with their previous incarnations and present lives (an attorney, a PI, and an ex-biker, all living just outside present day Chicago); and a very nifty murder mystery, complete with twisty turns, devious motives, and red herrings. PI Olivia (“Mathilda of the Hunt”) is on the brink of ordering the deadly finale to her first Hunt when her qualms allow the condemned man to escape. The Huntsmen claim to have an infallible supernatural method of determining guilt according to their “rough justice,” but Olivia isn’t convinced. She and her lover, attorney Gabriel (Gwynn in the old story) investigate what turns into a double murder/coverup/setup. That part is sneaky enough to please anyone who loves a puzzle.

The problems arise with the way the ancient Welsh myths play out in the lives of Olivia, Gabriel, and Ricky (Arawn). There’s an enormous amount of backstory and lore including how these three learned of their past lives, their roles in the Hunt, history and rules for same, the romantic triangle between Mathilda, Gwynn, and Arawn and how it relates to Olivia, Gabriel, and Ricky (or not). Plus the personal stories, relationships, and dark secrets of the three modern characters. This is where Rough Justice succeeds less well.

A certain amount of this setting and history is of course necessary but much more is presented in ways that paralyze the forward momentum of the pot. Although the story opens with the dramatic Hunt, it’s soon bogged down in backstory and long discussions of why the head Huntsman would set newbie Olivia up with a questionable verdict (and the question of whether the Huntsman is manipulating Olivia is never resolved).

On the other hand, Gabriel’s abusive, now-senile mother is being cared for by two women whose roles and relationships were never clear to me – family, professional caregivers, or fae guardians who strangely know little of Gabriel’s childhood? Therein lies the problem of trying to develop novel-length subplots in novella-sized chunks while reiterating everything that has gone before.

The setting and characters are intriguing enough to interest me in searching out the earlier installments of “Cainsville Tales” and certainly looking out for newer ones, especially if they contain similarly fascinating mysteries, but I can’t help thinking this tale would work better as a single-volume novel.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Definitely Not "The Princess Bride"

Kill the Farm Boy, by Kevine Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson, Del Rey

These days I’m on a Kevin Hearne reading spree (see my reviews of A Plague of Giants and The Squirrel on the Train) so I dove into Kill the Farm Boy, discovering to my delight that Hearne’s co-author, Delilah S. Dawson, is none other than another of my recent favorites, as Lila Bowen author of the excellent “The Shadow” series. Delight rapidly gave way to hilarity as this story unfolded, tackling one fantasy trope after another, turning them on their heads and planting petunias between their toes.

The titular farm boy is Worstley, younger brother of Bestley, who had been stabbed in the heart by Lord Ergot (if you don’t know what ergot is, pause now and look it up) for being too handsome. When a malicious pixie named Staph (aureus?) casts a spell to change Worstley into the Chosen One (and gives Gustave the goat the ability to speak, which he does in smart-ass style), it does not set well with The Dark Lord Toby (whose most powerful spell causes baked goods to rain from the sky). Opposing The Dark Lord Toby’s nefarious, yeastly plans are Fia, a 7-foot tall barbarian warrior, and her sweetheart, Argabella, a woman enchanted to be a half-rabbit, who incidentally is the world’s worst bard:
She … sang an improvised song of obfuscation:
We are not food
No sir Mister Monster
We taste super bad
Oh gods we are not food
Really really really
You gotta believe me
It’s hard to beat that.

The silliness isn’t restricted to spooks of characters from pose, verse, and film (although familiarity with J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, The Princess Bride, The Wizard of Oz, Grimm’s fairytales, Conan the Barbarian, and Norse mythology, to name a few, enhances the humor).

I found that I couldn’t read too many chapters at a sitting, but the play of tropes, not to mention the puns, kept me coming back for another fun visit to the Lands of Pell.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Update on The Laran Gambit

I just finished the first draft of The Laran Gambit, the next Darkover novel. Whew! Now to take a little time off to play and then dive into re-reading it and the first revision (which will include making sure the characters' names and eye colors are consistent, that the same conversation doesn't occur 12 times in as many chapters, that there aren't too many plot idiocies and so forth).

I am majorly proud of myself at the moment.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Short Book Reviews: More Steampunk Airship Adventures

By Fire Above, by Robyn Bemis, Tor

In this sequel to The Guns Above, Robyn Bemis continues the steampunk adventures of a woman airship captain.  Once again, Josette Dupree, captain of His Majesty’s Signal Airship Mistral, along with her intrepid crew and not-so-intrepid supercargo, aristocrat Lord Bernat Hinkal, have been given an impossible mission: with glamorous but woefully inadequate repairs to the airship, she is to play a largely ceremonial role at the capital city. None of the real damage the airship sustained in the last batter has been repaired, including the “steamjack” engines. The bags are filled not with expensive, inert luftgas but explosive “flammable air,” a very bad combination with an engine apt to throw off sparks. Needless to say, Josette is unprepared for the courtly intrigues into which she is suddenly propelled (and with which Bernat, who grew up in such a milieu, is happy to reverse roles and become her guide). In the air, conducting a battle in three dimensions, Josette is as cunning as she is courageous. But thrown into the viper’s nest of courtiers or forced to face her own romantic feelings for Bernat’s brother, she finds herself all too fallible.

Josette has no intention of becoming a trophy hero and soon maneuvers to lead a mission to free the border state where her estranged mother (and Bernat’s lover) lives. From there, one mishap after another balloons (excuse the pun) into disaster.

As in the first adventure, I was impressed by the detailed construction of the airships, as well as the scientific (hooray for physics and chemistry!), mathematical, and engineering principles involved, as well as the strategies when battles are fought in three dimensions (up/down as well as side/side and forward/backward). The action sequences were breathtaking. My reservation, as before, pertains to the creation of a political geography so akin to Western Europe that it made no sense to not use the actual nationalities and thereby avoid reader confusion with made-up names and cultures. That reservation aside, I heartily recommend the series and hope to see more Josette’s unfolding stories (and I expect to see her, like Horatio Hornblower, become admiral one day).

Friday, June 29, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Amusement Park Urban Fantasy

Tricks for Free by Seanan McGuire (DAW)

Seanan McGuire’s “InCryptid” series just keeps getting better, her world-building more detailed, and her characters growing and changing as they struggle against inner as well as outer demons. Antimony Price comes from a family of cryptozoologists, dedicated to the study, protection, and sometimes containment of “incryptids,” creatures like Bigfoot, but who live disguised as humans. The last episode, Magic for Nothing, sent Antimony undercover, infiltrating the Covenant of St. George (yes, the  dragonslayer), whose aim is the destruction of all incryptids, no matter how benign. While in disguise and investigating a traveling carnival, she met Sam, a trapeze artist whose natural form resembles a graceful simian. Sparrow Hill Road, a related novel, introduced us to the world of road ghosts, crossroads bargains, and route-witches, many of which play crucial roles in this new novel.

Now, at the beginning of Tricks for Free, Antimony is on the run from the Covenant and hiding from her family. As she says:

I never wanted my life to be a wacky sitcom about a human girl and her inhuman roommates struggling to get by at what many people consider to be the second-happiest place in the world.

She’s taken a job working for Lowryland, a not-quite-second-rate Disneyland. Sharing an employer-provided apartment are her friends Fern (a sylf capable of altering her physical density), who enacts one of the many Fairyland princesses, and Megan, a (Pliny’s) gorgon, who in real life is a medical resident. In between the byzantine company politics, trying to stay off the Covenant’s radar and also to not burn down the theme park with her increasingly erratic ability to set fires, Antimony unearths a secret cabal of witches and sorcerers bent upon harvesting the good luck of the patrons to boost their own power. Things go awry as one terribly unlucky accident leads to another. Then Sam shows up, as well as various ghostly aunts, and the plot races right along.

McGuire writes complex, interconnected series in which every (or almost every) volume stands on its own, fast-paced, absorbing, and satisfying. She weaves in backstory and setting with such a deft touch that the reader is neither baffled nor inundated by chunks of indigestible exposition. Although I had read Magic for Nothing and Sparrow Hill Road fairly recently and enjoyed the references, I think Tricks for Free would work just as well as an introduction. So even if you’re new to the delights of the InCryptid and road ghost worlds, dive right in for a great read.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Sword and Sorceress 33 Table of Contents

This year I've joined Elisabeth Waters in editing the newest volume of Sword and Sorceress (#33, which will be released in November). The anthology, which contains some amazing stories, is now complete and here's your first sneak peek -- the lineup! 



by Pauline J. Alama 


by Margaret L. Carter 


by Lorie Calkins 


by Catherine Mintz 


by M. P. Ericson 


by Deirdre M. Murphy 


by Dave Smeds 


by Jessie D. Eaker 


by Jonathan Shipley 


by Marella Sands 


by T. R. North 


by Deborah J. Ross 


by Jane Lindskold 


by Jennifer Linnea 


by L. S. Patton 


by Evey Brett 


by Alisa Cohen 


by Melissa Mead     

Friday, June 22, 2018

Author Interviews: Juliette Wade

Many of us balance writing, family, day jobs, and taking care of ourselves. Juliette Wade, whose stories have been featured on the covers of magazines like Analog, brings her own inimitable style to the challenge.

Juliette Wade is a rising star in science fiction, writing thoughtful, provocative pieces based in extraordinary insight into culture, language, and personal agency. Of her recent novella, Gardner Dozois wrote:

“The best story in the March Clarkesworld, and one of the best stories published so far this year, is “The Persistence of Blood” by Juliette Wade. … “The Persistence of Blood” is strongly reminiscent of C.J. Cherryh's work, and if you like Cherryh, you're likely to enjoy this story too.”

Deborah J. Ross: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? 
Juliette Wade: This actually took me a long time. I wrote a lot in elementary and junior high, but then got into nonfiction (i.e. class assignments) and didn't try writing fiction again until I was married and studying for my Ph.D. Maybe it was the fact that I'd been musing on the idea for a secondary world for quite a lot of years by then, but when I started writing, I couldn't stop. The desire to write was so strong and so clear that I knew immediately this was what I was meant to do. It was frightening and wonderful.

DJR: What is your writing process? When do you write? 
JW: Writing for me is about moments stolen in between running life for myself and my family. The impact of this on my process is that a lot of my work gets done in the form of thinking while I'm doing other things. Then whenever I get a chance, I sit down at the computer and write everything down. It's easier now than it was when my children were first born, but still, a constant challenge. My favorite time to write is when I'm by myself in the house, and that doesn't happen as often as I'd like.

DJR: How would you characterize your fiction? Are you writing to/for a particular audience or audiences? 
JW: My fiction is as realistic as I can make it - from the perspective of psychology, sociology, linguistics, and anthropology. I am aiming for a wide audience, but hoping particularly to appeal to people who are looking for diversity, intersectionality, and respect of other cultures.

DJR: What writers have been major influences in your work and why? 
JW: The writer who most influenced me when I was first beginning to write was Ursula K. LeGuin. The language she uses is graceful, and she brings a cultural sensibility to her work that always impressed me. I could see the evidence of her deep thinking about societies and cultures as well as individuals, and try to emulate her in those ways as best I can. In more recent times, I have found inspiration in the works of N.K. Jemisin and Ann Leckie. It's hard for me to pinpoint any one thing about these authors that I admire, because I admire so much about what they do. One thing they are both good at, though, is making sure to keep an intimate emotional connection to characters at the same time that they bring cosmic significance to events and stakes in their stories.

DJR: What is your most current project?
JW: My most current project is a novella that just came out in the March 2018 issue of Clarkesworld Magazine. "The Persistence of Blood" takes place in my Varin world, where people live in a complex caste society in underground cities. Lady Selemei is a noblewoman who nearly died giving birth to her fifth child, who takes the revolutionary step of refusing to bear any more children, despite the fact that the noble caste is in decline and expects every woman to have as many children as possible in order to sustain the Race. Her husband is supportive, and together they attempt to change the law to protect more mothers from death in childbirth, but when things go terribly wrong, she's forced to stand on her own and become a unique political voice in her own society.

DJR: What was the inspiration for the project? 
JW: I had a conversation with Ann Leckie a couple of years ago, and she encouraged me to try writing a novella in the Varin world. I chose to focus on Lady Selemei because it's important to me that Varin stories reflect the kinds of social issues we are dealing with right now in our own world. Selemei is a very grounded person, and a mom, and has to step out beyond what she has known in order to protect herself and her family from government policies that put her life in danger. It should come as no surprise that she ends up having to fight in the political arena, and that this fight turns out to be very difficult.

DJR: What lies ahead for you as a writer?
JW: I'm currently working on a sequel to "The Persistence of Blood," which will feature a character from the Imbati servant caste and take on a very different set of social issues. I'm also working with my agent's help to publish a novel of Varin.

DJR: What advice do you have for new and aspiring writers? 
JW: I guess my advice would be something Lady Selemei believes in, which is to believe in your own gifts and keep persisting, learning as much as you can along the way. 

DJR: What do you do when you’re not writing?
JW: When I'm not writing, I do lots of different things. I like to work in my garden, and to take long walks and hikes, all of which help me to think. I like to go top-rope climbing in the gym, and to do yoga, because both of these activities help to relax my over-active mind. I work as an English and French teacher, and I work with my family on things like school homework and life in general!

Juliette Wade combined a trip to the Gouffre de Padirac with her academic background in linguistics and anthropology to create the world of Varin, a grand experiment in speculative ethnography. She lives the Bay Area of California with her husband and two children, who support and inspire her. Her fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Analog, and Fantasy & Science Fiction. She runs the Dive into Worldbuilding video series and workshop at