Friday, March 23, 2018

Superb New Single-Author Collections: Walton, Beagle, Yolen, Rowe

I’m delighted to see the single author collection returning as a literary form, for it’s immensely easier, not to mention more satisfying, to find if not all then surely the best of an author’s short fiction output all in one place. Here are four luminous examples:

Starlings, by Jo Walton

Jo Walton is not only an amazing novelist, but she is an accomplished poet. I’m always in awe of writers who can do both well. I settle into writing a novel with ease, but whenever I need a poem or song lyrics, it’s like pulling hen’s teeth for me to create anything serviceable. Yet poetry seems to flow from Walton with ease, if the poems she has posted on her LiveJournal are an example.  Starlings offers both, plus the script of a hilarious play, Three Shouts on a Hill.

One of the many things I loved about this collection was Walton’s comments on the process of writing short fiction (as opposed to longer-form novels). It’s been said that novels teach us what to put in a story and short stories teach us what to take out. Short stories are not truncated novels, at least not good ones, ones that work. They’re like tiny gems, focused and spare. In and out, nailing the ending. Not surprisingly, Walton’s short stories are as personal as her other work. Deceptively subtle, they evoke depths of connection and emotional impact.

This book would make a wonderful gift for someone you care for, someone who would love words like this:

Hades and Persephone
You bring the light clasped around you,
and although
I knew you’d bring it, knew it as I waited,
Knew as you’d come that you’d come cloaked in light
I had forgotten what light meant, and so
This longed for moment, so anticipated,
I stand still, dazzled by my own delight.

The Overneath, by Peter S. Beagle (Tachyon)

My children introduced me to the works of Peter S. Beagle through, of course, The Last Unicorn. I proceeded to delve into his other work (A Fine and Private Place, and so forth), and had the opportunity to “talk shop” with him on the lawn outside the reception at one World Fantasy Convention. Over the years, I’ve come across his wonderful short fiction, most notably a story in which the late, much missed Avram Davidson takes the author for a wild and woolly chase through alternate dimensions (the “overneath” of the title).

Over the decades, unicorns have populated Beagle’s stories. I reviewed his novella, In Calabria, here. The Overneath features a number of different traditional versions, including a dangerously nasty Persian beastie. The tales range from sweetly romantic to surreal to horrific (a spine-chilling aquarium), all expertly crafted with wonderful characters and powerful authorial voice. 

The Emerald Circus, by Jane Yolen (Tachyon)

I’m not sure what I can say by way of introduction to Jane Yolen, recipient of SFWA’s Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, as well as uncounted other awards, that has not already been said. My children grew up on Sleeping Ugly, Owl Moon, and Commander Toad in Space, and I came of age as a writer with Sister Light, Sister Dark, Briar Rose, and The Devil’s Arithmetic.  

This current collection, the latest of many, showcases Yolen’s brilliant capacity for taking characters and situations, even worlds, and turning them literarily on their heads. Whether it’s Emily Dickinson sailing away on a starship made of light or Wendy organizing a labor strike in Neverland, or the real story of Disraeli and Queen Victoria, Yolen twists the old tales in innovative, delightful ways. I look forward to many more of her stories, short and long.

Telling the Map, by Christopher Row (Small Beer Press) 

This collection of loosely related short pieces follows the deterioration and transformation of society over time and environmental collapse. The farther from the present, the weirder and more wildly imaginative the technology and society. Most have been previously published, but the final one is original.

Although my favorite story was the first, “The Contrary Gardener,” as much about free will as agriculture, I loved this passage from “The Voluntary State,” which captures much of the sensibility of the collection:

But today, after his struggle up the trail from the each, he saw that his car had been attacked. The driver’s side window had been kicked in. 
Soma dropped his pack and rushed to his car’s side. The car shield away from him, backed to the limit of its tether before it recognized him and turned, let out a low, pitiful moan. 
“Oh, car,” said Soma, stroking the roof and opening the passenger door, “oh, car, you’re hurt.” Then Soma was rummaging through the emergency kit, tossing aside flares and bandages, finally, finally finding the glass salve.

Rowe’s beautifully crafted, emotionally literate stories are worthy of re-reading and savoring.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Today's Wisdom from J.R.R. Tolkien

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisioned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”

-- J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, 1939

Monday, March 19, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Jane M. H. Bigelow

Coming in May, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!

Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNook

Table of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: What about Darkover drew you in?
Jane M. H. Bigelow: The spaciousness of Darkover, and its variety, drew me in. There are multiple cultures (too often fictional worlds seem to be monocultural) and history that goes on for centuries. There are several intelligent species on the planet. After all these years, there are still unexplored corners of this world.

DJR: What do you see as the future of Darkover?
JMHB: I think its future lies in exploring the variety of cultures and attitudes, both on Darkover and in the wider universe.

DJR: What book would you recommend for someone new to Darkover?
JMHB: That would depend so much on the person! For a medieval history nut, something from Ages of Chaos or the Hundred Kingdoms; maybe Stormqueen. For someone interested more in cultural clash, one of the Hastur novels. 

DJR: What inspired your story in Crossroads of Darkover?
JMHB: I wanted to tell more of the adventures of Duvin, my amiable though not clever tourist, and Ginevra, a young woman of minor Darkovan nobility. At the end of "Duvin's Grand Tour", they had just acknowledged their love for each other. Ginevra had accepted Duvin's proposal, and they'd won Ginevra's brother's extremely grudging acceptance of the idea. Well, he'd put away his sword.

So, I set out to answer a few questions, such as, "Where will they live? How will Duvin support them? How can he convince the Terran bureaucracy to let him stay on indefinitely? What will he say to his family, who have some control over his inheritance?" Many of these questions remain unanswered, because of the aunts. Oh, those aunts! Duvin and Ginevra each have at least one, both of the bossy variety. My husband suggested that I title the story, "A Plague of Aunts." Like so many stories, especially those I set on Darkover, it didn't go quite as I planned.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Remembering Mary

My friend and fellow writer, Mary Rosenblum, died in a plane crash on Sunday, March 11. Like everyone else who knew her or knew of her, I was stunned by the news. She was so active, so intensely alive, that it’s still hard to wrap my mind around a world without her in it. She touched so many people’s lives, both personally and through her work. Everyone who knew her has Mary Stories. Here are a few of mine.

I met Mary near the beginning of our literary careers. Here’s her version of that encounter, from her introduction to Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life
Deborah Ross introduced herself to  me at the first Science Fiction conference I ever attended in Portland, way back in, hmmm, must have been 1989, right after I’d started selling my short stories and showing up in the reviews as a ‘hot new writer.’  The ‘new’ part was certainly true and I was so flattered when this established author introduced herself and had clearly heard of me.  We’ve been good friends ever since, through the ups and downs of our personal lives and our careers.

Mary and I used to joke that we were 2/3 of the Reed College Alumni Society of Science Fiction Writers, the other 1/3 being David Eddings. That’s changed over the years as more Reedies have ventured into the genre, but was worth a giggle or two.

This is one of my favorite pictures of Mary, taken around 1999. Often she appears solemn or sad, but she also had a great sense of humor. I love how happy and relaxed she looks.

I visited with Mary sporadically over the decades that followed, often using Orycon or my college reunions as an excuse to fly to Portland and see her, and also my best friend (more about that later).

On these visits, Mary and I cooked together, for some loose value of “messed about in the kitchen.” Mary made the most amazing sourdough biscuits, the kind that are all tangy and crusty and crowded together in a pan. When I asked her for the recipe, she said: Deborah, I’m almost embarrassed to give you the recipe for the sourdough biscuits. I warm some milk, add starter and flour until it’s the consistency of cake batter. Let it set overnight or all day. Mix 1 ½ tsp yeast and 1 T sugar into the starter and give it 15 minutes to dissolve. Mix 1 c. flour, 1 tsp baking powder, and 1 tsp salt, and dump into the sponge. Mix, and then knead in flour until the dough is solid enough to cut, but not too heavy. Cut into rounds and bake at 400 until done, about 20 minutes. Is this vague enough for you? I’m afraid I do bread stuff by feel, not by measure. If you pour boiling water into a pan in the oven before you put in the biscuits, you’ll get that crisp woodstove crust.

Now you too can enjoy Mary Biscuits, although ice cubes work even better than boiling water, as they do eventually boil at 400 degrees.

Another food-related memory is watching Mary make ricotta cheese from her goat milk. Whatever she did, whether it was farming or goat management or dog training or elk hunting or aviation, she approached it fearlessly and with enormous gusto. As a consequence, she was very good at many things.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Short Book Reviews: An Extraordinary Ghost Story from Seanan McGuire

Sparrow Hill Road, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)

It’s been wonderful to watch Seanan McGuire mature as a writer. For someone so prolific, her work is consistently entertaining and more and more rises to the truly memorable. Her outstanding novella, Every Heart a Doorway, won multiple awards, including the Hugo and the Nebula. Her innovative, deeply moving ghost story, Sparrow Hill Road, is just as good, although in a different way. 

She begins the with legend of Rose Marshall, the Prom Date ghost, the Girl in the Diner, a hitch hiking spirit who is drawn to people soon to be involved in fatal accidents, and who sometimes manages to prevent their deaths. She’s no ordinary ghost but a psychopomp, who guides the spirits of those she cannot save to the next stage of their journeys. 

The story proceeds like a chambered nautilus, sometimes spiraling back on itself, jumping back and forth in time to weave together the threads of the story until we come to the crux of Rose’s ghosthood, how she died, and who killed her. Absorbing, wise, funny, and tragic, all in all a superbly executed ghostly tale.

The usual disclaimer: This review is in response to a complimentary review copy and contains nothing but my own demented opinions.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Shariann Lewitt

Coming in May, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!

Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNook

Table of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: How did you discover Darkover?

Shariann Lewitt: Hmm, I don’t actually remember. It’s all back somewhere in the haze of nerdy girlhood along with Pern and Witchworld and everything else I read while I dreamed of a life in space.

DJR: What about the world drew you in?

SL: Pretty much everything. But I think what made it very different from all the others—and that kept me with it even as I grew up—was that it felt very real to my own experiences as a nerdy girl who wanted to do something with her life, but had to fight for it. In other worlds, women either were magic users or victims of the patriarchy. On Darkover—a world with the extreme gender roles that my mother insisted were my lot—women who were willing to fight for their dreams could have them. Yes, many of them had laran, but others didn’t. That inspired me and gave me a lot of hope when I was young.

DJR: What do you see as the future of Darkover? How has its readership changed over the decades? What book would you recommend for someone new to Darkover?

SL: I think it says a lot about the world that, unlike many of the other series I grew up reading, Darkover is still vibrant and alive, with new stories and characters. I think it will continue to grow, to expand, and to explore more within the expanse that Marion left. To recommend to someone new to the world, well, that would depend a lot on the person. Some people would prefer a book on the Renunciates, or maybe Hawkmistress to start. Maybe for someone who is more Science Fiction oriented, I’d possibly choose The Heritage of Hastur because of the Terran/Darkovan interaction. Though Thendara House would be good for that as well. But if it were someone who preferred fantasy with lots of politics, then I’d recommend The Fall of Neskaya. Really, it would depend a lot on the person.

DJR: What inspired your story in Crossroads of Darkover? How did you balance writing in someone else’s world and being true to your own creative imagination?

SL: Darkover is a big world and there’s room to go just about anywhere. But there are enough limits that it’s fun to play with them. This story, well—I was in the middle of writing another story, a story about a young Comyn woman with laran, and then Nyla showed up. I couldn’t put her down. Her situation really fascinated me because mostly on Darkover we think about people who are gifted as having laran. What about other gifts? We know there are musicians and poets. What about scientists and mathematicians? Is there a university? I realized in all the books I’ve read (which I think is all of them at this point) I’d never really noticed one. That kind of hit me over the head, so I had to explore what would happen. And, of course, Nyla was there to guide me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

"Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised."

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Friday, March 9, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Freedom and Autonomy in a Robotic World

Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz (Tor)

My quick take on this book is “feminist anarchist new-wave cyberpunk,” but that doesn’t do it justice by a long shot. In a world dominated by pharmaceutical companies, illegally reverse-engineered drugs offer the only hope to the poor. But when her attention-focusing drug creates lethal obsession, rogue scientist Jack desperately tries to get her pirated version off the streets. That’s half the story and I was already hooked (scientist heroes, check; women scientist heroes, double-check). The second half of the story centers around the private military team (human Eliasz and robot-with-human-brain Paladin) dispatched to apprehend Jack. That’s where things get really interesting, because in this dystopic world, robots are chattel and sometimes so are people. Both can earn their freedom, but what does that really mean?

Once bots gained human rights, a wave of legislation swept through many governments … became known as the Human Rights Indenture Laws. They established the rights of indentured robots, and, after a decade of court battles established the rights of humans to become indentured, too. After all, if human-equivalent beings could be indentured, why not humans themselves?

“For bots, industry always precedes autonomy,” explained a final string of text.

Legal autonomy, emotional independence, freedom from obsession and pharmaceutical control of mood, thought, and desire? Newitz deftly blends the themes and resonances into a dramatic story that feels refreshingly current and yet fits easily within the genre. I look forward to her next work.

The usual disclaimer: I received a complimentary review copy of this book through NetGalley, and nobody paid me to hold my own opinions about it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

I'll Be at FogCon -- See You There?

At the last minute, I've decided to attend FogCon. I badly need to run away and hobnob with my tribe. No panels, but lots of schmoozing. If you see me, please come say hello.

Today's Moment of Art

Florent Joseph Marie Willems (1823 – 1905) 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

"This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere."

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Short Book Reviews: A New Pathfinder Tale

Gears of Faith (Pathfinder Tales) by Gabrielle Harbowy (Tor)

One of the tests of a shared world is how accessible the stories are to a reader who is a stranger to that world. Pathfinder is an extremely popular fantasy role-playing game (along the lines of Dragons and Dungeons, for non-gamers like me). There’s a wealth of material about the various landscapes, races, characters, and histories of the world, and a series of novels (over 30 of them) set in it. This current addition includes a glossary and maps to aid the unfamiliar traveler. 

The set-up is this: two characters (Keren, a knight dedicated to the goddess Iomedae, who incidentally was once human; and Zae, a violet-haired gnome who is both a fanatic tinkerer-inventor-engineer and a mystical healer; oh, and also incidentally, they are both female and are lovers) arrive in the great city of Absalom to continue their respective training, only to find themselves caught up in a series of increasingly violent attacks that center on the theft of a supernatural device. The story weaves together mystery, action, romance, with the question of the proper balance between trusting one’s sense of what is right and obedience to a higher authority. Pacing allows the newcomer to explore this colorful world while falling in love with the characters, yet there is sufficient drama and escalating tension to keep a familiar reader turning the pages.  

My favorite parts were the scenes of Zae in her engineering classes, with lively dialogs with her fellow students (of various races and temperaments) and the inevitable results of her fearless curiosity. Her mount, a large dog named Appleslayer, adds warmth to the family. Plus, it’s very cool to have a dog as a companion on a quest.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book as a gift; everything I've said about it is my own opinion and no one paid me to say nice things; are you happy now, FTC?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Monday, February 26, 2018

White Dwarf Stars and Other Wonders

White dwarf’s inner makeup is mapped for the first time

Tiny changes in a white dwarf’s brightness reveal that the stellar corpse has more oxygen in its core than expected, researchers report online January 8 in Nature. The finding could challenge theories of how stars live and die, and may have implications for measuring the expansion of the universe.

As a star ages, it sheds most of its gas into space until all that remains is a dense core of carbon and oxygen, the ashes of a lifetime of burning helium. That core, plus a thin shellacking of helium, is called a white dwarf.

Luckily, some white dwarfs encode their inner nature on their surface. These stars change their brightness in response to internal vibrations. Astrophysicists can infer a star’s internal structure from the vibrations, similar to how geologists learn about Earth’s interior by measuring seismic waves during an earthquake.

Saturn’s rings, made of countless icy particles, form a translucent veil in this view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

Saturn's moon Titan sports Earth-like features

Using the now-complete Cassini data set, Cornell astronomers have created a new global topographic map of Saturn's moon Titan that has opened new windows into understanding its liquid flows and terrain.

The map revealed several new features on Titan, including new mountains, none higher than 700 meters. The map also provides a global view of the highs and lows of Titan's topography, which enabled the scientists to confirm that two locations in the equatorial region of Titan are in fact depressions that could be either ancient, dried seas or cryovolcanic flows.

The map also revealed that Titan is a little bit flatter -- more oblate -- than was previously known, which suggests there is more variability in the thickness of Titan's crust than previously thought.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Book Review: Into the Fire by Elizabeth Moon

I pick up a new Elizabeth Moon novel with anticipatory delight. In its pages (or phosphors, for the ebook version), I will find fascinating characters with skills and intelligence, subtle conflicts of culture, superbly handled tension and plot twists, and insights into people who are different from me. Unlike the heroine of Into the Fire (and Moon herself), I have no military experience whatsoever (30 years of Chinese martial arts notwithstanding). I was a long-haired, sign-waving war protester. Most military fiction leaves me looking around for those love beads. But not Moon’s, and a big part of that (aside from her sheer story-telling skill) is the intelligence and compassion of her military characters.

In the previous novel, Cold Welcome, Ky Vatta and an assortment of people under her command and not-under-her-command manage to survive a shuttle crash into icy waters and make their way to an abandoned base in a frigid, barren landscape. Their survival depends not only working together and making the best decisions but a huge measure of luck. Ky’s training and experience give her a structure to establish leadership and discern what must be done, and by whom, and in what order, how to best use the skills of the others, how to resolve conflicts without squelching initiative. Most of the book centers on how leadership, delegation protocols, the balance between negotiation and creativity and obedience, and the skills to construct and carry out strategic planning can save lives. In fact, there’s very little shoot-‘em-up and a great deal of wow, these people have thought carefully about how to manage desperate situations. Into the Fire continues that story.

After the grand finale and rescue, Ky might think her ordeal is over. Ha! Her meticulously collected records of the sabotage go missing and her people mysteriously disappear, drugged and kept incommunicado by forces inimical to her family. The focus shifts from physical to political survival. Sabotage, betrayal, immigration raids, poisoning, and a rescue executed in typical Ky Vatta style build and sustain tension. Again I was impressed by the skillfulness with which Ky and her companions make and execute plans, whether it’s marshalling an academy full of unseasoned cadets to defend the planetary president or nab the drugged prisoners from several different locations. Ky didn’t just jump into action, as characters in many other military novels so often do. She didn’t say, “Trust me, just do what I say” to her subordinates. She conferred with those with expertise, made plans, revised them, revised them again, made backup plans and backups to the backups, made sure everyone had the information they needed to do the best, smartest job. Things went wrong, as of course they must in fiction. And that’s half the fun of the adventure.

Moon provides enough backstory for Into the Fire to stand on its own, but I recommend reading it together with Cold Welcome. And I do recommend it!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

If You Were a Story...

“We are not quite novels.
We are not quite short stories.
In the end, we are collected works.”

― Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

"How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer."

-- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

Monday, February 19, 2018

Lace and Blade 4 Author Interview: Judith Tarr

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Lace and Blade 4 offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories. Order it from iBookKindleKoboNook. Table of contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross” Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?

Judith Tarr: I've always been a writer, in the sense of telling stories. I can't remember not doing that.

DJR:  What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 4?

JT: A piece of jewelry. The wonderful Elise Matthesen names all of her pieces, and they're all part of her Writer's Challenge. Those of us who are so inspired can write the story or poem or article or whatever else seems to us to fit the name of the piece.

I bought a beautiful pendant of silver and boulder opal, called "On the Peacock Path." I could see the path and the colors, and realized that it had something to do with the (or a) Peacock Throne. And that led me to Iran, which was ancient Persia. The rest came as I followed the path into the jewel.

DJR: Why do you write what you do?

JT: Because that's what happens when I get ideas. I love history, especially ancient history. I love to mix up genres. I get in trouble for that, but I can't seem to stop.

DJR: How does your writing process work?

JT: Horribly slowly now, but it still works, after a fashion. I get ideas and prompts from all kinds of places. I keep a file of them, multiple files in fact, and when one really needs to have a story, I pull it out and make notes and brainstorm and throw things together and see what comes of it. I do outline, but it's an ongoing, circular, organic process, which grows and changes as the characters wake up and start talking (or often yelling), and the settings make themselves visible, and the gears of story--the friction, the "what does this character want?" and "what are the stakes here?" questions that move it all forward--start to turn. Sometimes in totally unexpected directions.

Friday, February 16, 2018

In Troubled Times: Bystander Intervention Training

In January 2018, I attended a seminar entitled Stand! Speak! Act! A Community Bystander Intervention Training. The subheading suggested I would learn how to nonviolently support someone who was being harassed. The event was presented by the local chapter of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), the Muslim Solidarity Group, and the local rapid response team. The idea of becoming a nonviolent ally in directly ameliorating the harm from harassment greatly appealed to me. I found the seminar enlightening, although not always in ways I expected.

To begin with, although two of the event’s three sponsors were specifically Muslim solidarity groups, the techniques and strategies apply whenever a person is being targeted. Although hate crimes against Muslims have increased drastically (first after 9/11 and then ongoing since the last presidential election), racism (anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-Asian) still accounts for the majority of incidents, and anti-LGBTQ violence continues. Most of my friends and relatives who have been harassed have been targeted because of race, sexual orientation, or gender identification, but by far the greatest number have been because of race. The principles of intervention remain the same, and if in the future some other group becomes a target for extremism and violence, allies will step forward.

The workshop drew its guidance and inspiration from the principles set out by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
  • Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people
  • Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding
  • Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people
  • Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform
  • Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate
  • Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

It’s tempting to lash out when you or someone you observe is a target of violence, whether physical or verbal. We’ve all seen enough superhero movies to want to jump in, swirling our capes, and single-handedly take on the offender. Outrage at what we perceive to be hateful and wrong fuels our adrenaline. It’s hard to remain calm, to think clearly, and to act from principle instead of reactive emotion. That’s why practice is so important. Harassment can escalate very quickly, and unless we have some experience in how we are vulnerable to engagement, we can become swept up in the confrontation.

Bystander intervention isn’t about confronting the person spewing hatred, it’s about supporting the person being targeted.

The best way to do this is through de-escalation, but in a way that respects the needs and wishes of the targeted person. This means, firstly, not engaging with the attacker: not making eye contact, not responding to their words, not contributing to the drama in any way. It can also mean including other witnesses; one person can video the incident (using their phone, with or without the ACLU app that sends the video directly to them*) or call appropriate help (ambulance, paramedics).

Intervention at its best empowers the person being harassed. (That’s why the workshop avoided referring to them as “victims.”) The principles encourage us as bystanders to approach that person calmly, introduce ourselves, explain that we saw what was happening and we want to offer support. This can mean proposing courses of action like “Would you like me to sit with you?” or “What can I do to help you?” or “Shall we walk together in the other direction?” Or it might mean striking up a friendly conversation that excludes the attacker, like “The weather’s been lovely, hasn’t it?”

The targeted person may not want to interact with us, or may say they’re fine, and as difficult as it is, we should remember the goal is solidarity not rescue.

In practicing various scenarios, I was amazed at my own emotional reaction even though I knew it was an exercise.  We split into groups and acted out various situations (a woman in hijab being harassed on a bus, a black person being insulted by someone driving by, a Spanish speaking person being threatened in a language not understood). Tempers flared, and the person playing the target often felt fearful. That happened to me when I was portraying a Spanish-speaking person in a line at a store. Even though I understood the English verbal attacks (based on perceived immigration status), I felt confused, frightened, and trapped. All I wanted was to escape. The participants playing bystanders bunched together to make what felt like a wall of hostiles, even though they were supposed to be portraying allies. Then one approached me from the side, made sure I noticed her, and gently said, “Hola.” I was amazed at how my body relaxed. I engaged with her, feeling I was safe, then asked her to help me leave the store. How much more terrifying must it be when it’s not a practice scenario!

The final caveat was that no one should feel obligated to intervene if they don’t feel it is safe to do so. Emotions can run high in harassment situations, and matters can escalate very quickly. Always trust your instincts. Even if you aren’t able to act at the moment, approaching the targeted person with support and help after the danger has passed can do much to minimize the harm.

*The ACLU’s Mobile Justice app is available in California and other states.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Fabulous Times for Astronomy (and Other Science).

We begin with a familiar sight: the Horsehead Nebula. This image was taken by the 3.6-m Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii.

The red glow originates from hydrogen gas predominantly behind the nebula, ionized by the nearby bright star Sigma Orionis. The darkness of the Horsehead is caused mostly by thick dust, although the lower part of the Horsehead's neck casts a shadow to the left. Streams of gas leaving the nebula are funneled by a strong magnetic field. Bright spots in the Horsehead Nebula's base are young stars just in the process of forming.

Cassiopeia A, near the end of its stellar life, as seen by the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Collapsing from vast cosmic clouds, their nuclear furnaces ignite and create heavy elements in their cores. After a few million years, the enriched material is blasted back into interstellar space where star formation can begin anew. The expanding debris cloud known as Cassiopeia A is an example of this final phase of the stellar life cycle. This false-color  image shows the still hot filaments and knots in the Cassiopeia A remnant. Still expanding, the blast wave is seen as the blue outer ring.

The surface of a distant star, thanks to The European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Located 530 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Grus (The Crane), π1 Gruis is a cool red giant. It has about the same mass as our Sun, but is 700 times larger and several thousand times as bright. Our Sun will swell to become a similar red giant star in about five billion years.

Say hello to a new species of giant octopus, the Frilled Giant Pacific Octopus.

Researchers have now learned that the giant Pacific octopus (GPO)—the largest known octopus on Earth, ranging from California to Alaska to Japan—is actually two species.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

BOOK RELEASE DAY! Lace and Blade 4

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Lace and Blade 4 offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories. It's now available in trade paperback, Kindle, Nook, and other ebook editions.

Here's the Table of Contents:
“At the Sign of the Crow and Quill,” by Marie Brennan
“On the Peacock Path,” by Judith Tarr
“Sunset Games,” by Robin Wayne Bailey
“Sorcery of the Heart,” by Lawrence Watt-Evans
“The Butcher’s Boy and the Piri Folk,” by Pat MacEwen
“Gifts Tell Truth,” by Heather Rose Jones
“A Sword for Liberty,” by Diana L. Paxson
“Hearts of Broken Glass,” by Rosemary Edghill
“The Game of Lions,” by Marella Sands
“The Sharpest Cut,” by Doranna Durgin
“Pawn’s Queen,” by India Edghill
“The Heart’s Coda,” by Carol Berg
“The Wind’s Kiss,” by Dave Smeds

I've been posting interviews with some of the authors. Here's the list, in case you missed any of these delightful chats:

Early praise for Lace and Blade 4:

Publisher's Weekly:  Dave Smeds’s “The Wind’s Kiss,” ... captures not only the imagination but also the heart, leaving behind a sense of peace and longing. India Edghill’s “Pawn’s Queen” follows a young woman on the path to her own destiny, seamlessly marrying a feast for the senses with the darker whimsies of magic and duty. Marella Sands’s excellent “The Game of Lions” focuses on the strength of bonds between sisters and teammates. The ... stories evoke wonder and excitement.

Kevin O'Brien: This volume contains thirteen stories that range from action tales where romance is at best a subplot, to love stories with nary a hint of violence. Similarly, the romance varies from intense to casual, with both men and women as the aggressors. Also, the level of intrigue ranges from being the point of the plot to being practically non-existent. The level of quality is consistently high, I found no typos or obvious grammatical errors, and those stories set in alternate realities had good world-building; the settings felt real, not thrown together with spit and tissue paper.

And if you enjoyed this anthology, please post a review!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Monday, February 12, 2018

Lace and Blade 4 Author Interview With Carol Berg

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Lace and Blade 4 offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories. Order it from iBookKindleKoboNook. The Table of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Carol Berg: I grew up reading classics, mysteries, fantasy, science fiction, adventure stories, and spy thrillers, but never imagined I could ever write one for myself. Instead I majored in math, had a short stint as a teacher, had a family, got another degree--this time in computer science—and was halfway through a software engineering career when a fellow engineer (and good friend) convinced me to write a series of letters “in character” so she could practice her writing. It was so much fun, I couldn’t quit! After a number of years writing novels just for myself, reading an article about writing now and then and revising with the newfound knowledge, I wrote a story that was most definitely the best thing I’d written thus far. It felt as if I’d made a huge step forward. My friend agreed, and we stuck our toes in the publishing waters by attending a writers conference. A year later I’d sold three books to the publisher who’s bought them all so far.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 4?
CB: One of my aims when I create new heroes or heroines is to make them real people. I want readers to believe they had a life before walking onto the canvas of my story and will (if the story permits!) have a life when they walk off again. But of course, after the traumas/losses/victories of the story, the nature of that life is often irrevocably changed. Ever since my novel Song of the Beast was published, I’ve had readers asking what became of Aidan McAllister--a scarred, broken singer of visions, who saved his world from the scourge of dragon warfare. At the end of the story, he abandons his friends and his hope of a normal life to lead the beasts into the wild. I decided that it would be fun to satisfy the readers’ curiosity and mine, and so I wrote “The Heart’s Coda. “

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?  What about them do you find inspiring?
CB: So many! One of the first was Mary Renault, who took the mythological hero, Theseus, and the historical myth, Alexander the Great, and wrote them as fascinating, flawed human beings in worlds that felt real and true. Another Mary--Mary Stewart--showed me the epic story of Merlin and Arthur through a very human Merlin’s personal lens.  And then there’s Ellen Kushner, who created true magic with exquisite prose and deep emotion in her novel, Thomas the Rhymer. Alongside these three are many mystery and thriller writers like Dick Francis and Len Deighton who instilled a love of complex stories and exciting adventures, and fantasy writers like Roger Zelazny and Poul Anderson who taught me the delights of building magical worlds.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Guest Post: Nancy Jane Moore on Fighting and Gender

At a recent meeting of my writers’ group, we discussed fight scenes while critiquing an early draft of my novel in progress. The discussion went something like this:

“Women fight differently from men,” one of the guys said in pointing out that the sword fight scenes didn’t vary much.

I didn’t think he was referring to the inaccurate stereotype that women can’t fight, but I also didn’t think his point applied, so I said – speaking as a long-time martial artist and instructor as well as a writer – “In my experience, that’s not always the case, especially with weapons.”

And he replied, “Yeah, but you’re big.”

I let it go at that, because he was right that the fight scenes needed work, but it bothered me. After some reflection, I realized what the problem was: If my experience isn’t key to discussions about how women fight simply because I’m a woman about the size of the average U.S. man, then the issue isn’t biological sex or gender; it’s body size and build. The average man may be bigger than the average woman, but there are plenty of small men – and big women – in the world. Also, there are some people who don’t fit into standard gendered categories, and they, too, come in a variety of body types. As writers, if we make assumptions about fighting styles based on sex or gender, we’re not going to create scenes that reflect the complexity of real fights.

There is only one situation in which writers should give some consideration to the gender of their fighters, and that’s if they are creating a world in which the culture puts distinct rules on gender behavior. Most current societies give girls and boys very different signals from an early age, with the girls getting the message – incorporating it into their bodies – that they aren’t capable of handling themselves physically in dealing with men, and the boys, regardless of size or skill, learning that they have power over women. In a world in which calling men and boys “girls” (or much less acceptable words for female) is a major insult, women who fight will have to deal with the cultural dynamics.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Lace and Blade 4 Author Interview: Marie Brennan

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Lace and Blade 4 offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories. Order it from iBookKindleKoboNook. Table of contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?

Marie Brennan: I generally credit that to Diana Wynne Jones, and specifically her novel Fire and Hemlock, which I read when I was nine or ten years old. The main characters in it are writing a story together, and when I put the book down, I thought, I want to be a writer. It was the first time I recall thinking about making up stories, not just for my own entertainment, but for other people to read. I got serious about it when I was eighteen, sold my first novel when I was twenty-four, and have never looked back.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 4?

MB: Some years ago I bought a pair of black-and-red beaded earrings from the jeweler Elise Matthesen, who habitually gives titles to all the pieces she makes. The earrings are called "At the Sign of the Crow and Quill," and like many authors, I pledged to Elise that I would try to write something by that title someday. The mood that evoked in my mind was very much a Lace and Blade mood, so when I received an invitation to submit to the anthology, that turned out to be the spark I needed to transform the phrase into characters and plot.

DJR: What has most influenced your writing?

MB: Definitely my academic background. In college I majored in archaeology and folklore; in grad school it was cultural anthropology and folklore. I never took a single creative writing course. I know that some people find them great; if you have a good teacher you can grow enormously as a writer, and even without that, just having permission to treat writing as something important, rather than just a hobby, can be vital. But for me, the most effective thing was to take classes and read books that gave me something to write about. The real world, in all its multifarious historical and geographical and cultural glory, is an endless source of inspiration to me.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

“It is useless to meet revenge with revenge; it will heal nothing.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Monday, January 29, 2018

Lace and Blade 4 Author Interview: Doranna Durgin

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Lace and Blade 4 offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories. Order it from iBookKindleKoboNook. Table of contents is here.

Doranna Durgin interview

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?

Doranna Durgin: I didn’t “come to be” a writer—I was always a writer.  I put my first little book together in first grade and never stopped, and wrote my first novel in 7th grade (Illustrated.  About a Collie, if you must know.)  At that point I was writing daily by hand (in very particular lined notebooks with very particular pencils that I didn’t give up until I realized that pencil fades) and submitting with the naïve confidence of youth.  I didn’t switch to the typewriter until after college, and boy howdy, you should have seen me when I sat down in front of my first word processor (Atari!).

I guess the point is, I started and I never stopped.  I don’t suppose I ever will.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 4?

DD: Oh, there was no way I wasn’t going to stump Kelyn, my straightforward sword & sorcery heroine, with social strictures and subtleties—especially not when I’m in the middle of writing a sequel (Rings of Ranadir) for her first book (Wolverine’s Daughter).  I figured it would be gleeful rubbing-hands-together fun, and it was!  There might be some sly thoughtfulness in there, too. I’m not saying.

DJR: Why do you write what you do, and how does your work differ from others in your genre?
DD: I write what I do because it’s all inside me, and possibly I would explode if I didn’t find a way to let it out.  And I also write what I do because authors before me have made me feel the wonder of their worlds, and I want more than anything to share the wonders I feel from my stories, too.  And I write because I want to explore and reveal things I think are important—things we’ve forgotten about our world, through alternative lenses.

How my work differs as I go about that is, I think, a reflection of how and where I’ve always lived—I’m an environmental ed major and former park naturalist who’s always lived as close to the real world as possible.  Once upon a time, that meant a log cabin on a hundred acres of Appalachian mountainside where I interacted with more critters than humans.  Since then I’ve immersed myself in the land on SW Virginia farm acreage (and spent my summers sleeping in a wee tent anyway) followed by rural high altitude desert foothills.  Always close to my animals—horses and dogs--and training them, an avocation that led me to the current pack of four that includes the most highly performance-titled Beagle breed champion in the nation and two more who are right on his heels.  I think this immersion—combined with a neurosensory syndrome—provides a framework for my work that likely differs from other approaches.

DJR: What have you written recently? What lies ahead?
DD: My writing is in a transition phase.  I’ve recently stepped away from traditional publishing—bought out a contract when publisher restrictions meant I couldn’t do with the book what the book needed done.  Now I have so many projects on my list, it’s hard to know where to go first.  But there will be more for Kelyn, definitely a return to fantasy and a number of heart books that have been waiting, and more for Dale & Sully (a mystery series with a vet and his Beagle companion that I swear, I started before I actually had Beagles.  The prescience of me).  I also recently released the third book in the Reckoners trilogy on top of significantly enhanced Author’s Cuts of the first two books.  I love, love, love that indie publishing has allowed me to do this, after nearly fifty traditional books’ worth of bowing to publisher roadmaps.

DJR: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
DD: The same advice I’ve always given, even as the market changes: Write lots of what you’re driven to write, know the market, know the different publishing paths, and know which choice is best for you before you make it.  Set your sights first, then figure out your plan for getting there, and then go after it.

Doranna Durgin is an award-winning author whose quirky spirit has led to an extensive
publishing journey across genres, across publishers, and across publishing lines. Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and highly accomplished competition dogs. She doesn’t believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided.

Friday, January 26, 2018

In Troubled Times: George Washington on Political Parties and the Abuse of Power

In light of the political events of recent times, I offer these words from George Washington's highly prescient Farewell Address.

United States 19th September 1796
Friends, & Fellow--Citizens.

I have already intimated to you the danger of Parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on Geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, & warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party, generally.

This Spirit, unfortunately, is inseperable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human Mind. It exists under different shapes in all Governments, more or less stifled, controuled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages & countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders & miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security & repose in the absolute power of an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight) the common & continual mischiefs of the spirit of Party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise People to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill founded Jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot & insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence & corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country, are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the Administration of the Government and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true--and in Governments of a Monarchical cast Patriotism may look with endulgence, if not with favour, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate & assuage it. A fire not to be quenched; it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest instead of warming it should consume.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Lace and Blade 4 Author Interview: Heather Rose Jones

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Lace and Blade 4 offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories.Order it from iBookKindleKoboNook. Table of contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?

Heather Rose Jones: I’ve been writing in some form or another most of my life, whether stories, songs, or poetry. I’ve always loved working with language. So it’s hard to point to any particular time point or process of “becoming a writer.” It’s a bit easier to talk about how I came to be a published writer. For that, I got a solid push by getting to know various other published science fiction and fantasy authors in the SF Bay Area, whic got me used to the idea that it was a possible thing to move from having written something to getting it published. My first short stories appeared in the Sword and Sorceress anthology series back in the 1990s. I was working on some novels at that time that still sit in file folders, but my first published book series is one I didn’t start working on until after I’d finished my mid-life PhD and decided I needed an entirely new approach to my fiction writing.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 4?

HRJ: “Gifts Tell Truth” is set in the same world as my Alpennia series: a mildly alternate Ruritanian early 19th century with magic. One of the things I love to do when exploring characters it to make offhand references to events in their past. Events where I may not know all the details of what happened, just that it shaped them in some way. One thing that is very clear about Jeanne, Vicomtesse de Cherdillac, one of the protagonists of The Mystic Marriage and a continuing character throughout the series, is that she is a “Woman With A Past.” The more I write about her, the more fascinated I am by how she came to be the person she is in the novels.

The events in “Gifts Tell Truth” haven’t been specifically referenced in the books, other than a passing comment about how the stories of her youth aren’t appropriate for innocent ears. But I knew in a general way that during the French occupation of Alpennia, just after Jeanne’s unexpected marriage to a much older French aristocratic émigré, she led a wild and scandalous life, spurred on by a tragic event in her coming-out season (which will be told in a later story). The current story grew out of wanting to explore the origins of some of her later attitudes and reflexes, with the added bonus of showing the start of an odd but enduring friendship that features in the novels.

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?  What about them do you find inspiring?

HRJ: I always have a hard time talking about influences. It’s not that I don’t think I have them, or that I think I’m a “self-made” writer, but I spent so many years simply devouring so many good (and not so good) books that I don’t know that I could identify my conscious influences. It’s a bit like the majority of my historic background research: I’m constantly tossing material into the compost heap, and when I need the fertilizer to grow a story in, there it is, but it’s digested and changed. If we’re talking about stylistic influences, the only ones I can point to with any certainty are the short stories I’ve written in imitation of various genres of medieval literature.

But I can identify some writers who inspire me in terms of the shape of their career. Writers who are being a direct inspiration by encouraging me when I feel like the publishing world doesn’t have a place I fit into. That would be people like Kate Elliott and Beth Bernobich and Melissa Scott. I’m going to stop with the first three that came to mind because otherwise I’ll worry too much about who I’m leaving out. The non-author who most inspires my writing is the proprietor of the website People of Color in European Art History. Just as she is doing with people of color, I’m trying to write queer stories back into the history they were always present in.