Friday, March 22, 2019

Book Reviews: Masquerading as Science Fiction?


Dreams Before the Start of Time, by Anne Charnock (2017, 47North); and The Rift, by Nina Allan (2017, Titan).

Spoiler Alert...

What makes science fiction a genre? Is it the bells and whistles, the FTL space ships, the futuristic technology? Is it the ability to travel in time or across vast regions of space? Does it involve interactions with alien species, either for the first time or as a matter of course? Or is it simply because the author or the publisher says so? I will not dignify the argument put forth by “litr’ary” types that science fiction is an inherently inferior form of literature. Clearly, they haven’t been reading the superbly imaginative, elegantly crafted work of the last couple of
decades.

Following the principle of showing instead of telling, I refer you to the discussions surrounding The Time Traveler’s Wife (by Audrey Niffenegger, Harcourt, 2003). With due respect to my colleagues who might disagree, I thought the only people who considered this novel science fiction were those outside the genre. Yes, the man of the romantic pair bops about from one time period to another (losing his clothing along the way), but that did not make it science fiction in my eyes. I could accept it as romance. The focus, as in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, is the (romantic) relationship between two people. (Although Outlander involves time travel, very few readers I know would classify it as science fiction rather than fantasy or romance.) For me, the aspect that put The Time Traveler’s Wife firmly outside science fiction was the failure to develop the implications of time travel for society. How has this one man’s ability changed the world? What are the moral and political consequences of his actions? Why isn’t he found out and his abilities exploited? How can the “fabric” of time continue linearly with such repeated “tears”?

In other words, science fiction doesn’t just present nifty ideas in a vacuum – it focuses on how those ideas and gadgets and twists of fate have larger effects on the natural and human world. Perhaps back in the age of pulp magazines, a fun gimmick was sufficient to sustain a story with flimsy plotting, cardboard characters, and mediocre prose, but that hasn’t been true for a long time now.

This, too, is why I believe Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale falls squarely in the science fiction genre. Atwood herself refused to consider her dystopian world as science fiction, calling it instead “speculative fiction.” I think that’s a distinction without a difference. One critic (readily identifiable as ignorant of the field by his use of “sci-fi”) wrote, “Sci-fi sells us fantasies. Margaret Atwood’s classic novel is all about the danger of fantasy.” To those of us who are actually conversant with science fiction, the reverse is true, and is a powerful argument for The Handmaid’s Tale belonging on the same shelf as other brilliantly written feminist dystopian science fiction.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Book View Cafe Book Blast


To show our appreciation for all the readers who have stuck with us through our move to a new server, we at Book View Cafe are holding the BVC Book Blast. This week, and this week only, every book in the bookstore is 20 percent off.
You don’t have to do anything to get the discount; it will happen automatically at checkout. So use this time to browse through the authors on the bookstore page and try something new. Or pick up one of our anthologies and read work by a bunch of BVC writers.
This sale won’t last long, so take advantage and fill up your e-readers
Here's my Author Page with my books... and also check out the anthologies I've edited...

Monday, March 18, 2019

Citadels of Darkover Author Interviews: Jane M. H. Bigelow

Coming in May 2019
Strongholds of rock . . . fortresses of the spirit . . . a planet set apart . . .

Citadels can be psychic, emotional, and cultural as well as military, and the wonderfully imaginative contributors to this volume have taken the basic idea and spun out stories in different and often unexpected directions. 


I asked contributor  Jane M. H. Bigelow about her story:


Deborah J. Ross: What inspired your story in Citadels of Darkover?

Jane M. H. Bigelow: One of the essential conflicts in Darkover's long history is between the power and the dangers of laran. But what if not using your gift is as dangerous as using it? 

"Fire Storm" was one of several ideas that I considered writing for Citadels of Darkover. As our own fire season here in the western U.S. filled the sky with smoke most days, I found that it was the one that really drew me. 

It also let me explore a part of Darkovan history that I'd never written in before: the Ages of Chaos. I've always enjoyed reading about those turbulent times, but somehow not found a story of my own for them. As stories often do, it turned out differently than I had originally planned.

Not much has changed in my bio. After having a rather medical year, we are both well. I have still not finished my paranormal suspense novel, The Body Under the Bed, and have resorted to going around telling everybody that I will have a complete and coherent draft by the end of the year.  This may work almost as well as having an anthology deadline for getting me to finish the work! I can't let my crit group down. The cats are fine and furry, and the garden's doing well.




Jane M. H. Bigelow had her first professional publication in Free Amazons of Darkover. Since then, she has published a fantasy novel, Talisman, as well as short stories and short nonfiction on such topics as gardening in Ancient Egypt. Her short story, "The Golden Ruse" appeared in Luxor: Gods, Grit and Glory. She is currently on a mystery set in 17th century France. Jane is a retired reference librarian, a job which encouraged her to go on being curious about everything and exposed her to a rich variety of people. She lives in Denver, CO with her husband and two spoiled cats.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Teddy Roosevelt's Secret Agency in World War I

Black Chamber, by S. M. Stirling (Ace)

S. M. Stirling has been writing alternate history for a long time now, and he handles the genre with ease and panache. This book is no exception; he’s created a perfectly believable world in which Theodore Roosevelt regains the presidency and is in office on the brink of World War I. Roosevelt’s enthusiasms have already shaped much of American culture and institutions, including a flowering of invention and his top-secret spy-and-assassin agency, the Black Chamber. Posing as an agent of the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (the resistance movement bent on freeing Mexico from American domination) Agent Luz O'Malley Aróstegui goes undercover in Europe to infiltrate the mobilizing German forces. The contrafactual history and subsequent changes are perhaps the most interesting aspects of the story, yet all this is but a background for what is essentially a spy thriller featuring a female James Bond. There’s sex (with and without romance), tension, and page upon page upon page of exciting action.

This raises my central concern about The Black Chamber. Is it a story set in an alternate Europe, as Germany is gearing up for war with chemical weapons? Does it focus on the unfolding differences that arose from Theodore Roosevelt’s re-election? Or is it essentially a spy thriller – and one in which a woman perpetuates the roles of male spy characters in literature – that could just as easily have taken place in the real world?

The writing is strong and the action scenes and step-by-step, tension-laden revelations are skillfully handled. My reservations are two-fold, as above. I had difficulty with those aspects of Luz that mirrored the most offensively sexist characteristics in male-dominated spy thrillers. Her internal monologues felt immature and insecure as well as insensitive. She didn’t seem to have any genuine relationships until Irish revolutionary and love interest Ciara Whelan came onstage.

Secondly, I found the long, detailed descriptions of action (such as page after page, step-by-agonizing-step portrayal of Luz climbing a wall) quickly went from interesting to tedious. Action often came to a screeching halt for long expository passages of technology, history, or geography. But the biggest problem was that I didn’t find the story hefty enough for its length. It felt to me like a novella stretched out to a fairly long novel. This is obviously a personal taste issue, and fans of Stirling (of which there are many!) will likely see this as a strength and The Black Chamber as a worthy addition to his bibliography.


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

Short Book Reviews: A Brilliantly Inventive Fantasy Based on Industrial Magic

Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett (Crown)

I just loved this fantasy adventure, with its compelling heroine and system of “industrialized magic.” The world is an oppressive portrayal of social inequality of the Industrial Revolution. Great families wall themselves up in “campos” and live lives of luxury while the rest of the city suffers pollution and dire poverty. Myths from the past provide tantalizing, terrifying hints of how the entire system of magic came into being.

Young Sancia managed to escape the slave plantations to eke out a living as a thief in the less savory neighborhoods of a great city. She’s able to “listen” to physical materials: “The wall spoke to her. The wall told her of foundry smoke, of hot rains, of creeping moss, of the tiny footfalls of the thousands of ants…” Sancia’s magic aids her in her marginal living, but is dwarfed by the real magic of the city: sigils that are “instructions written upon mindless objects that convinced them to disobey reality in select ways,” such as altering their gravity or adhesion to other objects.

Then Sancia opens a box she has been sent to steal and discovers a sentient key, “Clef,” who can persuade any lock to open, and her world changes forever. She’s not the only one after Clef – her employer will stop at nothing to gain control over the key. But who is her employer and what is that person’s greater plan? Mystery piles on action and personal growth, not only of Sancia herself but other characters. The world and its people are in precarious flux, inwardly and outwardly.

This is not a world in which I would like to live, yet almost from the beginning, I cared about Sancia and the people she encounters, especially Clef, who realizes that he more he uses his power to help his only friend, Sancia, the less of his personality survives. The story built as stakes were raised higher and higher. The magic was an intrinsic part of the world-building, with its own logically consistent rules and its own cost. Highly recommended.

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

Monday, March 11, 2019

Citadels of Darkover Author Interview: Steven Harper

Coming in May 2019
Strongholds of rock . . . fortresses of the spirit . . . a planet set apart . . .

Citadels can be psychic, emotional, and cultural as well as military, and the wonderfully imaginative contributors to this volume have taken the basic idea and spun out stories in different and often unexpected directions.

Pre-order it at:
ePub https://books2read.com/u/4XRR0N
Kindle https://amzn.to/2TmBBW0

Here I chat with contributor Steven Harper:


Deborah J. Ross: How did you become a writer?
Steven Harper: I started writing when I was nine years old because the library didn't have any of the kinds of books I wanted to read.  I set out to write them myself.  That's still how I operate!

DJR: Were there any pivotal moments in your literary journey?
SH: I made my first pro sale when I was thirteen.  That was pretty pivotal!  I wrote a letter to the editor of The Mother Earth News, which was a major international magazine at the time.  I included my age with my signature, and the editor wrote back to say he could see that I could write and that I could type.  Apparently both were equally important.  If I wanted, I could query him about writing an actual article.  I was raising rabbits at the time, so I wrote a query letter on that topic.  When he wrote back to say he'd like to see the entire article, I was ecstatic--jumping and shouting all the way back from the mailbox.  It took me a month to write the article, and the editor finally sent an acceptance letter.  I remember finding it in the mailbox and reading it with a, "Well, that's nice" frame of mind, and I didn't understand why my parents were so thrilled.  I had somehow gotten the idea that the go-ahead on the query was the actual sale.  I didn't know back then that the getting the go-ahead on a query was actually the easy part.  Selling the piece is the hard part!

DJR: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
SH: I didn't come to Darkover through the novels, believe it or not.  I came to it through the anthologies.  I read maybe two or three of the anthologies before I got around to looking up the original books.  As a result, Darkover in my mind is always a place for short stories.  It may be why I come with story-length ideas for the place.

DJR: What about the world drew you in?
SH: I've always been drawn to men with red hair.  Make of that what you like.  So a world ruled by redheaded men sounds pretty awesome to me!

Friday, March 8, 2019

Very Short Book Reviews: Penric Rescues a Lady


The Prisoner of Limnos, A Fantasy Novella in the World of the Five Gods, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Subterranean)

Penric is back! Still attempting to court Nikys, the widow he fell in love with in Mira’s Last Dance. Still kind and courageous and inwardly torn and immensely gifted. This time, Nikys’s mother has been taken hostage in a complicated political maneuver, and it’s up to her and Penric (and Desdemona, his inward-dwelling chaos demon, and all of Desdemona’s many previous hosts) to rescue the lady. Another superb tale set in the world of the Five Gods.

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


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Monday, March 4, 2019

Citadels of Darkover Author Interview: Evey Brett

Coming in May 2019
Strongholds of rock . . . fortresses of the spirit . . . a planet set apart . . .

Citadels can be psychic, emotional, and cultural as well as military, and the wonderfully imaginative contributors to this volume have taken the basic idea and spun out stories in different and often unexpected directions.

Pre-order it at:
ePub https://books2read.com/u/4XRR0N
Kindle https://amzn.to/2TmBBW0


Here I chat with contributor Evey Brett:


Deborah J. Ross: How did you become a writer?
Evey Brett: I was a music major in college, and toward the end I got to a point where I couldn’t play a whole note without freaking out and needed a creative outlet, one that wasn’t noisy. I’d always liked writing stories and had written several as a kid and teen, so writing stories as an adult came easily enough. I started with some fan fiction and realized I could never sell it, so I started going to the library and picking up books on writing so I could learn to write in an original world. I took some classes at a community college, got accepted into the Clarion writer’s workshop, and my career picked up from there.

DJR: Were there any pivotal moments in your literary journey?
EB: There are a few. I went to a very good writer’s program at a community college in San Diego, and was a little stunned when one of the teachers told me my story was good. That gave me the confidence to keep writing. There was going to Clarion, of course, and I believe it was the next summer when WesterCon came to San Diego and I met Deborah J. Ross, and we bonded over Darkover, and I’m so glad I was able to write three stories in a world that meant so much to me.


DJR: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
EB: Back in 2002 when I was just out of college, I got a job working retail at a now-extinct Foley's department store in a mall. There was a Waldenbooks right across from the store, so I'd often go get a book and settle down in a comfy chair somewhere in the mall to eat my lunch and read. One day I was looking for a new book and picked up The Fall of Neskaya, and I was hooked. Fortunately for me (and the bookstore) they had several other Darkover novels as well.

DJR: What about the world drew you in?
EB: I'm a sucker for stories with telepaths and damaged characters. I'd gone through a number of Mercedes Lackey's books, so finding Darkover gave me a whole new world with a sizeable canon to explore. Having just read the back of The Fall of Neskaya, I'd still pick it up to read because it's got everything I want--telepaths, power, gifts, a tormented character with a secret he can't reveal.

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Lawrence Watt-Evans

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:

Kindle: https://amzn.to/2PBzyj6
Print: here (Amazon) or here (Barnes & Noble)



Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you come to be a writer?
Lawrence Watt-Evans: I became a writer because after a writing assignment my second-grade teacher said I might be one someday, and when I got home that day and told my parents I thought I might like being a writer, it became the only occupation they ever tried to talk me out of pursuing.
My parents convinced me that it wasn’t a likely way to make a living, though, so even though I kept writing I figured it would just be a hobby — until my stories started selling, and I couldn’t find a decent day job. I wound up making my living as a writer for thirty-some years.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
LWE: I don’t really know what inspired “An Interrupted Betrothal,” exactly. I’d been thinking about how little say women have traditionally had in who they marry, and it grew from that.

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?
LWE: I’ve been influenced by dozens of authors, from the most famous (e.g., J.R.R. Tolkien) to the most obscure (e.g., C.L. Hales), but the ones who probably contributed the most to my stories for Lace and Blade would include Baroness D’Orczy and Rafael Sabatini.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Writer's Round Table: Pros Give Advice on Writer's Block IV

Writer Bobbie Bolig writes poignantly about what it's like to be blocked. I asked some pro writer friends for words of encouragement. Here's my own story:  


For much of my early career, I used to joke that I couldn't afford writer's block. I began writing 

Cemetery, New Orleans, 2012
professionally when my first child was a baby and I learned to use very small amounts of time. This involved "pre-writing," going over the next scene in my mind (while doing stuff like washing the dishes) until I knew exactly how I wanted it to go. Then when I'd get a few minutes at the typewriter (no home computers yet), I'd write like mad. I always had a backlog of scenes and stories and whole books, screaming at me to be written. The bottleneck was the time in which to work on them.

I kept writing through all sorts of life events, some happy, others really awful and traumatic. Like many other writers, I used my work as escape, as solace, as a way of working through difficult situations and complex feelings. I shrouded myself with a sense of invulnerability: I could write my way through anything life threw at me!

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

I hit an immovable wall. My mother had been raped and murdered when my younger daughter was but a wee babe. The DA accepted a plea bargain and so, 9 years later, the perpetrator had his first parole hearing. I put on my psychological armor, marched into San Quentin, and spoke at that hearing. A year later, I found myself in a full-blown post-traumatic crisis. I kept having waking nightmares of both terror and revenge. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, and I couldn't stop crying.

Also, I couldn't write fiction. Stream-of-consciousness journaling helped me get through the darkest days, but the creation of an actual story was beyond me. That creative paralysis added another dimension to the meltdown. If I couldn't write, who was I? Where were my secret worlds, my journeys of spirit and heart where people healed and things got better? Gone...and I didn't know if I'd ever get them back.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Doranna Durgin

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

Kindle: https://amzn.to/2PBzyj6
Print: here (Amazon) or here (Barnes & Noble)



A lifelong horse lover, I fell in love with Doranna Durgin's early novel, Dun Lady's Jess and have been a fan ever since. So I was particularly delighted to edit her stories for Lace and Blade 4 and 5.


Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Doranna Durgin: I was always a writer.  I think I started in at the typewriter in early grade school, writing horse stories that didn’t know where to go with themselves.  I finally wrote (and illustrated and bound!) my first complete book when I was twelve, and never stopped writing from that point.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
DD:  I wanted to do something new—not based in a previous world, but something intense and complete unto itself.  I woke up one morning thinking, “Clockwork Unicorn.”  So the story grew from there.  Why was it clockwork?  Why was that element important?  How would the story center around it?  And what did the story want to say?So rather than being inspired, it was more a matter of making space for what wanted to grow.

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?
DD: More than anything?  Will James, who wrote a whole lot more than Smoky.  Ernest Haycox.  A spate of men’s adventure books that I got into when I was too young to be reading them.  We’re talking grade school and middle school here.  In high school, Anne McCaffery & Katherine Kurtz made an impression that carried forward, mixed up with some Mary Stewart and some of the early SF masters.  In my mid-20s I found now-friend Jennifer Roberson’s books, and those made an impact.  At that point, I think, I started to develop enough of my own self that although I continued to find authors I adore, they weren’t as influential in what I was doing. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Writer's Round Table: Pros Give Advice on Writer's Block III


Writer Bobbie Bolig writes poignantly about what it's like to be blocked. I asked some pro writer friends for words of encouragement.



"Overcoming Writer's Block"

By Barb Caffrey


When writer and editor Deborah J. Ross asked me about how I'd overcome writer's block for an upcoming column series at her blog, I wasn't sure what I'd write—though I did tell her that of course I'd write something. Because, you see, I've had to overcome writer's block several times over the years, with the first time being due to my husband's unexpected death fourteen years ago. I know that tragedy, illness, family health problems, work-related issues, and other things can creep into your subconscious, and make it nearly impossible to write anything at all.

And yet, we're creative people, we writers. We need our creativity, or we don't function very well. We expect to be able to write, even when we feel terrible; even when our husband just died; even when our mother just broke her leg in three places; even when our workload is so high, we can barely turn around from doing the work and falling into bed, repeating ad nauseum.

Is this fair to expect this of ourselves? No, of course not. But as I said, we expect to be able to write no matter what.

There are reasons for this, of course. There are folks out there who put up such a good front in the professional writing community that you'd think nothing fazes them. (Granted, they may not have ever run into the situations I have, you have, or someone else you know as a writer who's dealing with tragedy, long-term illness of their own or in their family, or some other deep and frustrating concern.) They'll tell you that the death of their mother didn't stop them, so why can't you write? They'll tell you that they once worked seventy-five-hour weeks, came home and took care of young children, and woke up at four a.m. every day to write for an hour or two before they had to start breakfast for the kids and get off to work.

I believe that is possible, that sometimes people can—for a short time—overcome such difficulties and write. And it certainly is possible even with high-hour weeks to schedule in your writing time; I've done it, most writers I know have done it, and while it doesn't always feel great because you want to do more and can only manage a few hours here and there, it's a lot better than nothing.

But those outliers who actually can do such superhuman things and then pass them off as normal are detrimental to the rest of us. We aren't superhuman. We're people. We're fallible. We're mortal. And we only have so many hours in the day, with a sharply limited and finite energy supply to give.

What can we, the fallible, mortal writers who aren't outliers, do to keep writing under such difficult situations?

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Kitten Hooligans

The kittens are now about 5 months old and have turned into a couple of hooligans. Most of the pics I took turned out blurred because they're moving so fast. Nonstop wrestling, then falling over, then more wrestling alternating with getting into whatever mischief they can... They are well matched. Although Freya (dilute torbie) is about 6 weeks younger, she's bigger and heavier. Sonja may end up bigger, but had a rougher start in life. It's unusual for a red/orange kitty to be a girl, but she is.




Tuesday, February 19, 2019

On Not Finishing Stories...

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post, Contrary Writing Advice: Don't Finish That Story!
It appeared here and on the SFWA website. They just re-posted it

It begins: 

Guest Post: Contrary Writing Advice: Don’t Finish This Story!

by Deborah J. Ross
D_RossI love to take conventional wisdom and turn it on its head, following the tradition of rules are made to be broken but first you have to learn them. Beginning writers make mistakes. At least, I did, and I don’t know anyone who’s gone on to a successful writing career who didn’t. At some point, either a teacher or a more skillful writer points out, “Don’t do this” and why it’s a bad idea. Sometimes we figure it out for ourselves. I wonder if in the process of expunging our mistakes we also ignore that kernel of wisdom or inner creative impulse that led us to make the mistake in the first place.
For example, we get told, “Avoid passive verbs, especially the verb to be.” But sometimes that is exactly the right verb and if we contort our prose to avoid it at all costs, we end up with…well, contorted prose.
The writing rule to Always Finish What You Start is equally worthy of a challenge, yet it rarely is. The rule is practically engraved in granite, creating a sense of obligation to slog through stories, no matter how much we’ve grown beyond them. We end up with trunk stories (stories that are so flawed as to be unsellable and are therefore relegated to the proverbial storage chest) when we could have been writing the very best new stories we’re now capable of. The second rule, to move on to something new, is a good one most of the time, as is the commiseration, Not every story succeeds. I’m all for taking risks in our writing with the understanding that we’ll occasionally go splat into the Quagmire of Drekness from time to time.
Is there any value to starting things we don’t finish? (Or allowing ourselves to not finish what we start?) That is, aside from dropping projects that just aren’t working and using our time and creative energy more productively? I think there is.
Beginning writers often have far more ideas than they can put into stories. We’re like kids in a candy store, with our minds hopping with images, bits of dialog, ultimately cool mcguffins, nifty plot twists, you name it. When we’re new, we don’t have the experience to sort out what’s prime story core material, what needs development, what needs a lot of development and a lot of structure before it stands a hope of becoming a story. So as beginners we dive into whatever strikes our fancy and end up with files and files of story beginnings. That’s a valuable part of the learning process, even if it is far from comprehensive. Later, when we know how to cultivate those ideas into stories that work, we can return to those sketches and openings as a treasure trove of ideas. our mistakes we also ignore that kernel of wisdom or inner creative impulse that led us to make the mistake in the first place.
For example, we get told, “Avoid passive verbs, especially the verb to be.” But sometimes that is exactly the right verb and if we contort our prose to avoid it at all costs, we end up with…well, contorted prose.
The writing rule to Always Finish What You Start is equally worthy of a challenge, yet it rarely is. The rule is practically engraved in granite, creating a sense of obligation to slog through stories, no matter how much we’ve grown beyond them. We end up with trunk stories (stories that are so flawed as to be unsellable and are therefore relegated to the proverbial storage chest) when we could have been writing the very best new stories we’re now capable of. The second rule, to move on to something new, is a good one most of the time, as is the commiseration, Not every story succeeds. I’m all for taking risks in our writing with the understanding that we’ll occasionally go splat into the Quagmire of Drekness from time to time.
Is there any value to starting things we don’t finish? (Or allowing ourselves to not finish what we start?) That is, aside from dropping projects that just aren’t working and using our time and creative energy more productively? I think there is.
Beginning writers often have far more ideas than they can put into stories. We’re like kids in a candy store, with our minds hopping with images, bits of dialog, ultimately cool mcguffins, nifty plot twists, you name it. When we’re new, we don’t have the experience to sort out what’s prime story core material, what needs development, what needs a lot of development and a lot of structure before it stands a hope of becoming a story. So as beginners we dive into whatever strikes our fancy and end up with files and files of story beginnings. That’s a valuable part of the learning process, even if it is far from comprehensive. Later, when we know how to cultivate those ideas into stories that work, we can return to those sketches and openings as a treasure trove of ideas.


You can read the rest of it on sfwa.org or here.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Robin Wayne Bailey

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:

Kindle: https://amzn.to/2PBzyj6
Print: here (Amazon) or here (Barnes & Noble)

I crossed paths with Robin Wayne Bailey at various times in my early career, both as contributors to the very first Sword and Sorceress anthology, through GEnie, and later when he was outgoing SFWA President and I was incoming Secretary. I'm pleased to consider him a friend as well as a colleague.



Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you come to be a writer?
Robin Wayne Bailey: Besides writing, I have a lot of unrelated passions, including body-building, martial arts, yoga and hiking. Perhaps I shouldn’t say “unrelated” because everything we are and do impacts our writing in some way, either by writing more realistic fight scenes or giving us the discipline it takes to actually write. I’ve been a dancer, a planetarium assistant director, and a college professor, among other things. Again, all these things get channeled into writing one way or the other.

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. In grade school, I composed a poem, and my teachers insisted I read it at an assembly. My parents then insisted that I read it to relatives and visitors. I realized pretty quickly that writing was a way of getting attention. I sold my first story when I was eighteen. In the first couple of weeks of my freshman year as an English major, a handful of other stories through college, and my first novel on my thirtieth birthday.

DJR:  What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
RWB: Interesting question. I don’t always know where a particular story comes from. Sometimes, I can say exactly that a painting or an image or a sound served as inspiration. But more often I just trust my subconscious to take over. I’ll sit down with no clear direction and type a page or a paragraph. Maybe I’ll throw that away, but as often as not what comes out on the page will inspire the next paragraph or the next page, and if I’m following basic story structure, the result is something workable. That’s the way this story emerged, piece by piece, one image following another from my subconscious, nothing planned out or plotted beforehand.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Writer's Round Table: Pros Give Advice on Writer's Block II

Writer Bobbie Bolig writes poignantly about what it's like to be blocked. I asked some pro writer friends for words of encouragement.



This is from a well-known, NYTimes-best-selling author:


WRITER'S BLOCK


I am sitting here looking at a fic I have not touched since 2007.  I have 135K done, including the last scene...or, about 2/3 of the total fic.  I am ALSO sitting here looking at a novel that was due three years ago, for which I have something similar to an outline and the first 50K written (only 100K to go, right?) 

I've been writing fanfic and profic since the 80s, and dealing with blocked, derailed, and MIA stories for most of that time.  Here are some of the strategies that have worked for me.  (NOTE: some of these ideas are mutually-exclusive, because every writer writes differently.)

1. WELCOME TO THE GULAG: Block out a specific time and place where you do the same thing every day: sit in front of the screen and make words come.  Doesn't matter what you write, or even if you don't write.  Just be there doing nothing else (no shopping, no reading AO3, no social media) for that one or two hours (no more) each and every day (same Bat-time, same Bat-channel).  Eventually your brain gives up and you get to write what you want to write.

1A. If absolutely nothing else will come to your fingers, choose a favorite book (or longfic) and retype it. 

2. FACE THE MUSIC: Between day job and commute (long) I was really bushed when Writing Time arrived in the evening.  I just didn't have the energy—but I did have a deadline.  Solution?  ROCK'N'ROLL BAY-BEE!!!  I wrote two novels to "Bad To The Bone".  Just that one track.  On infinite repeat.  Loud.  So pick a piece of music, declare it your writing music, and hit "Repeat" on iTunes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Monday, February 11, 2019

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Julia H. West

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:

Kindle: https://amzn.to/2PBzyj6
Print: here (Amazon) or here (Barnes & Noble)

I've known Julia H. West since the days of the GEnie science fiction community and have long wanted to edit a story of hers. "Water Bound" was originally submitted to a different anthology that I was co-editing, but Julia very graciously agreed to let me have it for Lace and Blade 5.




Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you come to be a writer?
Julia H. West: I started writing stories influenced by my reading when I was in grade school (the only one I remember was “Martin the Mountain Lion” which was supposed to be rather Ernest Thompson Seton-esque). I started reading science fiction when I was about six years old, aided by my Dad, who read A Princess of Mars to me at bedtime.

By the time I was a teenager I had systematically read almost every science fiction and fantasy novel in the local library. I distinctly remember one day when I put down the novel I was reading and said, “I could write something better than this.” So when I was a senior in high school I wrote my first novel. I still have that manuscript--handwritten with pencil on lined notebook paper.

Back then there weren’t the plethora of writing resources available to young writers now, so I sat in the library and read the articles in The Writer’s Market and flipped through its pages looking for markets for science fiction and fantasy stories.

I wrote stories, submitted them to markets, and finally started selling stories. I always carry a notebook with me so I can jot down ideas, brainstorm, or write the next scene when I’m in a waiting room or somewhere else where I just have to sit.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
JHW: I participate in a writing challenge called “Story a Day in May,” wherein one tries to brainstorm and write a story every day in May.  (For the record, the most stories I’ve ever written in one May is fifteen, but I have, over the years, sold several of the stories
written during the challenge.) The prompt for “Water Bound” was ‘Your story is a romance between a caring mentor and a short person who kicks tremendous ass. The lovers experience isolation. One of them is motivated by already being damned.’ I brainstormed this idea for about half an hour, then started writing. The story strayed a fair amount from this original prompt, and got very long, but I liked it enough to keep writing.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Writer's Round Table: Pros Give Advice on Writer's Block I

Not long ago, writer Bobbie Bolig told me about her anguish in being unable to write. I've been there, too, although for different reasons, and I'm grateful to those who encouraged me and were patient with me (even when what I finally managed to produce was melodramatic drek). Bobbie's predicament touched me deeply, so I asked professional writers if they could share their experiences and hope with her. Those essays will follow in subsequent weeks.

To get started, though, here's Bobbie's story:



Writers' Block. The Gap That's Hard to Cross


By Bobbie Bolig



I stare at an empty page.
The ideas are flying around in my head, I just can't get them onto a page.
Suddenly there's a great chasm in front of me and I continue to just stare at the space where words should be.
I'm in the gap of writing.
I contemplate this very matter as I myself stare at a blank page I've been in a two year block myself.. How do you find the good with the bad of a writers' block? Some blocks can last only a short time, while others can last years.  What's the good and bad to that?

Pros

·         You get a chance to run ALL the scenes through your mind.
·         You can get other work done.
·         You can cook a healthy meal.
·         You can catch up on much needed sleep.
Running through all the scenes in your head yet not able to get them down on a page: frustrating yet it can be productive. You can plot different paths you want your story to take.  Take notes and write them down, even if it's just a sticky note.
Face it your housework probably needs to be done. Concentrating on writing can take our minds off a lot of the outside world of our own brain. The dust might be piling up and now you can get rid of it. Also may help clear the dust and clutter out of your mind.
Again, once we get into writing mode we tend to be in our own little world and just don't eat well. Eating well can give you brain power Go out to eat with friends. Give your poor overworked brain a break.
Sleep! Sweet, sweet sleep. Unless you set yourself a set time limit on how long you write, we tend to write till we drop. Catch up on that sleep, you probably need it.

Cons

·         You have all those wonderful stories that are just running through your head.
·         Too much time on your hands. Without writing you have to find something else to do.
·         You get frustrated easily. The blank page is your enemy.  
·         Eating the wrong things.
·         Oversleep because of depression. Feeling sorry for your self.

Oh those stories... They're in there, You know keenly well just what stories are up there. Please write down notations on these stories. You might not be able to write then at the moment but you can try in the future and now you have notes to go by.
You are now confused as to what to do with your time. Do you want to hang out with friends, do you want to go to the park. Hey take that puppy or kitty for a walk. They need your time.
Frustration is the easiest emotion right now. You want to pull your hair out, scream, key-mash the keyboard. But right now you stare at the blank page. It's suddenly become your mortal enemy, the keyboard is an unwilling accomplice.
Eating has also become an enemy. We tend to want comfort food, junk food, easy food. You need to take care of yourself by eating right. Eating right gives you brain food. Energy for your brain.
You need sleep but sometimes, when facing a daunting task we go into a hibernation  like mode. All we want to do is sleep. The  bed is suddenly the most comfortable place we've ever been. Yes sleep is good, too much sleep can be harmful mentally.

The writers block/gap is not a fun place to be. It's depressing and void like, sucking the very writing soul out of you,
Finally I've found that being prompted by outside sources can get the creative juices flowing. Look for prompts online. Something is sure to hit just that right story-line.  I've been sitting here feeling sorry for myself and all it actually took was an invitation and prompt from a wise lady.
This is the most I've written in over two years. It feels good to write something again.


Bobbie Bolig describes herself as “a 59 year old single mother of a disabled adult son. I live in the suburbs of Grand Rapids MI.  I do mostly fanfiction writing and blogging. I enjoy writing, crocheting, beadwork, scrapbooking and origami.”

If you'd like to contribute to the discussion, email me at mail@deborahjross dot com.