Monday, October 31, 2011

World Fantasy Report, Part The First - Getting There

Friday October 27, 2011 was a travel day. It's a long drive to San Diego, even if we don't get caught in traffic passing through or around Los Angeles. "We" are husband Dave Trowbridge and me. This leads me to some thoughts on packing for conventions. You'd think that after all these years of con-going -- going on 30 -- that most of it would be rote. And it is, at least when it comes to what to throw in my suitcase. One nice outfit if there's a publisher's dinner, underwear for n days plus one, layers to cope with the vagaries of hotel air conditioning, that sort of thing. I've got a travel kit of teas, packets of instant oatmeal, sweetener, spoons and immersion heater. I could throw together toiletries and prescriptions in my sleep. Then there are things I sometimes forget, like gold stickers that say, "Autographed Copy" (left at home this time), old cover flats and bookplates for autograph freebies (also left at home), and copies of the collection of my short fiction that I published through Anthology Builder and offer for sale at cost (also left at home). Mostly, these "left at homes" are not a big deal. I'm better and more organized some times than others, and I'm pretty relaxed about it.

Then there are the moments of sheer panic.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Off to World Fantasy Convention...

and will be either offline or too blitzed to make sense for the next few days.

Be patient, all, and a report shall be forthcoming!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Interview in Portuguese

Waldir Ramos Neto, a Brazilian fan, translated part of an interview with me on his blog, Flor de Kireseth. 
Em visita ao Flor de Kireseth, Deborah elogiou a qualidade visual do site (já que não fala portugues) e me deu diversas dicas de sites, blogs e grupos de discussão onde posso pegar mais informações sobre MZB, Darkover e Deborah J. Ross.

Hoje ela me enviou uma entrevista que concedeu a um site italiano sobre Darkover. Traduzi os trechos que achei mais pertinentes.
It is a strange and wonderful experience to read one's words in a different language. (And to see the covers with different artwork and oh yes, I see what that title was originally.) 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Lady (Actual and Honorary) Writers' Lunch

Writing is a lonely business. Well, maybe if you write screenplays as part of a committee, it isn't, but for most of us, the process involves endless hours with just us and the words on the page. No wonder we end up talking to our characters and listening when they talk back. There's a listing for that in the DSM-IV.

One of my secret weapons against the perils of isolation is the writer's lunch. When I lived in Los Angeles, I joined my first critique group, an eclectic mix of sf/f writers, mystery writers, and mainstream "literary" writers, with a core of Clarion and UCLA Advanced Writing class graduates. One of the other sf/f writers and I started going to lunch once a month or so. The group meetings were tightly focused on critiquing manuscripts and there wasn't much time for schmoozing about general writing issues, nor was the group atmosphere hospitable to sf/f shop talk. I quickly learned the value of having a writing buddy, someone to cheer me on, help me choose markets, analyze the personalities of editors, commiserate with about rejections (and try to interpret those letters), and more.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gender, Sex, Identity and A Bunch of Other Fascinating Issues

Last year, I attended a workshop at the Ben Lomond Quaker Center on "Gender, the Search for Self and the Search for Acceptance," facilitated by Chloe Schwenke, an ethicist who is herself a transgendered woman. (There's an interview with her here.) Although much of the workshop centered on personal issues of gender and identity, it struck me that as writers, we can discover much depth and richness by asking the same questions.

For the workshop, we defined sex as the classification of people as male or female. Intersex individuals, that is, people possessing the external characteristics of both, are usually "assigned" to one sex or the other. Gender, on the other hand, is a personal sense of being a man or a woman (or both, or neither). Each of these is distinct from sexual orientation, which has to do with an enduring physical, romantic, and emotional attraction to another person. Gender has been described as "who you want to go to bed as, not who you want to go to bed with."

In science fiction and fantasy, we have been playing around with such notions as more than two sexes/genders, none, fluid sexes/genders, and a diversity of gender role expressions. Every so often, a story that takes a new or not-new-but-splashy look at the field garners a lot of buzz, particularly in the queer and queer-friendly community. Yet much genre writing continues to perpetuate the world view of two oppositional and fixed genders, each with equally unyielding behavioral expectations. For many writers and readers, a character or society that goes too far outside the familiar becomes so uncomfortable as to fracture sympathetic identification. It strikes me, however, that even within the limitations of conventional portrayals of sex and gender, we can reach for greater depth. We can go beyond the Caveman Model of Gender Roles, the Separatist All-Men or All-Women Worlds, the Rambo-in-Drag/Supersensitive Male dichotomies and other variations already done to death.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

YA to look out for

First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci

I've long thought that one reason we love stories about aliens (or sentient nonhuman creatures) is that at one time or another, we've all felt like aliens ourselves. I know I have, and I'll bet that just about everyone who's survived adolescence has, too. (The "just about" is a hedge in case there are, somewhere in the world, people who just sailed through; I'm willing to allow for the possibility, even if I don't know any of them.)

Cecil Castellucci takes that experience and whirls it around in a blender with the mythos of alien abduction and a protagonist who's not only smart but has to face a whole lot more than many of us. Mal's the kid with the greasy hair, slumped in the last row of seats in class, the kid you're afraid to talk to. He's got secrets, too. Years ago, he disappeared, but whether those missing three days were a "breakdown" or an alien abduction, even Mal isn't sure. His alcoholic mom lives right on the edge.

How far away from here is far enough? Mal asks. How far away would I be willing to go?

Do you remember feeling like that? Doesn't everyone?

Castellucci's characters are uncompromising and her prose cuts right to the core. Not just for teens, First Day on Earth is both gritty and lyrical, subtle and over-the-top. It shows with poignant eloquence how the symbols and tropes of speculative fiction can convey our deepest human experiences.

Janni Lee Simner on "Telling the Wrong Story"

This is from Rachel Ann Hanley's interview with the wonderful YA author Janni Lee Simner.

"The first draft is the one where I pretty much tell the wrong story. By writing the wrong story--and seeing why it's the wrong story-- I learn things I need to know about the right story."

This is so true for me! I need to hear it over and over again, because the gremlins that live in my brain insist that I have to get it right the first time. If I listen to them, the result is the most insipid pap you can imagine, because I'm terrified of making a mistake.

Somewhere I read that Dick Francis wrote his early novels in ink in school composition books. He didn't know that you could change things, so he worked hard at thinking through every sentence before he put it down. If I did that, I think I'd get maybe one or two sentences into the story before I freaked out. I used to think this meant I would never improve as a writer, that I was terrible and hopeless and would never produce anything that wasn't drek. Where do such notions come from? I'd like to have a word or two with whoever's responsible!

For some reason, this reminds me of something my calligraphy teacher, Lloyd Reynolds, used to say. He wanted us to hold the pen softly, to create a supple and responsive connection between the center of our bodies and the words on the paper. Isn't writing like that? We want to be fluid, sensitive, nimble in the sense of being able to perceive the deeper promptings of our creative selves and then to act on them. He said that the clenched fist cannot receive any of life's gifts -- only the open hand. Only the open heart.

Thank you, Janni, for reminding me that not only is it okay for me to write the wrong story, but that it's a necessary step in the process of writing the right one!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Juliette Wade on Characters as Flawed Detectives

Juliette Wade is definitely a writer to look out for. Her short fiction (look for it in Analog) is beautifully crafted, thoughtful science fiction. She uses her background in linguistics to create alien races and worlds that are among the best. (What can you say about a race of space-faring otters -- that works?)

So I paid particular attention to her blog post on It's good to be wrong - Or, why my characters use the scientific method. She says:

I especially enjoy it when I've got two or three different points of view, and each of them is wrong about something, and nobody really has it right. It creates such great opportunities for conflict and learning and personal growth, and often makes the story that much more worth reading.

The more complex the real solution is, the more valuable it is for you to break it down into smaller steps. I write pretty complicated puzzles, and I really need to make sure I'm keeping people with me. I need to make sure I'm showing exactly the thought process that leads the characters to the conclusions they draw. That's why this is so valuable for me. That's also why I get so gleeful when I discover a moment where the characters think they have it all put together. Readers will know we're close to the end, and when the characters go, "Aha!" the readers will likely go "Aha!" as well. But there's still something left to learn.

The thing that strikes me is how respectful this is of the intelligence of the reader. Whether a story is specifically a puzzle (mystery, etc.) or not, reading a story -- entering a world which you know nothing about -- is like a mystery. The writer hopefully gives you all the information you need to imagine the world, the characters, the situation... One way is to hand it to you on a plate, omniscently. First of all, that's condescending. And boring. And what do you do when you think differently from that know-it-all narrator? Grinding of teeth, gnashing of jaws, soaring irritation, books thrown across the room...

As writers, we learn to take our readers by the hand, introduce story elements sequentially, and leave room for the readers to interpret, anticipate, guess rightly or wrongly. In other words, to participate in the story. We do this through our point of view characters, and that's why Juliette's approach -- letting her characters be fallible but intelligent -- works so well.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Mini-Interview, thanks to Jay Lake

From Jay Lake:

1) What creative project are you working on right now?

I'm noodling around with a YA science fiction series, the first book of which is called Sabertooth Dawn. The short version is: When a space ship of orphaned kids is marooned on a world of prehistoric animals and even more ancient alien ruins, the fate of the colony depends on teens Danica, Eli, and Anjali, Eli's foster kid sister. But in order to work together, each must overcome their own fears and deeply-buried secrets.

I'm also starting to think about the next Darkover book, in which the Terran Federation returns to Darkover. I have a nebulous idea about a clash between machine-created psi and Darkover's natural laran psi. I keep throwing things into that "back burner" pot until they start to ferment. Or turn into bouillabaisse. Or something.

I'm also co-editing (with Irene Radford) an anthology of re-telling of fairy tales for Book View Cafe. It'll be out next March and oh, my, are there some seriously wild and twisted stories! And some wonderfully touching ones, too. And... and... you'll just have to wait!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Death Penalty Statement - October 13, 2011

A number of people have asked about the statement I made in opposition to the death penalty, before the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission. Much of it was taken from "September Grieving," which appeared both in my LiveJournal and on the Book View Cafe blog. Because the different social media sites reach different audiences, I'm posting this statement here, behind the cut.

Friday, October 14, 2011


I love the way ideas and circumstances collide to create today's writing theme. In this case, it's (a) chatting with a friend who's been asked by her editor to revise a story to suit the needs of a different genre; (b) reading Larry Brooks ( on how to structure your NaNoMoWrite (writing a novel in a month); and ( c) doing my own revision of a novel I'd drafted 15 years ago (needless to say, I am more skillful now than I was then and this rough draft exhibits many of the weaknesses of its time.)

I suggested to my friend that she might approach the rewrite as an exercise in structure. That is, to look at how successful stories in the target genre work, to think analytically about what elements are important (these aren't the same for all genres or types of stories). Then I got some feedback on the plot outline for my own novel and realized the underlying nonspecificity of  my characters' goals (aka chocolate pudding underfoot), definitely one of the aforementioned weaknesses -- I used to get so enamored of a world, I'd forget about "storyness." Then, although pep talks about writing tend to drive me more than a little bats, I read over today's StoryFix blog.  

Bingo! This is how to do it. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

First Impressions of New Orleans

Over on Book View Cafe's blog, I burble about exploring the French Quarter of New Orleans for the first time. Instead of taking a guided tour, I found some wonderful books on what I was interested in -- history, architecture, stories of people and places -- and designed my own.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sword & Sorceress 26 Interview

Jonathan Moeller interviews me on my story, "The Seal Hunt," in the forthcoming Sword & Sorceress 26. I talk about epublishing, whether it's good for readers as well as writers, and a bunch of other cool stuff.

“The Seal Hunt” came from the same utterly unworkable attempt-at-a-novel that “The Casket of Brass” (S & S 24) did. Each one then underwent quite a lot of re-working so that it could stand on its own. In the process, my heroine, Tabitha, really took shape. I’ve never written a character quite like her, a sort of fantasy-world/scholar/Sherlock Holmes who uses keen observation and rapier intelligence to solve mysteries. I’d pit her wits against any evil sorcerer!

Here's the whole thing:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Steve Jobs connection

I never met Steve Jobs, at least not that I knew of. If our paths crossed at Reed College, I never knew who he was. I've never owned an Apple computer, so I have no connection with him that way. Yet we share a deeper experience. We both had the honor and delight to study calligraphy at Reed College. (I believe Jobs actually studied with Bob Palladino, Lloyd's student and successor, who continued his tradition.)

Here's what Jobs said in his 2005 Commencement address at Stanford University:
I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography.

When I heard about his death, one of my thoughts was, Another person who knew Lloyd is gone. And since lots and lots of other people are talking about the impact Jobs and Apple made in their lives, I want to talk a little about Lloyd.

A calligraphy class -- any class -- with Lloyd encompassed far more than the subject material. Yes, he taught us about letter forms, their evolution and design, and how the demands of the eye and the inherent rhythms of the hand shape the letter forms. But more than that, Lloyd taught us to see and to listen beneath the obvious. Into his lectures, he wove Buddhist philosophy, William Blake, John Ruskin, contemporary progressive thought, and a deep and abiding reverence for the many expressions of the human spirit. He railed against narrow-mindedness, bigotry, hatred (and stood up to HUAC during the McCarthy years).

He loved to make writing organic, writing poems on brown paper and hanging them on trees; he called them "weathergrams."

In this video, notice how the energy of Mozart's music flows through the movement of the pen. Also, the fluidity of the strokes, which comes from a soft grasp of the pen and suppleness through the entire arm and body. The pen dances across the pages.

Here's another clip from the series on italic calligraphy he taught for Oregon Public Television. (Through YouTube, you can also find others.)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Writing Thought of the Day

"No one else in the wide world, since the dawn of time, has ever seen the world as you do, or can explain it as you can. This is what you have to offer that no one else can. Nobody can know how good you are unless you risk letting them know how bad you might be." -- Edith Laydon

The painting is Brace's Rock, Brace's Cove, 1864, by Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865), in the public domain.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Choosing Books

SF Signal offers a list of October releases, complete with many shiny covers, here, and asks "Which of These 112 SF/F/H Books Coming Out in October 2011 Do You Want?" (SF = Science Fiction, F = Fantasy, H = Horror)

This gave me a chance not only to look over the field, get a sense of what's new and trendy (in cover art/design as well as theme/subject), but also to observe my own process, to watch what I am attracted to. First off, there was the sheer visual pleasure of many gorgeous covers. Then the pique of interest in seeing new works by authors I love or newer authors whose careers I have been watching. I love celebrating the successes of my friends. Beyond that, a few things stand out for me.

There are genres and topics I simply am not interested in, and no amount of advertising foo-foo, raving reviews, or brilliant cover art is going to change my mind: war porn, zombies, tie-ins to media I haven't seen and which has no appeal for me, series I've given up on/didn't work for me. Then there's a subcategory of books I might pick up if I know the author or someone strongly recommends them, or out of curiosity if I happen so see it in a bookstore (or, more likely, in a dealer's room and I know the dealer); this includes tie-ins for media I have seen (there are a lot of media tie-ins on this list).

Then there's a vast amorphous grouping, about which I feel like an Independent voter. I'm willing to be convinced, so give me a reason to be interested in this book. I'm slightly more likely to take a look if (a) the cover does not have macho men with guns/swords, (b) is from a publisher I consider interesting, such as many of the smaller presses.

Last, but should be first, come the books I know I want to read. I know the author or his/her work, I've heard something about the book, I've loved the series. It strikes me that the personal connection or previous work trumps glitz.This definitely biases me against new and unfamiliar authors. I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, the bias rankle my sense of fairness, and I know I'm depriving myself of books I might adore. On the other hand, my book buying budget isn't unlimited, so I do need to pick and choose. Let's face it, if I'm given a choice between a new book by one of my favorite authors and one by someone I know nothing about, human nature will prevail.