Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Surviving Dry Spells. a few thoughts

On Book View Cafe blog, Laura Anne Gilman offers some savvy perspective on surviving the dry spells. She writes,

"Remember, a few weeks ago, when I said that every career has its ups and downs? That not even bestsellers hit it out of the park every time? Awards don’t always equal sales, sales aren’t always enough, readers’ tastes change, and so do publishers. Careers rise…and they fall.

Sometimes, it’s obvious. Sometimes it’s not. You might keep working, but at lower advances to match lower sales. Or you might not be able to sell another book, no matter how good, how smart, how interesting the books are."

We all need the reminder that publishing is cyclical and that many elements are beyond our control. We needs ways of staying in touch with why we became writers in the first place. We also need survival strategies so we can pay the bills, whether we get unrelated day jobs or not.

Years ago, Marion Zimmer Bradley said something to me in passing, only a few words, but they stuck with me. She said that along with her current commercial novel, she was writing something for her own pleasure. Most of us — well, me, certainly — began writing because we loved it, and we wrote the stories we wanted to read. Our secret delights. One of the pitfalls of professional publishing is that we risk turning off that part of our writing minds. We chase the market instead of delighting our inner readers. And yet those inner readers can be our best allies during hard times. Along with fellow writers who have been there and lived to tell the tale.

Epublishing, self-publishing, are game-changers. At least, I think they are. But what do I know? I have so little sense of the market, it's pathetic. I know what I love to read and it isn't always what sells. However, one thing I am reasonably sure of: publishing is in flux and we don't know how it's all going to fall out. Just as Gilman talks about a dry spell as a creative opportunity, new methods of publishing open doors. That's one reason that ventures like Book View Cafe, where established pro writers and editors can pool their talents, publishing not only out-of-print treasures but new material, are so exciting.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Orycon schedule

If you'll be at Orycon, please come by and say hello (and stay to enjoy the panels!)

Fri Nov 2 5:00pm-5:30pm. Reading.

Sat Nov 3 12:00pm-1:00pm: A touch of Farmer, a pinch of LeGuin. Panelists discuss their biggest influences and what books have changed the recent landscape in SF/F/H literature. Keffy R. M. Kehrli, Deborah J. Ross, Joyce Reynolds-Ward

Sat Nov 3 3:00pm-4:00pm Autographing

Sat Nov 3 4:00pm-5:00pm: Gender and Writing. Gender free? Gender neutral? Stereotyping? How gender affects our writing. What writers do to write effectively in the opposite gender's point of view, and whether they really do get away with it. J. A. Pitts, Deborah J. Ross, Amber D. Sistla, Andy Mangels

Sat Nov 3 5:00pm-6:00pm: Are Book Publishers Obsolete? With the ebook market growing daily, access to that market open to anyone, and Amazon paying authors royalties of 70%, are traditional book publishers headed they way of the dodo, or are the editorial and marketing services offered by publishers indispensable, regardless of publishing format?  Can publishers find a way to adapt (and remain profitable) in the
ebook age, and what does the question mean to authors? Deborah J. Ross, M.K. Hobson, Irene Radford, Jason V Brock, Bill Johnson

Sun Nov 4 11:00am-12:00pm: Characters with disabilities. Readers are used to athletic, clever characters who are basically healthy for most of the story.  But some of the most unique characters out there have a disability of some sort.  Storytelling opportunities, and how to get it right. Michael Alexander, Kamila Miller, Bart Kemper, Nisi Shawl, Deborah J. Ross

Friday, October 26, 2012

Jaydium, Chapter 17


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 17


Even before Kithri stepped through the doorway, she recognized Brianna=s voice.

"--positive evidence it=s the same. I=ve spent a whole year studying this site and--"
Lennart spotted Kithri and jumped to his feet. He and Brianna had been sitting on a low bench in a large, light-filled room. Kithri caught a glimpse of his unbruised face before he enveloped her in a hug.

"They swore that magic ointment would fix you..." Lennart ran one hand over Kithri=s face, touching the lip that had been cut.

If it had been me with Red-hair instead of Brianna, Kithri thought, he would have tried just as hard to stop him. She flinched and took a step backwards.

Brianna stood up. She too wore a belted one-piece tunic with a translator panel across her chest, but on her figure it looked alluringly feminine. There were no traces of the hollows around her eyes or the patchy texture to her skin that had appeared with her first capture by the pirates.

Kithri looked away. She didn=t want to be reminded of how willing she=d been to let Brianna suffer. "You=re all right, too."

"As you can see," Brianna said stiffly.
Kithri=s eyes darted around the room, the low broad bench, the two blank walls and third wall of shallow built-in shelving covered with mysterious-looking glass objects. Raerquel had disappeared, along with any trace of the door. "Where=s Eril?"

"Still recuperating, is my best guess," said Lennart.

Kithri caught the undertones of worry in his voice. Acid filled her mouth and a throb of pain shot through her temples. Even though her physical injuries were healed, some part of her was still back with the pirates, still holding on...

"Did you recognize the city when you were outside?" Brianna asked suddenly.

"It looks just like yours, except for the color," Kithri said.

"Come here, look at this." Brianna grabbed Kithri=s hand and pulled her to the far wall, where rows of clear glass artifacts lined the shallow shelves. She picked up a crystal tube, colorless and unmarked, and handed it to Kithri. It felt warm and very slightly supple, not like ordinary glass.

Kithri wondered if it would shatter it she hurled it against the opposite wall.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Steve Berman on True Faces on Hallowe'en

A letter from Steve Berman of Lethe Press. If you haven't checked them out, this might be the time (and you don't have to be gay to enjoy great stories that feature gay characters).

October is our favorite month. I adore pumpkins and Halloween. Daulton likes the way the sunlight streams into the room. Our patrons love our particular brand of queer speculative fiction--not merely a book with a few gay trappings laced over romance with vampires or shifters, but real, quality fantasy and science-fiction lauded in the pages of Publishers Weekly.

You deserve such books. You deserve quality memoirs that are honest with emotion and empathy. You deserve new fairy tales for the modern day world. That's why Lethe exists. 

We don't hide behind any costumes. We don't need to. We embrace our true face, whether it be wondrous or mysterious. There is a reason why our books have been finalists (or won) a variety of awards such as the Andre Norton (young adult spec fic), the Shirley Jackson (dark and fantastic), the Golden Crown Literary (lesbian titles), and yes, even that Lammy. We offer treats rather than tricks (I'm sure plenty of our readers like a bit of both, so I recommend you seek whimsy in our fiction than toilet papering your neighbor).

Have a wonderful month of thrills and chills!

Steve Berman
Lethe Press, Inc. 

Jaydium, Chapter 16


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 16

No light, no taste. Silence. Anesthetic numbness filmed her skin. Her mouth--surely she should have a mouth below her sightless eyes. Her mouth--open or closed, she could not tell. Teeth and tongue, lips--were they wet or dry or coated with a thick gel?

Kithri struggled to pull herself upright, but there was no sensation of muscles contracting or joints flexing, no tug of gravity to orient herself in space. No change to prove she had actually moved.

I must be dead, then, she thought, and fled back into unconsciousness.


Some time later, she woke again. Her skin was slick and icy, her first reaction one of relief to be feeling something again, even if it was unpleasant. After a few moments, she noticed the feathery swish of air through her lungs. Her chest rose and fell rhythmically. Something flat pressed against her back, firm but not hard.

If she could feel her body, then she was still alive. And if she was not dead at the hands of the pirates, then what she had seen before she blacked out must be real and not an hallucination born of dying brain cells.

An image flashed unbidden across Kithri's mind.

Man-high and twice as long, the rounded body had tapered upwards, like a mound of silver jelly drawn erect at one end. Four plate-like discs covered the highest tip. Below them, boneless appendages uncurled and lengthened, reaching for her--

No, don't think about that!

--and there had been a voice, she remembered, two voices, deep and resonant.

"Ah! Your recovery is proceeding well."

Friday, October 12, 2012

Jaydium, Chapter 15


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 15


Red-hair gripped Kithri's elbow as she led them past archways of splintered topaz and amber. Sunlight fractured against the ruined lacework and spilled ribbons of color over the pirates' pale skins. They made no comment as they marched along, grinding the shards under their heavy space boots.

She guided them around another corner, three turns and then back down the long avenue where free-standing walls made a maze of light and shadow. The tension in Red-hair's hands increased as they went along, the group bunching closer together. Spacebred, they relied heavily on their navigational instruments, while Kithri's years in the brush had developed both her directional sense and a keen memory for landmarks. Now she prayed to all the powers of luck and space they were truly as disoriented as they seemed.

I must pretend I've been here before.

Kithri kept her features impassive as she identified her goal, a truncated green pyramid located diagonally across a plaza bordered by hedges of intricate braided crystals. She squelched any temptation to pause and stare at its perfect balance and grace.

She stepped through the doorway and into the spacious central chamber. The opaque, mint-colored threshold muffled the tread of the men's boots.

The interior was surprisingly bright, considering the thickness of the deep-hued emerald walls and the absence of windows. A shallow, unrailed balcony ringed the central chamber. Kithri's eyes raced across the shadowed doorways as she searched for the entrance Brianna had described.

I've been here before, I know where I'm going...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

October Reading

The Mountain's Call by Caitlin Brennan. Under her various pen names, Judith Tarr has long been one of my favorite authors, particularly when she writes about horses. This book is full of horse-magic, the usual kind because they're so marvelous and the special kind created by the "white gods" of Aurelia as they Dance the patterns of the world. One moment they're ordinary "fat white ponies," but don't let that fool you. We all know their wisdom and power run far, far deeper. I especially loved how their motives and values are not always clear -- they truly are mysterious as well as magical.

In this world, the stability of the realm is maintained by a meticulously executed equestrian Dance, very much akin to the performances of the Lippizan horses of the Spanish Riding Academy of Vienna. The riders train all their lives for ii, in partnership with the magnificent white stallions. Historically, only boys have been Called (as in the title of the book) to the riding school, so when our heroine Valeria shows up, and then bonds with a young stallion of exceptional power, the reactions range from bewilderment to outright hostility. She then becomes a prime target for recruitment into a plot to usurp the throne and the very fabric of the kingdom. Suffice it to say, divided loyalties, not to mention schemes and betrayals ensue. Because the book appears under the "Luna" imprint of Harlequin Books, there is of course a love story. Actually, depending on how you look at it, more than one. But fantasy readers won't be disappointed, as the story, the first part of three, is anything but formulaic with its independent, earthy heroine, two dashing lovers, and of course the magical white horses. This one definitely belongs on the bookshelf of every fantasy reader and horse lover.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Jaydium, Chapter 14


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 14

"Stand away from her, both!" The voice repeated in the same staccato bark. "With respect to the blaster I hold, unless you desire to become imitation of city dust!"

Kithri raised her hands and slowly got to her feet, her back to the voice. From the corner of her vision, she saw Lennart do the same. What a dustbug idiot she'd been, so sure of herself. Now the three of them were in the pirates' clutches, with no one left free to plan a real rescue, and it was her own damned fault.

She wondered fleetingly if she could snatch the stungun from her belt, whirl around, and aim it before the pirate could fire his blaster.

Talk about idiotic ideas!

"Fellows! Turn slowly around."

Kithri obeyed. It was the bald head, Teeg, a glistening black egg on stilts. In one fist he held a wide-muzzled pistol of dull orange metal. A squirrelly looking pirate in blue knelt over the one she=d stunned. Behind them moved a shadow of a man of their height but thinner and red-haired. 

He carried Eril's force whip, tucked through his wide leather belt. Kithri saw his eyes and swallowed hard, struggling to keep her face impassive.

"No fellow, this. Female!" The squirrelly one grinned in Kithri's direction. She decided he must be Quick, Teeg's second.
Red-hair slipped forward and proceeded to search both prisoners with ruthless efficiency. When her turn came, Kithri tried not to flinch from the soft, intrusive patting of his hands. He tugged the stungun free from her belt and tossed it to his leader. Quick bent once more over the inert pirate. Kithri heard the click of a metallic instrument, and then groans as the two stunned man regained consciousness.

Without speaking, Quick and Red-hair hauled the other pirates to their feet. Kithri found the silence between them almost as unnerving as Red-hair's lingering touch as he tied her wrists behind her back and pushed her forward. Quick slung Brianna's body across his shoulders and followed.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

ROUND TABLE: Animals in Fantasy (Part II)

Hello and welcome back for the second part of a fascinating discussion of animals in fantasy. 

Valjeanne Jeffers: The Newest Nonhumans on the Block.

My decision to write about shape shifters and animalsespecially werewolves was first met with me. When I was growing up, and until say the last ten or so years, the cast of animals in science fiction/fantasy was pretty limited. You had your choice of evil and doomed or tragic and doomed. Either way somebody, usually your animal, was doomed. Remember the “salt monster” from the original Star Trek series? It was a beast with no other desire than to assume the shapes of the crewlike a deadly chameleon. All the better to suck the salt from your body until you're dead. That was pretty much the fare of traditional SF films and books.

Whenever I sat down to watch a werewolf film, I already knew the beginning and the end. I already knew the skinny. It definitely wasn't cheerful. Some poor man or woman got bitten or scratched and went through a period of: “I can't believe this is happening to me!” Then eventually, like The American Werewolf In London, they all turned into hairy, psycho killers and proceeded to murder anyone unlucky enough to get in their way—including their own family members. That was the traditional SF nonhuman. That was his or her fate.

So why would I chose such a tragic protagonist? Now the plot, as they say, thickens. There is a nontraditional SF animal, oftentimes also a shape shifter, that has made his/her way into the SF/fantasy genre. These new animals or shape shifters can be loosely grouped into two categories: a thinking being that thwarts the heroine or hero, or one that helps them on their journey.

In The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub, a science fiction/horror odyssey, there is a whole host of supernatural creatures: werewolves, were-goats,  lizards... some good, some malevolent, but all with human intellecta sharp break from the traditional werewolf formula. In fact, “Wolf,” a gentle, werewolf is pivotal to the hero's success. When Wolf runs with the moon, he too becomes a killing machine, losing his human ability to think and reason. Yet Wolf's humanity, unlike that of his literary forefathers, conquers this brutal calling.

But animals such as the talking familiars of A. Jarrell's Detecting Magic With Dick Hunter, and the magical crow of Balogun Ojetade's Once Upon a Time in Afrika showcase animals that completely belong to a new breed of SF/Fantasy animals. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Novel sale!

Some of you may remember the science fiction novel I read from at 2004 Gaylaxicon (and have been asking me ever since when it's coming out). To connect it with my previous science fiction, it'll be under the name Wheeler.

Here's the press release: Dragon Moon Press Continues Gender-Exploring Tradition with a New Science Fiction Novel from Deborah Wheeler

Collaborators: a complex tale of occupation and resistance, conspiracies, rebellions, gender, and power.

We’re pleased to announce the acquisition of Collaborators, a new science fiction novel by Deborah Wheeler. Noted for numerous short stories, two novels, and, as Deborah J. Ross, her continuation of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, Wheeler now offers a deep exploration of the gendered gaze and takes the reader behind the eyes of the other, from both directions, in a fast-moving tale of occupation and resistance.

A crippled Terran spaceship makes orbit around Bandar, a planet whose gender-fluid native race teeters on the brink of international war. As misunderstandings mount, violence escalates. Ultimately, it is up to the people on both sides who have suffered the deepest losses to find a way to reconciliation. About Collaborators, acclaimed writer C. J. Cherryh wrote, “This is first-rate world-building from a writer gifted with soaring imagination and good old-fashioned Sense of Wonder.”

“We’re really excited to work with Deborah, and proud to publish Collaborators,” says managing editor Gabrielle Harbowy. “It’s an intimate exploration of power, gender, and sexuality set in a richly-imagined world.”

Monday, October 1, 2012

Radiation, Polyamory, and Adventure: Katharine Eliska Kimbriel's "Nuala" Series

The mid-1980s were a time of change and exploration for women science fiction writers. Marketing departments kept trying to shoehorn these new voices into established molds, and the writers kept introducing new concerns, new ways of looking at story, world-building, relationships, and characters. One of these writers was Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, creator of the "Nuala" series.

Fire Sanctuary, the first published "Nuala" book, immediately drew me into a richly complex story. Despite the external military/political threat (the planet lies between two warring empires and gets caught in the cross-fire, imperiling the already fragile colony), this story transcended the action-adventures of its time. Kimbriel set up a colony of scientists, abandoned on a marginally habitable but gorgeous planet; one of the first things they did was to declare Nuala a political sanctuary. High natural radiation led to widespread impairment of fertility, so rather than imprisoning those fertile individuals (as in The Handmaid's Tale), Kimbriel gives us stable multiple-partner marriages and loving relationships, with the exception of the ruling family, who must go off-planet to seek the mates with whom to produce healthy children. The openness of communication about sexual and emotional relationships set the Nuala universe apart. Kimbriel portrays the relationships and principles with sensitivity and intelligence, rather than the glorification of "free love" so prevalent in male-oriented science fiction of that time.