Tuesday, December 31, 2013

End Of The Year Reading

The winter holiday season has always seemed to me to be a good time to strike out beyond my usual
reading preferences. Maybe that’s a relic from the childhood years when adult relatives would give me the books they thought I ought to enjoy, whether these were ones I would have ever thought of selecting for myself. And many were treasures indeed. So here are a few, genre and not.

Top of the list is the book I’m currently immersed in, An Equal Music by Vikram Seth. It appeared on our To Be Read Bookshelf. I have no idea where it came from, perhaps a box of books from one friend or another, left with me when they departed for another continent, to be read and passed on to the library book sale. I suspect I delayed so long in cracking its cover because it looked pretentiously “litrary” and is written primarily in present tense. I’m only reluctantly willing to tackle present tense, although given sufficient motivation, I settle into it nicely. To talk about the richness of characterization or the layers of story is really to say nothing at all about the book. What captured me and held me firmly was the wonderfully inventive, detailed description of how professional musicians – in this case, the protagonist being second violin in a world-caliber string quartet – experience classical music. After eight years of piano lessons, I have a glimmering from my own experience of what it’s like, but the book takes me right into the heart of chamber music, of the intense love and hate affair between a highly skilled musician and his instrument, and of the relationships between people who play together. Into this, Seth weaves stories of love won and lost, of rivalries and misunderstandings and sheer bloody-mindedness (the characters are British, don’t you know). The music is the real star, the living heart of the book.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Half Price Sale at Book View Cafe

In case you got a shiny new ereader or just feel inclined to nab some great reads at a great price, here's a half-price sale from Book View Cafe. Jaydium, Northlight, and Azkhantian Tales are all included, as are the anthologies I've edited.And many more to delight you -- science fiction, fantasy, romance, thriller, young adult, historical fiction...

Monday, December 23, 2013

Writing Through Crisis

 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.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Artist Behind The Cover

My story, "The Hero of Abarxia" appeared in When the Hero Comes Home 2, edited by Gabrielle Harbowy, from Dragon Moon Press.The story was a particular delight to write because the hero was a horse and my love of horses was in full swing. Also, my friend Bonnie got to enjoy the story in pages proof form while she could still focus enough to read. The book has a beautiful cover, and here it is, with the proud artist.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Memoir, Cancer, And Tent Camping: My Friend Connie

When a friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer, the effects ripple through the community. If we and our friend are relatively young, we may feel shock but also a sense of insulation. We have not yet begun to consider our own mortality, or the likelihood of losing our peers to accident or one disease or another. It hasn’t happened to us yet and the odds are still in our favor, particularly if we don’t smoke or drive drunk, we exercise and eat many leafy green vegetables. As the years and the decades go by, most of us will see an increase in morbidity if not mortality in our friends. They – and we – may develop osteoarthritis or Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, all those common ailments of aging.  Some of us will get cancer.

When my best friend Bonnie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer about 5 years ago, she was the closest friend I had who had cancer. Since then, other friends have been diagnosed and some have died; Bonnie died in October (peacefully, at home). One of the things Bonnie did way back when was find support groups for women with cancer. Maybe it’s a holdover from the consciousness-raising groups of the 1970s, but it’s practically a reflex: whatever is going on in your life, you grab a bunch of women to talk it through. Do men do this, too? If so, it’s a secret from me.

It turned out that a cluster of women who were at college with us at the same time and who still lived in the area wandered through these groups at one time or another, or were otherwise associated with this community. Some have also died, some aren’t doing too well the last I heard, and some are thriving. One of these is my friend Constance Emerson Crooker.

Connie and I weren’t close in college, but it was a small school and everybody pretty much knew one another in passing. She wasn’t an avid folk dancer or a Biology major like me, but she and Bonnie stayed in touch so I’d hear about her from time to time. Connie was one of those who stepped up to the plate in Bonnie’s final weeks, and I was not only grateful for the extra and very competent pair of hands but for the chance to get to know her better.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Holiday Gift For You

These are tough times for most of us, and they get especially tough when we want to give our loved
ones something special for the holidays. It’s also a season when we express our appreciation for one another.

So here is my gift to you – for yourself or to give to someone you love. I’m offering autographed copies of some of my books (and a few others), first come first serve, one per person. If you feel so moved, you can send some postage money my way by using the Donate button at the lower left. If there’s enough to cover my postage costs, I’ll offer a second round of free books.

Use the new Contact Deborah link at the upper left and let me know your first and second choices, and whether you’ll take one of my selection if they aren’t available. I’ll get back to you about where to send your book.

Here are the choices:
  • Hastur Lord (hardback) – 5 3 copies
  • The Children of Kings (hardback) – 2 copies
  • Zandru’s Forge (hardback) – 3 2 copies
  • The Alton Gift (paperback) – 3 2 copies
  • A Flame in Hali (paperback) – 3 2 copies
  • Shannivar (paperback) 3 2 copies
  • Dead Is The New Black, by Marlene Perez (autographed, paperback)
  • Evermore, by Alyson Noël (autographed, paperback)

Outside US? Sorry, I can't afford postage by myself; ask about sharing the cost.

Blessings and joy to all!
-- Deborah

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Who Needs Dialog?

I love to “talk shop” with other writers. I learn so much about my own process and my weaknesses because it’s always easier to see the flaws – and the strengths! – in someone else’s work. Recently, I had the mirrored experience of serving as a beta reader for another writer’s novel and receiving similar feedback on one of my own. The thematic similarities and differences between the two very early versions of the stories are irrelevant. What fascinated me was that we used dialog in diametrically opposed ways in our story construction: my friend’s rough draft read like a screenplay, and mine had comparatively little conversation. We’ll both end up with balanced manuscripts, but we’ve started from opposite places. 

Dialog, which is the transcription of what each character says, rather than a summary in narrative, is one of a writer’s most powerful tools. It’s also one that’s easy to abuse, either by using it too much or too little, or asking it to perform functions in the story that it’s not well-suited for. Certainly, it’s possible to tell a story entirely in dialog form, just as it’s possible to write a story entirely in narrative with zero dialog. Most stories fall in the comfortable middle zone, especially if they involve more than one character capable of speech.

When we write prose stories, we can choose to show action in a variety of ways, narrative being one, dialog another. Dialog isn’t very good for showing events at a distance; characters can be discussing those events or relaying them, but both are “off the scene” and hence have less immediacy. On the other hand, if the emphasis is on the reaction of the characters to those events, dialog can be of immense help. One of the strengths of dialog is that if skillfully handled, it can give us a window into a character’s inner state without being in that character’s head. Screenplay writers know this and use dialog to reveal character, to heighten and resolve tension, to create conflict, and to further the plot.

Which brings me to one of the things I saw in my friend’s manuscript. She came to her story with “screenwriter’s mind.” She used dialog not only to convey the content of conversations (relationship building, changing, exchange of information between characters, etc.) but to sketch out the action that she would later fill in with narrative. I’m a bit in awe of this since what little I know of screenplay writing has thoroughly impressed me with what a high-wire act it is to use only dialog and highly abbreviated descriptions of scene and action to tell a story.

Monday, December 2, 2013

STARS OF DARKOVER Table of Contents

I'm thrilled to announce the lineup of stories for the next Darkover anthology, Stars of Darkover, that
I had the joy and honor to edit, along with Elisabeth Waters. So many fine writers fell in love with Darkover and sold their first stories to Marion Zimmer Bradley, and then went on to stellar careers. The anthology will be released in print and ebook formats in June 2014, in time for Marion's birthday.

The stories are as awesome as the night sky over the Hellers.

Stars of Darkover Table of Contents

All the Branching Paths by Janni Lee Simner
The Cold Blue Light by Judith Tarr
Kira Ann by Steven Harper
Wedding Embroidery by Shariann Lewitt
The Ridenow Nightmare by Robin Wayne Bailey
Catalyst by Gabrielle Harbowy
The Fountain’s Choice by Rachel Manija Brown
House of Fifteen Widows by Kari Sperring
Zandru’s Gift by Vera Nazarian
Late Rising Fire by Leslie Fish
Evanda’s Mirror by Diana L. Paxson
At The Crossroads by Barb Caffrey
Second Contact by Rosemary Edghill and Rebecca Fox
A Few Words For My Successor by Debra Doyle and James D.Macdonald

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Season of Light

I love the postings about all the things we're grateful for. Many of them are commonplace, some extraordinary. One of the things I'm grateful for is that I've finally reached the stage -- whether from age or emotional maturity or divine intervention -- when I prefer a simple meal with family and friends to an extravagance of overeating foods that are far too rich for my body.

Hence, this year's festivities. A simple meal with my wonderful younger daughter and her partner: salad with tomatoes from garden (harvested green, then ripened on the counter, but still better than grocery store ones) and avocados from a friend; steelhead since they don't eat poultry or mammals; quinoa pilaf; buttercup squash from our garden; rhubarb crisp (from our garden, harvested last spring and frozen). After dinner, we lit Chanukah candles and enjoyed the traditional reading-aloud of a childhood favorite: Herschel and the Hannukah Goblins by Eric Kimmel (complete with silly goblin voices).

When my daughters were small, I wanted to minimize the commerciality of Chanukah (as distinct from the present-giving orgy of their father's family). So, no presents, but songs and games and books to read aloud. Years later, they confessed to me that they didn't want to imply they didn't like getting presents, but they liked Chanukah better than Christmas. What's important, what endures, is love and laughter, not material goods.

May your days be filled with joy and your nights with glorious light.

Monday, November 18, 2013

News and notes - November 2013

I've been quieter than usual here and I thank you all for keeping the archives nice and warm. A little while ago, I posted various sorts of good news. Here's what's on my plate -- er, my computer -- now.

I'm about to begin editorial revisions to the third book of The Seven-Petaled Shield. It's called The Heir of Khored, and if you've read the first one, that will mean something. If not, you have a treat in store. Heir is a June 2014 release. It's so great to have the volumes come out about 6 months apart. And, I must confess, a bit odd to be plunging into #3 on the eve of the release of #2 (Shannivar).

To "clear the boards for action," as it were, I finished the first, very rough draft of an "Attack Novel." That is, one that so grabbed me that I wanted to write it, even on spec. Depending on how extensive the revisions my editor wants for Heir and when the deadline is, I'm hoping the keep the excitement of this project going, at least long enough to send it out to a beta reader. A beta reader is someone I trust to take a look at the whole shapeless mess and give me an overall reaction. Beta readers are to be treasured and showered with chocolate.

I'm also working on an anthology that I've been keeping silent on until the lineup of stories was complete. Stars of Darkover (to be published by the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust in time for Marion's birthday, June 2014) is just that -- an anthology of stories by "Marion's writers" and "friends of Darkover," superb professional writers all. Once the contracts are done -- very soon now! -- I'll be able to post the Table of Contents. Stay tuned!

And if that isn't enough, I'm putting together a collection of my essays on writing, life, and the care of the creative muse. InkDance: Essays on the Writing Life will come out in January from Book View Cafe.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Link: Katharine Kerr's blog series on creating magical systems

Over on the Book View Cafe blog, Katharine Kerr talks about systems of magic and how shedeveloped the one in her Deverry series. This is the first of a series well worth following, whether you write fantasy or love to read it.

 She says,

I personally am of the opinion that fantasy magic systems are stronger and more emotionally moving when they have one foot in reality, as it were.  Historical magics, whether the disconnected spells and charms of folk magic or the elaborate systems of the elite, address deep human longings and concerns. Wanting to have someone love you, the fear of being harmed, the desire for revenge on an enemy, fear of what the future might bring, desire for riches, and above all, the fear of death — most folk magic revolves around emotions like these. The elaborate systems of Natural Philosophy, the late medieval/early Renaissance magic of the learned, center around the desire to understand the entire universe, to converse with beings other than ourselves, and to use this knowledge for . . . drum roll . . . most of the same reasons as ordinary folk had. Well, the natural philosophers did worry less about love charms.

Strong emotions, strong motivations. In ordinary life, we use the word "magic" to describe many of these experiences, even when we don't ascribe a supernatural element to them. Magic based in strong emotions is more accessible, more understandable, to the reader who has also shared some version of those longings and fears. They also make for great storytelling!

Monday, November 11, 2013

November Special Sales

Over at the Book View Cafe ebookstore, Northlight is on special for the month of November for a
mere $3.99. (And you can read a sample to whet your appetitie!)

She’s a Ranger, a wild and savvy knife-fighter, determined to get help in finding her partner who’s lost on the treacherous northern border. He’s a scholar who sees visions, eager to escape the confines of city life and the shadow of his charismatic mother. With the assassination of a beloved leader and the city in turmoil, the two have only each other to turn to. What begins as a rescue mission turns deadly as together they unravel the secret that lies beneath Laurea’s idyllic surface.

Here's some brag:

“A beautifully constructed fantasy with characters who grow and mature before the reader’s eyes and who are engagingly human while being fantastically heroic. Her writing flows and the point of view switches are interesting and exciting. This book is a keeper.” — Rickey Mallory, Affair de Coeur

“A style and manner reminiscent of McCaffrey’s Crystal Singer series.” – The Bookwatch

“An unusual saga that starts slowly but builds to a startling climax.” — Sherry S. Hoy, Kliatt

“Solid characters and a well-designed world make for good reading.” – Philadelphia Press

“The plot moves briskly from crisis in Laureal to capture by the Norther barbarians to discovery of the true meaning of the Northlight of the title, with ample foreshadowing from the mysterious spooky something in the air of the frontier. And the culmination quite satisfactorily evokes the sense of wonder.” –Tom Easton, Analog

The audiobook version is here, from Audible, narrated by A. T. Chandler.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

All Sorts of Great News

... some about my work, others just plain delicious. This week's round-up:

The latest Sword and Sorceress, just released, includes my story, "Pearl of Tears." It's a companion piece or reflection of "Pearl of Fire" from S & S XXII. The narrator, and the consequences of her actions, wouldn't leave me alone. The anthology is available in ebook and print editions from the usual places.

From Book View Cafe, a delicious and awesomely wonderful anthology of "author's favorite" stories (edited by me and Pati Nagle). "From the fantasy and science fiction of our roots to steampunk, romance, historical and mainstream; from humor to life’s hardest challenges, across the spectrum from light to dark. Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda N. McIntyre, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and many more." Here's the link to order it or download a sample story. The Table of Contents:

A Literary Midwife's Gift of Love

My friend Mary Rosenblum calls herself a "literary midwife." She's not only an amazing writer but has taught writing for many years and now offers a variety of editorial and publishing services, and a cool newsletter, The New Writer's Interface.

We talk about keeping a balance in our lives between work, love, and play. Sometimes they all come together, with love at the center. Mary tells a story of how she edited and published a collection of charming stories her neighbor wrote about a cat:

Norm stopped me on the street a few weeks ago. “I hear you help writers publish books,” he said hesitantly. “My wife wrote this children’s picture book a long time ago. People said she should publish it but she never did.” I was already gathering up the gentle excuses; too many clients, not enough time, I don’t really work with children’s picture books…  I didn't want to take his money to edit the 'best seller' I was willing to bet he expected. 

“She’s really depressed,” he went on. “She hasn’t smiled since she went in [the nursing home].  I don't care what it costs to publish it,  I’m hoping this will cheer her up, give her something to feel good about.”

My little tower of excuses came tumbling down. “Uh, sure.” I did not gulp. “Let me come take a look at it.”

Books can mean so many things, including ways of telling the stories of our hearts, remembering our lives, honoring those we love.

Read the whole story here.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thoughts on Being Human

Here is my contribution to this month's "Amazing Traveling Fantasy Round Table" on the topic of
what it means to be human.

I think we Homo sapiens have been discussing what being human is and means since we developed abstract language and probably before that. At first, the driving motivation was undoubtedly how to tell what is us and not-us. This is certainly a biological imperative at the cellular level; our immune systems must tackle the question every day, attacking foreign substances like viruses, bacteria, and allergenic proteins, and it’s also why cancer is so insidious (cells with the right molecular passwords that nonetheless behave like ravening barbarians). The same distinctions hold true at the level of the individual, family/clan, and larger, political units. Whether we’re talking about communities or nations, “us” = “human” = friendly, safe, cooperative, reliable, and “them” = “something else” = dangerous, untrustworthy, competitors for limited resources. In this way, “human” tends to be exclusionary and frictions tend to narrow the scope even further.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Jaydium is now available as an unabridged audiobook, narrated by Molly Elston.



The audiobook version of Northlight will be released November 4, 2013.

Azkhantian Tales is in the works.

The Writing Life: Re-entry and Changing Gears

For the last seven weeks, I’ve been away from home, helping to take care of my best friend and her family during the end of her life. I had no idea how hard it would be, but we did well by her and her passing was peaceful, attended by great tenderness and forgiveness. I stayed on for another ten days to organize the memorial and transition for her family. 

During this entire time, one of my personal anchors was writing. I loaded up my netbook with current projects and took the folders with checklists for various Book View Café projects I was working on. In this way, I created a portable office, albeit one that lacked all the resources I had at home. For example, although I had access to the internet through my carrier’s website, I didn’t have my address book files. I learned to “work around” these limitations, focusing instead on what I could do, delegating and asking for help with things I couldn’t, and postponing other tasks. As a result, I was productive with some projects but “on hold” in others.

Now I’m back in my own office, resources at hand. I’m facing a dual challenge: coming “up to speed” and getting back into balance. What do I mean by balance? I mean reapportioning (or rather, un-deapportioning) my time and focus. Rarely have I been so aware of the many activities involved in my life as a writer. These include, to name a few, original fiction writing (drafting, revision, revision-to-editorial-request), other aspects of book production (proofreading); editing anthologies; beta-reading and editing books, often for other Book View Café members; writing blog posts like this one; keeping up with professional communications (reading and responding to email from fellow writers, fans, and editors, not to mention news of the publishing world).

Friday, October 18, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Janet Freeman on Gratitude and Stewardship

I was awed and inspired by how fully my friend lived the almost-five years between her diagnosis with Stage 4 ovarian cancer and her death last week. I am reminded that a terminal diagnosis does not mean we stop living -- it is an invitation to make every moment count, and thereby enrich not only the life of the patient but those around her. Here is author and lung cancer patient Janet Freeman-Daily on her own experience of hope, illness, and the zest of being alive.

I’m grateful to be here.  Actually, I’m grateful to be anywhere.  I’m grateful to be alive.  The fact that I’m alive is a modern-day medical miracle.

In May of 2011, after a few months of a persistent cough, I was diagnosed with pneumonia caused by advanced lung cancer.  No, I never smoked anything except a salmon.  Five months after diagnosis, despite chemo and radiation, the cancer spread outside my chest and I was given at most two years to live.  A year later, after more treatment and another recurrence, I learned my cancer had a rare mutation.  Last October, I found a clinical trial that could treat that mutation with an experimental pill, and I flew to Denver to get it.  In January, I achieved the dream of all metastatic cancer patients: No Evidence of Disease.  My cancer is no longer detectable.

I am overwhelmingly grateful for everything and everyone that has brought me to this state of grace: medical science that discovered new ways to treat my condition, insurance that paid for most of my care, family and friends who supported me, a knowledgeable online lung cancer community, and all the prayers and good wishes lifting me up throughout my cancer journey.  Thank you.  I am truly blessed.

I am not cured.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

BOOK RELEASE! Mad Science Cafe (anthology)

My latest anthology, from Book View Cafe!

From the age of steam and the heirs of Dr. Frankenstein to the asteroid belt to the halls of Miskatonic University, the writers at Book View Café have concocted a beakerful of quaint, dangerous, sexy, clueless, genius, insane scientists, their assistants (sometimes equally if not even more deranged, not to mention bizarre), friends, test subjects, and adversaries.

Table of Contents:
The Jacobean Time Machine, by Chris Dolley
Comparison of Efficacy Rates, by Marie Brennan
A Princess of Wittgenstein, by Jennifer Stevenson
Mandelbrot Moldrot, by Lois Gresh
Dog Star, by Jeffrey A. Carver
Secundus, by Brenda W. Clough
Willie, by Madeleine E. Robins
One Night in O’Shaughnessy’s Bar, by David D. Levine
Revision, by Nancy Jane Moore
Night Without Darkness, by Shannon Page & Mark J. Ferrari
The Stink of Reality, by Irene Radford
“Value For O,” by Jennifer Stevenson
The Peculiar Case of Sir Willoughby Smythe, by Judith Tarr
The Gods That Men Don’t See, by Amy Sterling Casil

You can download a sample from the BVC  bookstore, too. This anthology includes both original and reprint stories and is available as mobi and epub formats, so you can download the version that's right for your ereader. Best of all, because BVC is an author's publishing cooperative, 95% of the price goes to the authors themselves.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book View Cafe Editor Interview

Over at Book View Cafe blog, Katharine Eliska Kimbriel interview me "with my editor hat on."

When did you become interested in editing other writers’ work as opposed to concentrating on writing?

I first started thinking about editing during the years when I’d visit Marion Zimmer Bradley on a regular basis. I helped read slush for her magazine (MZB’s Fantasy Magazine) and we’d talk. I got a “behind the scenes” look at what she looked for and why, and how she handled rejection letters. She taught me that the work of an editor isn’t mysterious, in part because her own tastes were so definite. A story could be perfectly good but not suit the anthology or magazine she was reading for, or might do both but not “catch fire” for her. I learned about “no fault” rejections (and I’ve received them myself, for example if the editor had just bought a story on the same theme by a Big Name Author) and that sometimes if an editor thought the story had merit but didn’t fulfill its promise, she could comment on its shortcomings or issue an invitation to re-submit after revision. I thought, “I can do this!” I’d had so many experiences from the Author side of the desk, I approached editing with a set of wild hopes and convictions.

Friday, October 11, 2013

ARCHVES: Murder, the Death Penalty, and Cancer

Because I'll be busy helping with my friend's memorial and other family issues, I'm reposting something from a couple of years ago. Yes, Bonnie is the friend I mention. 

Twenty-five years ago, my mother was raped and beaten to death by a teenaged neighbor on drugs. My mother was 70 years old and had been his friend since the time he was a small child. For a long time, I didn't talk much about it except in private situations. This was not to keep it a secret, but to compartmentalize my life so I could function. At first, it was too difficult and then, as the years passed, I refused to let this single incident be the defining experience of my life. Recently, however, I have felt inspired to use my own experience of survival and healing to speak out against the death penalty. I don't write this to convince you one way or another on that particular issue, but to try to illuminate how the two issues are related for me.

My mother's murder was a spectacularly brutal, headline-banner crime, but it was only part of a larger tragedy, for the perpetrator's family had suffered the murder of his older brother some years before. I knew this, but for a long time it didn't matter. My own pain and rage took center stage. But with time and much hard work in recovery, I came to the place of being able to listen to the stories of other people.

We all lose people we love. Tolstoy wrote that happy families are all alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. I would interpret that to mean that each loss, each set of relationships and circumstances is unique, but there are things we share.

What might it be like if one family member were murdered -- and another family member had killed someone? What does it feel like to watch the weeks and days pass while the execution of someone you dearly love draws ever nearer? How can we wrap our minds around loving someone and accepting that they have caused such anguish to another family? I've had a chance to talk with people in all these circumstances. It's been a humbling experience.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Monday, October 7, 2013

What I’m Reading – The Hospice Edition

When I packed to travel out of state to help care for my best friend and her family during her final weeks of life, I had no idea how long I would be away. The ereader my daughter had passed on to me provided the ideal solution of how to carry a variety of books with me. I read at night as part of my bedtime ritual and I couldn’t anticipate what I would need at the end of each day. Horror, which has never previously appealed to me, might resonate with the depth of the grief of this entire household as we let go of hope and say goodbye. Maybe not, but should I bring some just in case? What about my favorite and unabashedly unguilty pleasures – fantasy and science fiction? Something to challenge my mind and make me think? A genre I don’t usually read? Mystery? Nonfiction?

I loaded up my ereader with a stack of books from Book View Café, picking a few from authors I’ve loved and choosing others practically at random. Here’s what I’ve been reading and why.

I started with three pieces – two novellas and a novel -- by Marie Brennan. I’d never read her work before she joined Book View Café, so when I found Midnight Never Come in a bookstore (and it looked interesting), I grabbed it. It’s the first of a series called “The Onyx Court,” set London during the reign of Elizabeth I. My husband and I had gone through a phase of watching every film biography of Elizabeth I that we could find, so that was an automatic plus. Brennan created a second, faerie court, hidden belowground but interacting in secret ways for England’s benefit. Fits right in with Sir Francis Walsingham and Dr. John Dee, and other historical characters. I enjoyed the book immensely, so the first thing I read was more Brennan, a novella set in the same world although slightly later in time. Deeds of Men is a murder mystery, with characteristic Brennan twists. I was glad I’d already read Midnight Never Come because I was already in love with the main character, but this would also make a good introduction to the series. I also picked the two “Welton” pieces, a prequel novella called Welcome To Welton and then the novel Lies and Prophecy. Both reminded me a little of Pamela Dean’s excellent Tam Lin, only set at Hogwarts if Hogwarts was a college and magic was public and widely spread. What kind of curriculum would a college offer? Dorms, room mates, cafeteria food, professors, meddling parents, the whole shebang. But Brennan doesn’t leave the story there; it turns out that the reason people have magical abilities is that they’re descended from fae who mingled with humans during a time when Faerie was closer to Earth. And now the two worlds are drawing closer again, and the Seelie and UnSeelie Courts are in deadly competition for who gets to rule, whether to enslave or ally with humans. And our college kids are caught up in it all. Brennan’s easy prose and likeable characters drew me into her world, a lovely escape at the end of each day.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Friendship as living water

At last we've had some sun, after days of storm and gloomy overcast. Hospice sent a lovely volunteer to sit with my friend, so I took a break and spent the afternoon talking shop and getting my creative batteries "recharged" with a nearby fellow writer. I'm reminded how friends create a network as resilient as any spun by a spider. Friendships work because we're not all crazy -- or needy, or sick -- on the same day. Our love for one another is like water flowing through many channels, all one thing but divided, some sleepy winding rivers or placid waves on the beach, others torrential downpours or waterfalls, or glaciers. Or tsunamis.

Friday, October 4, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Katharine Kerr on Writing Long Series

Saga, Series, and Just Plain Long Books

There is nothing an author today has to guard himself more carefully against than the Saga Habit.  The least slackening of vigilance and the thing has gripped him.
            -- P.G. Wodehouse, writing in 1935

            How little things change!  I too am a victim of the Saga Habit.  Fifteen Deverry books, four Nola O’Gradys -- and I haven’t even finished the Nola series!  Now SORCERER’S LUCK, which I   a “Runemaster trilogy”.  Over the years, a number of people have asked me why I tend to write at this great length.  I’ve put some thought into the answer, and it can be boiled down one word: consequences.  Well, maybe two words: consequences and characters.  Or perhaps, consequences, characters, and the subconscious mind, above all the subconscious mind.  You see what I mean?  These things multiply by themselves.
meant to be a stand-alone, is insisting that it’s only the first volume of
            Not all series books are sagas.  Some are shaped more like beads on a string, separate episodes held together by a set of characters, who may or may not grow and change as the series continues.  Many mystery novels fall into the episode category, Sherlock Holmes, for example, or James Bond.  Other series start out as episodics, but saga creeps up on them as minor characters bring depth to a plot and demand stories of their own, for instance, in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series or Ian Rankin’s detective novels.  What determines the difference in these examples comes back to the idea of consequences.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Here's the cover for Shannivar, the second book of The Seven-Petaled Shield.  I am so pleased with the artwork by Matt Stawicki! It's available for pre-order at the usual places, for an early December release.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Evil, the Fantastic, and Making Sense Out of Pain

After a brief hiatus, I've returned to the Great Traveling Fantasy Round Table. This month's topic, hosted by Warren Rochelle, is "Evil and the Fantastic." My entry is below, but please go read the others. And write your own!


I don’t think it’s possible to discuss evil without talking about the literature of the fantastic. We hear people talk about “evil incarnate,” usually in reference to some person or institution that has committed particularly heinous acts, as if evil were a tangible, measurable thing that exists outside the human imagination. In real life, things are rarely that simplistic.

Certainly, history and even some current religious thought puts forth the notion of those, human or not, who are inherently evil. To this day, some people believe that snakes (or spiders or other animals) are evil (I encountered one such man in a pet store, warning his young son that the garter snake would steal his soul if he weren’t careful). Once the mentally ill (or physically ill, such as those who suffer from epilepsy) were thought to be possessed by demons. Such beliefs persist today on the fringes of mainstream Western society, although they have largely been expunged from medical and psychiatric practice. We believe that such conditions as schizophrenia and sociopathy arise from disorders of neurophysiology, even if we cannot yet pinpoint the precise etiology. Even when we do know exactly what neurotransmitters and part of the brain are involved, it is still a widespread and understandable human tendency to ascribe unexplained phenomena, whether beneficial or destructive, to supernatural agency. Even though intellectually we may understand that a mass murderer is not an incarnation of some demonic spirit, nor is he possessed by one, and even if we cannot explain why such a person is utterly lacking in empathy for other human beings, we still often use words like evil, wicked, damned, devilish, satanic, and demonic.

Humans are capable of cruelty and viciousness so extreme in degree or scope that few of us can comprehend it, let alone the motivation behind it. How can we make sense of atrocities like the Holocaust or its equivalents, historical or modern? Of the massacres in Africa, Central Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, to name but a few?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Winding Down To A Still Point

This is my first experience being with someone who is dying slowly. I’ve lost loved ones suddenly, without any chance to say goodbye. I’ve visited and taken care of friends and family during a terminal illness, but not for this length of time or this close to the end. Hospice has provided not only printed information of what to expect, but a variety of support personnel who function as educators as well as helpers. I was reasonably well prepared for the physical changes in my dying friend, but the rhythms in her decline have come as a surprise.

I – and most of us, I suspect – live my life with a greater or lesser degree of ritual. My days are structured with the things I do regularly, without much in the way of decision making, whether it’s my morning wash-up routine, the things I do when I sit down to work, preparing dinner and sharing it with my family, and so forth. The week has its own schedule, even though I work at home. I admit to having expectations about how each day will unfold, what commitments I have and what blocks of “discretionary” time. Although it’s been said that expectations are premeditated resentments (when it comes to our agendas for how other people live their lives), we humans seem to do better when things are at least slightly predictable. It’s exhausting to live in a state of not knowing what might happen next.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Singing Kaddish

Because my friend is dying
I went on to the land she loves
            To say Kaddish for my mother,
Under fir trees, through overgrown thistles
Past the echoing barn,
The last holdouts of summer blackberries,
Following a horse trail,
            a goat trail,
            a deer trail,
            a labyrinth carved by the generations: Exodus.

A cricket told me where to rest,
There by the single daisy,
            the Queen Anne’s lace.
Thorns snatched at the fringes of my prayer shawl.
I prevailed.

We do prevail, said the twilight.
We prevail from our ashes,
            in the sea
            in the cedar grove
            on the mount
            on the mountain
at the wall
at the wailing of the day.

I traced the Aramaic letters,
            stumbling like a stranger to my own faith.
And then, as if in the beginning,
A voice rose up through me,
A song that made itself up as it went.

This memory is all I have of you.
This moment is all we have ever had of one another.
This grief is a verb.
This peace is always, always becoming what it will be.

Deborah J. Ross
17 Tishrei 5774