Friday, April 25, 2014


Sometimes, when you first see the cover image for a book you've labored long and hard over, you just want to dig a hole, climb in, and pull a heavy rock over the opening. Other times, it's so gorgeous, so true to the spirit of the book, you can hardly breathe for excitement. That was my joy in this cover. It's not accurate to the details of the story, but it so embodies the central conflict -- and oh my, yes, Shannivar is back!

The book comes out in June 2014, but you can pre-order it now. Barnes & Noble,, Powell's or your local bookstore.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Tajji Diaries: Doggie Dental Woes

 Dogs, like many other carnivores, have specialized teeth for shearing. These teeth come in pairs – an upper and a lower – and are modified fourth premolars (upper) and first molar (lower). The sharp cusps create a scissors-like action, obviously important for chopping up chunks of flesh into pieces that can be swallowed. (Sabertooth cats had carnassial teeth, too – they did not use their elongated canines for chewing!) Apparently, these teeth are particularly susceptible to fracturing and abscesses in domestic dogs. This is what happened to Tajji. She isn’t a “strong chewer,” like our old German Shepherd Dog, but all dogs can exert tremendous force when they bite down. 

About three years ago, as near as we can tell from her vet records, Tajji suffered a slab fracture of one of her upper carnassial teeth. The portion of the tooth on the lip (as opposed to tongue) side was broken but not detached. This image shows a dog with almost the same problem, a slab fracture with a movable chip. Tajji’s fractured tooth was covered with tartar. We had no way of knowing how much discomfort she was in, and how chronic pain might have exacerbated her reactivity. It was clear to both of us that we needed to get to the tooth taken care of. The vet offered to try to save the main portion of the tooth, warning us that the exposed surface would need careful brushing to prevent decay and new buildup of tartar. Rather than risk a problem that required a second dental surgery when Tajji would be even older, we decided to go ahead with extracting this one.

Monday, April 21, 2014

SHANNIVAR sighting - in Singapore!

An occasion of unexpected delight: learning that the National Library of Singapore -- Singapore! -- now has Shannivar in their collection.

I wonder whether they buy all DAW books, or epic fantasy...or adventure novels with Asian heroes? Shannivar certainly qualifies, and the cover depicts her as clearly Asian. Wait until they see the cover for The Heir of Khored!

COLLABORATORS - Map of Chacarre

For all my readers who love maps, here's the one I drew of Chacarre and surrounding territory. As I wrote Collaborators, I kept a notebook that contained not only story ideas and flow-charts for scenes, but maps and other drawings.

Dotted lines indicate national boundaries. Double lines indicate seacoast. Starred circles are capital cities. The Empty Isles don't have a capital city - they're not nearly organized enough to agree on one. Joosten is also known as the Drowned Lands. The area marked by parallel lines, Demmerle, has historically been part of either Chacarre or Erlind. At the time of the story, it's Chacarran.

Friday, April 18, 2014

GUEST BLOG: Dave Trowbridge on Rehabilitating Our "New" Old Dog

One of the joys of having a dog-savvy partner is being able to compare notes, especially when faced with a challenged dog. Here are some insights from my husband.

When we began looking into ways to rehabilitate Tajji, at least one source noted a tendency for a dog to backslide for “three to seven days” in the relatively complex training required. Two weeks ago we noted something like this in a rebound in Tajji’s reactivity to other dogs, culminating a couple of days ago in her “going off” at an empty yard where she frequently sees a reactive GSD, then nowhere in evidence. About a week ago she added  barking at pedestrians at some distance. Despite the warning, her regression was a bit disheartening after the more rapid progress of the previous five weeks.

Enlightenment followed last Tuesday, in conversation with one of Tajji’s former owners. Deborah and I had misunderstood the order of events, believing that Tajji’s disorderly behavior was the result of not knowing how to behave outside a service harness. Instead, it turns out that the barking and lunging had developed while she was working. Of course, her blind person had little or no warning, and it got so bad that people were crossing the street to avoid her.  Her owners worked with more than one professional trainer, but nothing helped, and so she was retired.

In short, she had a nervous breakdown.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

[link] Bonnie talks about tango dancing and cancer

Here's a link to a short clip from the video the Smart Patients folks made of Bonnie. She'd gone tango dancing, oxygen tank and all. I hand in her favorite pair of shoes, red satin. The 7 1/2 cm heels are also the size of the largest of her lung tumors at the time she went into hospice. Damn, I miss that woman.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Blog Hop: What I'm Working On Now

Mary Rosenblum passed on this blog meme to me. Check out her answers, too.

What am I working on? I’m working on two novels, drafting one and revising another. The first is for a project I can’t announce yet (stay tuned!) but I am enjoying the special delight of beginning a new novel. I began the second about a year ago, purely for my own pleasure, and it provided a precious personal sanctuary while I was taking care of a dying friend. Its working title is Penumbra, and here’s the skinny:

What happens when a science geek falls in love with a vampire? High school senior Esther Goldberg has smarts and a no-nonsense approach to life, a lesbian science geek determined to pursue her dream career as an astronomer. Esther’s family – her widowed, overworked mother, phonograph-playing aunt, and her great-uncle, a gentle soul still wounded from surviving a concentration camp – doesn’t have a lot of money, but they do have a lot of love, even when they don’t entirely understand her. When a mysterious and beautiful girl joins Esther’s AP Physics, the entire class falls for her, Esther included. Messages in Marielle’s handwriting appear in Esther’s notebook and as quickly disappear, and Marielle herself utters cryptic references to “we are both creatures of the night.” That’s only the beginning of Esther’s adventure...

It’s so interesting to move back and forth between stories in such different places in the creative process. In my editing work, I’m putting together a series of author interviews for Stars of Darkover and preparing to edit the next Darkover anthology, Gifts of Darkover (2015).

How does my work differ from others of its genre? I’m not sure that it does; there are so many talented and accomplished writers in the field of fantasy and science fiction, some of them with imaginations so wild, I feel downright conventional and definitely in distinguished company. However, if I were to look at the recurring themes, the “hallmarks” of my work, they would include heroes with compassion and brains, the many ways we heal individually and in community, very cool animals, very cool love stories, and a deep sense of romanticism.

Why do I write what I do? I write fantasy and science fiction because I love to read it. I get to make my living by indulging in my not-so- guilty pleasures. A distant second reason is that this is an amazing community, contentious and loving and sometimes life-saving.

How does your writing process work? I sort through the packets the Idea Fairy has left under my pillow, looking for the shiniest. Of those, I pick a few with potential to actually become stories. Sometimes, I have to shuffle them around and mix-and-match. Eventually I reach an ignition point… Okay, seriously: Right now in my career, with the exception of the on-spec novel I mentioned above, I sell on contract, which means I hand my agent a detailed outline (and sometimes sample chapters) and when we have a contract and advance in hand, I get to work. I more or less follow the outline, drafting quickly – 1200 to 2500 words a day, six days a week. Then I print the mess out, attack it with a red pen, rinse and repeat. At some point, it goes to a trusted reader, rinse and repeat, and then to my agent. At some point, I gird myself up to cope with editorial revisions, reviewing copy edits, and proofreading. I love revising a book because I see patterns and connections I had no idea were there. It’s like discovering a new solar system in your garden. 

The drawing is by Ernst Keil, 1871.

Friday, April 11, 2014

How To Be A Dog: Walkies

Hanging out
When she came to live with us, our retired seeing eye dog, Tajji, had on on/off switch. “On” meant working on a rigid guide harness, focusing on all the things she had been taught to do for her blind handler, to the exclusion of all else. Guide work is enormously demanding for the dog, both physically and mentally. The dog must learn many behaviors (such as looking both ways when passing through a door or stepping off a curb into a street) and must perform them reliably. In addition, she must be strong enough to physically pull her person out of harm’s way. “Off” meant “no holds barred, completely off duty.” According to her former owner, this included pulling hard on the leash, playing “keep away,” jumping up on people, and barking and lunging at other dogs. We very soon witnessed all of these behaviors, all of them unacceptable in a companion animal. Now Tajji must learn a new set of behaviors: “normal manners.”

One of life’s joys is taking your dog for a walk. It’s not only good exercise, it’s a conversation between you. Even if you’re walking and talking with a human friend, you and the dog can be in communication. When we looked at Tajji’s challenges, we saw several distinct behaviors to work on.

  • Walking on a loose leash, both beside the human handler and at a distance, depending on the length of the leash. 
  • Enjoying the banquet of smells, but coming back to heel readily when called.
  • “Checking in” with the handler.
  • Walking calmly past other dogs and humans; approaching them only when released to do so. Greeting humans in a calm way.

Dog-reactivity is a big chunk, so we’re working on that separately. First, we needed to get Tajji solid with the first three skills. She already had the foundational skills of Sit, Stay (Wait), and Down, although her Heel and Come are not reliable when she’s in full-blown “off” mode, so they’ll need more work.

To help Tajji learn not to pull, we decided to never attach a leash to her flat leather collar. Previously, that’s the setup in which she pulled strongly, so we don’t want to replicate those conditions. Dogs have a reflex to push against any pressure on neck or chest, so a flat collar (or even a choke chain, which we do not use on our dogs) gives them that signal. Instead, we chose a front-clip harness. This is a soft nylon webbing harness, so it’s not like the rigid leather guide harness, and it has a clip in the center of the chest strap. When the dog pulls, she is turned toward the side of the leash. This often breaks her focus on whatever it is she is moving toward, as well as restraining her in a humane way.

Go Sniff
Coming back to Heel
Tajji quickly adapted to the harness, which stopped almost all of the pulling (except in the presence of other dogs). We then used clicker-training to reward walking close to us or coming back to Heel when called. Because we live in a semi-rural setting and there are so many wonderful things to smell (traces of other dogs, wild animals), we don’t want to keep her in strict Heel position all the time – we want her to have fun on the walks! At first, she was hesitant to leave the side of her handler, undoubtedly a holdover from her previous work training and having lived in an apartment in a small city. So we encouraged her to Go Sniff. This skill has the added advantage that sniffing the ground is a calming behavior for dogs and we’ll be able to use it as a relaxation technique when we work on Tajji’s dog reactivity.

Practicing Look
Check In, loose leash
Checking in is a variation on Look, one of the things we teach all our dogs. It’s a way of asking the dog to pay attention to us. Eye contact isn’t natural for dogs, the way it is for people, so we practiced it with the clicker and treats indoors, where there are fewer distractions. Once she learned the command Look, we were able to practice it outside (click/treat) and then to click/treat when the behavior is offered without the command. All the while telling her what a good job she’s doing, of course.

Now we have the foundations for a pleasant walk with a dog who keeps in touch with us while “enjoying the scenery” within the length of the leash.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Proofreading The Catch Trap

Book View CafĂ©  is a publishing cooperative, both in the business and the friendly sense of the word. We offer one another all the services a traditional publisher would normally provide, everything from editing a previously-unpublished work to formatting and cover design, as well as the technical skills necessary to operate the bookstore and website. Not all of us have such specialized knowledge, but just about all of us can proofread a manuscript for another editor.

I recently “carried my fair share” by proofreading the BVC ebook edition of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novel, The Catch Trap. (Actually, I was one of two proofreaders, so you can pick which one of us to blame for any typos you find!) The Catch Trap one of those richly layered books that is “about” a lot of different things. It’s a gay love story, sure, but it’s also about life in a traveling circus at the twilight of that life, and it’s about all the ways families destroy and save us. It’s about that rare bond of a shared vocation, a calling, the thing that makes us most fully alive. Not just sex, but flying, and more about that later.

Monday, April 7, 2014

GUEST BLOG: Kari Sperring on Women and History

We ask a lot of history. It must tell us not simply of our varied pasts, but justify them to us, explain the present, excuse or support our weaknesses and desires, reflect for us those things about ourselves – our believed selves – that we admire or cling to or wish to make acceptable. We accuse it of lying or of incompleteness when – as it must do – it contradicts our deepest held understandings. We snatch at it, claw at it, paw over it to find the stories that make us feel safe and whole and good. It’s a lot to ask of anything, let alone a thing – a set of things – as fragile and oblique and compromised as this profession we call history. We make it our magic mirror, to show us who we want to think we are.

As a woman and a writer and a historian, I’m asked to justify myself a lot. What point is there to history: it manufactures nothing tangible, critics say. It adds nothing to the GDP. What point is there to fiction? What point to any woman speaking out, anywhere, at any time? I have answers of a sort to all of these, differing according to my company. But they all come down to the same thing in the end: human beings seem to have a need to understand themselves as they are now, and they look back for help in this. Woman’s History Month seeks to highlight the hidden and forgotten histories of women, who, as a class, have been largely side-lined by the gatekeepers of the official past. Women’s history in general seeks to rediscover and document the lives and achievements of our female forebears of all times and identities. It’s a project I have a lot of sympathy with. And yet, and yet….

Friday, April 4, 2014

A gift from Hubble: Stars A-Bornin'

From the Hubble Space Telescope comes this glorious image of a star-forming region:
"clouds of gas and dust carved by winds and radiation from the region's newborn stars, now found scattered in open star clusters embedded around the center of NGC 2174, off the top of the frame. Though star formation continues within these dusty cosmic clouds they will likely be dispersed by the energetic newborn stars within a few million years."

This takes my breath away, it's so amazing.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

[food] New Uses For Winter Squash

Tajji guarding squash
I love winter squashes. They're delicious, versatile, and packed with nutrients. Some varieties you can find in markets pretty much all year round -- acorn and butternut, sometimes chunks of banana squash or Hubbard, with specialty or health food markets carrying kabocha and a few others, too. Others are seasonal. Pumpkins are easiest to find in the fall, and I think it's a tragedy that so many end up rotting when their decorative days are over. Delicata doesn't store well, so grab it while you can. Then there are the heirloom varieties, oh my. We've hardly begun our exploration of them.

Favorites so far: buttercup, carnival, blue Hubbard, Tennessee sweet potato squash (with a delicate but distinct sweet potato flavor); pumpkins like Cinderella or Musquee de Provence, small sugar pumpkins. Not so fond of tromboncini, but that could be that it's better as a tender summer squash.

This year, our garden produced about 200 lbs of winter squash. A large fraction of that was the Tennessee sweet potato squash, as the plants are as prolific as they are robust. Then we saw a stand of pumpkins that looked like Musqee de Provence and a similar, smaller white variety, at a local market. They were marked down to $1 each, although many of them weighed 15 lbs or more. I suspect they had been displayed for Halloween and never sold. We bought almost all of them and have been working our way through the enormous pile. The pumpkins had been roughly handled and set on concrete, so we had to scramble to use the damaged ones first. If the skins are intact and you wipe them down with dilute bleach to kill mold spores, they'll happily keep all winter.