Thursday, May 29, 2014

INTERVIEW: Debra Doyle and Jim D. Macdonald on Stars of Darkover

STARS OF DARKOVER – not just the glorious night sky over the world of the Bloody Sun, but the authors who have been inspired over the decades by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s favorite world. It will be released on June 3, 2014, to celebrate Marion's 84th birthday.

Debra Doyle was born in Florida and educated in Florida, Texas, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania -- the last at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her doctorate in English literature, concentrating on Old English poetry. While living and studying in Philadelphia, she met and married her collaborator, James D. Macdonald, and subsequently traveled with him to Virginia, California, and the Republic of Panamá. Various children, cats, and computers joined the household along the way.

James Douglas Macdonald was born in White Plains, New York, the second of three children of W. Douglas Macdonald, a Chemical Engineer, and Margaret E. Macdonald, a  professional artist. After leaving the University of Rochester, where he majored in Medieval Studies, he served in the U. S. Navy.

Doyle and Macdonald left the Navy and Panamá in 1988 in order to pursue writing full-time. They now live in a big 19th-Century house in Colebrook, New Hampshire, where they write science fiction and fantasy for children, teenagers, and adults.

Deborah J. Ross: How did Marion Zimmer Bradley influence your writing career?

Debra Doyle: I was always interested in the clash-of-cultures aspect of the Darkover stories, and the space-opera/planetary stories flavor that a lot of them had.  When I went on to write my own stuff, I knew that this flavor was something that I wanted to include.

DJR: What inspired your story in Stars of Darkover

DD: Jim Macdonald was in the Navy for about fifteen years, and I was a Navy wife for a good part of that, so I couldn't help wondering what Darkover was like as a duty station for those hapless Terrans who got posted there, and what they told each other about how to make it through to the end of a tour.

DJR: What have you written recently? What lies ahead? (feel free to expound on your recent and forthcoming books!)

DD: Jim Macdonald and I have two novels forthcoming from Tor Books, The Gates of Time and Emergency Magical Services:  First Response.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

INTERVIEW: Barb Caffrey on Stars of Darkover

STARS OF DARKOVER – not just the glorious night sky over the world of the Bloody Sun, but the authors who have been inspired over the decades by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s favorite world. It will be released on June 3, 2014, to celebrate Marion's 84th birthday.

Barb Caffrey is a writer, editor and musician from the Midwest. Though "At the Crossroads" is her first-ever Darkover story, she has written other things, including a humorous fantasy novel, Elfy that will be published in 2014 by Twilight Times Books. Previous stories and poems have appeared in Bedlam's Edge (with late husband Michael B. Caffrey), How Beer Saved The World, the Bearing North anthology, the Written Word online magazine, Joyful Online, the Midwest Literary Magazine, and at e-Quill Publishing. Find her at Elfyverse (AKA "Barb Caffrey's Blog") for discussions of all and sundry, or at Shiny Book Review.

Deborah J. Ross: How did Marion Zimmer Bradley influence your writing career?

Barb Caffrey: This is a three-stranded answer, which I hope won't be too confusing . . . you see, early on, like many readers, I was introduced to Marion Zimmer Bradley's fiction, most particularly the Darkover series, but also The Mists Of Avalon and some others. I remember reading Sharra's Exile first, and loving that, but then being completely blown away by The Shattered Chain . . . the whole idea that women would be able to find a way to be fiercely independent on such a feudalistic world as Darkover just enthralled me, the way it did so many other readers. And after that, I read all the Darkover stories I possibly could.
But that, of course, was just the first strand.

The second is that my husband, the late Michael B. Caffrey, was a friend of one of Ms. Bradley's sons. Michael lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay area, and he told me that when he first started to write, his friend brought him to his mother, Ms. Bradley, and they talked for a few minutes. Michael remembered Ms. Bradley as being unfailingly encouraging to him, which he needed, as no one in his family was interested in science fiction (at least, not then), so no one understood why Michael felt the need to write. (Note that by the time I met Michael, Ms. Bradley had already passed away. But he remembered her fondly.)
Had Marion Zimmer Bradley not been encouraging to my husband when she didn't have to be, I don't think Michael would've been as likely to keep after it. (Most particularly with such a positive attitude.) And in that case, I would be a very different writer now . . . that is, if I were still writing at all.

Finally, my first writing mentor (aside from my husband) was -- still is -- Rosemary Edghill. And Rosemary worked with Ms. Bradley on four books (the "Light" series), knew her well, and was positively inspired by her.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Tajji Diaries: Threshold Success

Tajji, our newly-adopted retired seeing eye dog, came to us with strong reactivity to pedestrians and especially to other dogs. She would bark and lunge as soon as she saw any “triggering” stimulus, and her vision is excellent. Sometimes, she would be triggered when the other dog or person was 1/8 mile away. This distance is called the threshold of arousal, meaning that stimuli farther away don’t cause the dog to “go ballistic.” Tajji’s threshold was so long, she basically didn’t have one. If she could see the dog, she reacted.

We’ve been working on decreasing her reactivity and giving her alternative, highly rewarded behaviors. These have included teaching her eye contact (“Look!”), hand targeting (“Touch!”), sniffing (a self-calming activity), and puppy zen, a calming exercise. We have also been as careful as we can to remove her from any situation where she is overwhelmed.

After a time of regular practice, we noticed that when we turned and walked her briskly away from the other dog, she calmed down in a shorter period of time. We were able to turn her back around to face the other dog, rewarding her for calm behavior. One of the lessons was that we would protect her, that she could trust us to not force her into a situation she couldn’t manage. Then we started to see her attempt to calm herself, mostly by sniffing, but occasionally using the non-threatening gesture “Look Away.”

A couple of weeks ago, we noticed that Tajji’s reactivity to pedestrians was markedly reduced. Using the calming techniques that were now familiar to her, we helped her to tolerate increasingly short distances from the folks walking in our neighborhood. Eventually, she was able to do a “pass by” without becoming reactive.

But would she ever be able to do that with dogs?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

INTERVIEW: Rachel Manija Brown on Stars of Darkover

STARS OF DARKOVER – not just the glorious night sky over the world of the Bloody Sun, but the authors who have been inspired over the decades by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s favorite world. It will be released on June 3, 2014, to celebrate Marion's 84th birthday.

Rachel Manija Brown's post-apocalyptic YA novel "Stranger," co-written with Sherwood Smith, is forthcoming from Viking in 2014.  She is the author of the memoir "All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: an American Misfit in India," and also writes short stories, graphic novels, poetry, television, and plays. She is currently a graduate student at Antioch University, Los Angeles, in the MA program in clinical psychology, with a specialization in trauma.

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

Rachel Manija Brown: My story, "The Fountain's Choice," was inspired by a brief scene in Stormqueen! which shows riyachiyas, who are genetically engineered to be living sex toys, always willing, always obedient. 

I wondered what would it be like if a person who had never had free will suddenly gained it. What would it be like to make a choice for the very first time? 

To play against that character, I wanted a character whose choices had also been constrained, and who had internalized that constraint: someone who could choose, but didn't know it. And since the female riyachiyas were designed be more stereotypically feminine than any ordinary woman could ever be, I wanted to set her against a character who didn't fit into ideas of masculine and feminine at all: an emmasca.

That plus some of my favorite Darkover tropes - delicious food, hurt-comfort, training sequences, interesting laran powers, Ages of Chaos decadence, the harrowing wilderness journey in bad weather - made a story.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

INTERVIEW: Robin Wayne Bailey on Stars of Darkover

STARS OF DARKOVER – not just the glorious night sky over the world of the Bloody Sun, but the authors who have been inspired over the decades by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s favorite world. It will be released on June 3, 2014, to celebrate Marion's 84th birthday

Robin Wayne Bailey is the author of numerous novels, including the Dragonkin trilogy and the Frost series, as well as Shadowdance and the Fritz Leiber inspired Swords Against The Shadowland.  His short fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies with numerous appearances in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword And Sorceress series and Deborah J. Ross's Lace And Blade volumes.  His novelette, "The Children's Crusade" was a 2008 Nebula Award nominee.  Some of his stories have been collected in two volumes available from Yard Dog Press.  He is a former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and co-founder of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, now located in Seattle, Washington.  He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

Deborah J. Ross: How did Marion Zimmer Bradley influence your writing career? What inspired your story in Stars of Darkover?

Robin Wayne Bailey: Marion Zimmer Bradley was an early supporter of my writing.  I had just sold my first novel, Frost, when I saw an announcement that Marion was seeking stories for a new anthology called Sword And Sorceress.  I decided to take a shot at that and wrote a story called “Child of Orcus,” involving female gladiators in the Roman arenas during the reign of Caligula, which was a little-known or discussed historical fact at the time.
Marion loved the story and wrote an astonishingly complimentary introduction for it, stating, among other very nice things, that “I bought this story under the impression that this was a woman writing about a woman.  Only after deciding to purchase it did I discover that Robin Bailey was a man; but like all really good writers, gender is unimportant to the perceptive eye he brings to the study of his heroine.”  That’s a compliment I’ve always held closely.  “Child of Orcus” became my second professional genre sale and saw publication exactly one year after my first novel appeared.

I sold a good number of stories to Marion after that for further Sword And Sorceress volumes and for such anthologies as Spells Of Wonder.  Indeed, one of my favorite stories, “The Moon Who Loved the Man,” appeared in Spells.  I also sold to her magazine, too.  Marion was always very complimentary and supportive, even going so far as to provide a couple of nice blurbs for my subsequent novels.  But then came a very special anthology invitation.  Marion had decided to put together a special small-print hardback volume of stories by writers she considered “her literary children,” and it would be called Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Worlds.  That she considered me one of her children was immensely flattering, but by that time I was, I thought, leaving the kind of fantasy I had previously sold to her behind and exploring other directions. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Nebula Awards Weekend 2014

The Nebula Awards Weekend, hosted by the Science Fiction/Fantasy* Writers of America, is a true feast for the writer (and lover) of the genre/s*. (There has been much debate about whether Science Fiction properly includes Fantasy, and indeed the name of the organization was changed to be inclusive, but pronouncing SFFWA led to so much inadvertent spitting that the earlier, simpler form is preferred.) One (extremely) notable writer put it this way: “I go to Worldcon or World Fantasy Con for my fans, but I go to the Nebs for myself.” This is where I, too, go to be among professional writers, many of the best living, to attend panels given by the top pros for other pro writers, and generally get a refreshed perspective on what an amazing community this is. You don’t have to be a SFWA member to attend, either.

My weekend started top-of-the-morning on Friday with working registration. I highly recommend this. It’s an excellent way to see your friends (and make new ones) as they check in. In fact, at times, my two stints resembled one prolonged, joyous, and occasionally chaotic reunion. I do not, however, recommend doing two two-hours stints back to back, and if I ever sign up to do that again, please whap me up the side of the head. Fortunately, my co-registrar for the second shift understood the symptoms of my crashing blood sugar, and agreed to hold the fort solo for the remaining quarter-hour, so I ran off to an impromptu lunch part with Beth Meacham, Ann Leckie (who subsequently won the Nebular for Best Novel), and Dave Smeds. I don’t usually drop a lot of Names of Famous Folk in my reports, but this is an example of the kind of hobnobbing, socializing, and in general feeling-of-one-tribe that goes on at the Nebs.

Friday, May 16, 2014

INTERVIEW: Janni Lee Simner on "Stars of Darkover"

STARS OF DARKOVER – not just the glorious night sky over the world of the Bloody Sun, but the authors who have been inspired over the decades by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s favorite world. It will be released on June 3, 2014, in honor of Marion's 84th birthday.

Here is the first of a series of interviews with these fabulous authors.

Janni Lee Simner sold her first short story to the anthology Leroni of Darkover more than two decades ago. She's gone on to publish more than three dozen short stories and eight novels, including the post-apocalyptic Bones of Faerie trilogy and the Icelandic-saga-based Thief Eyes.

Deborah J. Ross: How did Marion Zimmer Bradley influence your writing career?

Janni Lee Simner: I'd been a long-time Darkover reader when I first came upon Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover anthologies. I was just beginning to try to write professionally at the time, so I decided to try to write a story for one of them. I sent off for writer's guidelines -- this was in the days of snail mail, and I didn't know to include a self-addressed stamped envelope, but Marion sent me guidelines anyway, along with a page of advice for new writers. (I wonder how she knew? :-)) So I wrote my story, rewrote it about a million times, sent it off -- and was stunned when it sold! Knowing I'd made that first professional sale helped me stick with it as I worked on becoming a better writer and selling more consistently.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Baycon schedule

Please drop by, listen to what are sure to be some fascinating conversations, and say hello!

 1. Refurbished History: Looting the Past for Fun and Profit on Saturday at 10:00 AM in Stevens Creek (with Professor David C. McGaffey, Irene Radford (M), Kyle Aisteach, David Weber, Chaz Brenchley) Is it cheating to mine the past for story elements? Can you leave identifiable marks as long as they don't disrupt your story? And what about retooling historical figures? When is using identifiable places or characters truly a better choice than being original?
 2. The Unpanel: Deep Listening on Saturday at 2:00 PM in Napa III   (with Dave Trowbridge) This panel is a way to come down from the ego-high of an SF Con and spend an hour being heard, rather than just talking.
 3. Countering Online Hate Speech on Saturday at 3:30 PM in Alameda    [I am moderating.]     (with Amy Sterling Casil, Colin Fisk, S.L. Gray, Robert Lawrence)    Online hate speech can devastate the lives of the person under attack and everyone around him or her. Panelists discuss effective online responses, ways to support the person, building tolerant communities, and what to do if you yourself are a target.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Tajji Diaries: Confidence and Joy

Waiting for the ball
 Our friend Mitch Wagner recently adopted a female shepherd/basenji/terrier mix  that shares some of Tajji’s “issues. He writes that Minnie “lunges and goes nuts when she approaches another dog when we're walking.” One of the things we’ve learned from our trainer, Sandi Pensinger, is that this kind of excitement is not fun for dogs. Whatever their specific history, they act this way because they’re overwhelmed. They no longer can calm themselves or communicate friendly intentions to the other dog. One way to look at this is the dog attempting a “pre-emptive strike” because bad things have happened around other dogs in the past. Dogs on leashes are particularly vulnerable to feeling threatened, because their freedom to act in their own defense (or escape) is impaired. Dogs that are tied up are particularly dangerous.

Another way of thinking about this behavior is in terms of self-confidence and trust. A confident dog with good social skills with other dogs is capable of lowering the tension not only in herself but in the other dog as well. Contrary to the “alpha dog/dominance” model, dogs are highly cooperative, social animals. They communicate their feelings and intentions to one another all the time, and many of these signals are calming signals. In earlier blogs, I’ve discussed how Tajji learned to communicate her peaceful intentions to the cats once she’d found a signal they both understood – the “look-away.” Turid Rugaas’s book On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals beautifully illustrates this. Here is a slide show from her book, illustrating the “look-away,” play bows, lip licking, and lying down, all powerful calming signals. 

Dogs who are poorly socialized with other dogs or who have had traumatic experiences can be easily overwhelmed (“flooded” with negative stimuli), especially in situations where the other dog is approaching head-on. A direct approach is threatening, as is fixed eye contact. Our dogs need our help in reducing the degree of threat and resulting arousal. The dogs in Rugaas’s slide show aren’t “friendly” in the human sense, but they have excellent social skills and confidence in themselves.

How do we help a dog re-build her self-confidence?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

NEWS FLASH: More Darkover Novels!

Now that the contracts with DAW and the Marion Zimmer Literary Works Trust have been signed, I can tell you what I’ve been up to: proposals for three more Darkover novels. Here are a few “sneak preview” details.

The first of this new group will be Thunderlord, the long-awaited sequel to Stormqueen! Marion intended to write this novel and left a couple of pages of very rough draft, essentially recapitulating Stormqueen! as backstory, but establishing that the central character (one of them, anyway) would be Renata and Donal’s son, the heir to Aldaran, set against a backdrop of the smoldering feud between Aldaran and Scathfell.

The Laran Gambit continues the timeline after The Children of Kings, bringing Darkover and the Star Alliance into conflict and pitting the laran of the Comyn against machine-generated psychic powers.

Arilinn takes us back in time to the founding of the most prestigious of Darkover’s Towers. (And I have a secret hope that if you readers adore Arilinn, I’ll get to write the stories behind the other Towers, too!)

Likely publication dates are 2016, 2017, and 2018, but you never know. Stay tuned for writerly inspiration and more details!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Adventures in Author Readings

Over the decades, I’ve done many readings, and each one has a story behind it.
All kinds of things can go wrong at readings. Nobody shows up – that’s the classic “worst fear” of newer (and experienced!) writers. Sooner or later, it happens to all of us. I consider the experience part of being a working writer interacting with the public. It’s not a reflection on my work or me personally, it’s just the way things go. I wait for a reasonable amount of time to accommodate late-comers before deciding it’s a no-go. What’s reasonable depends; I’ve had people come in as late as five minutes before the next reading. The important thing then is to be gracious and friendly. Conventions are busy places, and I appreciate any effort to get to my reading, particularly if it’s scheduled in an out-of-the-way place or at the same time as something really popular.

Then there are solo readings where only a few people come and half of them leave, and those who stay have the pained expressions of those who find themselves in the wrong place but are too polite to leave you with no audience at all. At times like these, I don’t plod through what I’ve planned (unless, of course, those stalwart few are perking up in surprised delight). I may cut it short or do something outrageous to liven it up, like interspersing paragraphs with interpretive dance. Or I pass the manuscript or book around, round-robin style, asking for dialog to be read in silly voices. In other words, I try to make the reading a fun experience, even if my audience is there by mistake. If I’m reading from a print-out, I’ll autograph it and offer it to a lucky winner.

Friday, May 2, 2014

GUEST BLOG: Thoughts on Daoism and Dog Training from Dave Trowbridge

Tajji and Dave training in the "The Meadow" next door
In "the meadow"
“Rulers should always avoid giving commands…for commands, being direct and verbal, always bring to the subject’s mind the possibility of doing the opposite. But since rituals are non-verbal, they have no contraries. They can therefore be used to produce harmony of wills and actions without provoking recalcitrance; if a man finds himself playing his appointed part in li [ritual] and thus already — as it were de facto — in harmony with others, it no more occurs to him than it occurs to a dancer to move to a different rhythm than that being played by the orchestra.” 
Master Zhuang, 4th century BCE Daoist philosopher
and proto-anarchist

That quotation was seminal in creating the anarcho-monarchical politics of the Panarchy, the interstellar polity that’s the setting of the space opera Exordium. The Panarchs and Kyriarchs all wielded theoretically unlimited power, but most of them died, or were killed, before they learn how to work the hyper-complex network of interlocking traditions, institutions, and governance that executes their will.

It’s also, I now find, a perfect encapsulation of the rather Daoist aspects of the positive dog training techniques that Deborah and I are using to rehabilitate Tajji, a process more like conversation than education, and certainly one in which learning flows both ways. Certainly, our work with Tajji is teaching me that much of dog training, if not all, is about the negotiation, establishment, and performance of rituals rather than the issuing of commands.

As Master Zhuang might have said, those who do not acknowledge the power of ritual will find themselves helpless against it, and it can be argued that this is a fundamental reason there are so many ill-trained dogs in the world: dogs that have established their rituals as the rule of life for a household.