Saturday, January 31, 2015

Nifty Links to Enliven Your Weekend

(an occasional series of tidbits I found delightful)

Writers Sherwood Smith and Judith Tarr discuss Writing: Where history, fantasy, and science fiction intersect.

The Pomegranate Architect“: A previously unpublished essay by Ray Bradbury

Asteroid M44 streaks across the night sky. On Monday, January 26, well-tracked asteroid 2004 BL86 made its closest approach, a mere 1.2 million kilometers from our fair planet. That's about 3.1 times the Earth-Moon distance or 4 light-seconds away.

Vesta is the second most massive body in the asteroid beltsurpassed only by Ceres, which is classified as a dwarf planet... and other cool stuff about Vesta

Barns Are Painted Red Because of the Physics of Dying Stars Red ochre—Fe2O3—is a simple compound of iron and oxygen that absorbs yellow, green and blue light and appears red. It’s what makes red paint red. It’s really cheap because it’s really plentiful. And it’s really plentiful because of nuclear fusion in dying stars

Friday, January 30, 2015

Thunderlord snippet - The Summons

Please remember that this is a work in progress and drafts have a habit of changing drastically from inception to finished book.

From Thunderlord Chapter 2

The strip of carpet was so worn that it did not cushion the thumping sound of Valdir’s boot heels. He marched along, gaze fixed in front of him and expression somber. Kyria had to jog a few paces to keep up with him. At this rate, they’d arrive at the presence chamber without time for her to ask a single question. “Val! Slow down, will you? What’s going on?”

He did not look at her, although he moderated his pace. “You’ll find out soon enough. It’s not for me to say.”

Kyria, near the end of her temper, came to a halt. If he wouldn’t talk to her, she’d stay right here until he did. “Now you’re frightening me. What do these men of Scathfell want with me? And why can’t you tell me? Is it bad news?” Although what that news might be and why it must be delivered to her and none of the other women of the family, she had no idea.

Valdir turned to face her. They’d never been close for their ages were too dissimilar, but now he seemed almost sympathetic. “No, it’s not bad news. At least, I don’t think so. But the outcome is not yet determined. You must trust me – or if not me, then our father – that much good may come to you – to us – from this. Please, they are waiting.”

His words, although kindly spoken, did nothing to dissipate Kyria’s unease. Thinking that the problem, whatever it was, was best faced quickly, she hurried after her brother so rapidly that they soon arrived at the presence chamber. She hadn’t been in that room more than a handful of times in her life, for the chamber was dim and chilly, even in high summer. Valdir opened the door and indicated she should proceed him. Candelabra of their most expensive beeswax candles pushed back the gloom. Her father sat in his usual high-backed chair. A strange man, also seated, faced him. Kyria had only a moment to study him and the two others who stood at attention behind him. Even at a glance, she noticed the armor under their travel cloaks. Their hands rested on the hilts of their sheathed swords.

Wear no sword at kinsman’s board, she recalled the old proverb. But these men were not kin.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Midwifing a Story: Editors

Once upon a time, editors were the gold standard of book midwifery. Editors loved books and had the time to not discover budding authors, who received nurture and guidance for their entire careers. The best editors took the “long view” and invested patience in allowing “their” authors time to develop, find their audiences, and achieve their full potential. If a single book didn’t do well, author and editor soldiered on; this loyalty and refusal to give up on the partnership encouraged authors to try new and challenging projects. Editors understood that not every book will be a best-seller and that new writers need time to find the true power of their voices. 

Nowadays, with a few happy exceptions, the situation is very different. In some traditional publishing houses, one editor may acquire a book and another may edit it. Authors who do not rapidly achieve success (measured in dollars, not the quality of their work and the depth of their vision) are dropped or ordered to change their bylines so that poor sales figures do not affect pre-orders of their next books, or even to change the story to make it fit into current marketing niches. More and more, editors spend their time wrestling sales figures for multinational conglomerates instead of working with their authors. Even so, most editors are in the business because they love good books; for them, the thrill of discovering a new talent and seeing it blossom overrides the long hours and the impossible task of satisfying the bean-counters.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Sneak Peak - Thunderlord

I've been hard at work on the next Darkover (R) novel, Thunderlord. Marion Zimmer Bradley, who created the world of Darkover, intended to write a companion book to Stormqueen, but died before she could write it. In the few fragmentary notes she left, she indicated only that it would take place a generation after Stormqueen and feature the son of Donal Delleray and Renata Leynier, raised by Lord Aldaran as his son and heir. I submitted a proposal to write this book, and both the MZB Literary Trust and DAW Books approved it. Because readers have waited for Thunderlord for years now and it may be some time before it's published (since it's not finished yet), now and in the following weeks I'll post snippets for your enjoyment. Hopefully, I will find something in each chapter that is neither too confusing nor gives away too much. Please remember that this is a work in progress and drafts have a habit of changing drastically from inception to finished book.

Thunderlord Chapter 1, snippet:

“I knew you’d get into trouble sooner or later,” Alayna said. She was sitting on the bed she and Kyria shared, legs crossed under her full skirts, when Kyria closed the bedroom door behind her. The room was small and dark, the windows narrow and the few pieces of furniture old-fashioned and almost black with age, but it did possess a small fireplace, and a soothing warmth spread from the newly-lit flames.“Did I not say so?”

“You did, and you were right,” Kyria responded with a rueful smile. Alayna had teased her, sometimes unmercifully, but she’d never betrayed Kyria’s secret.

With a satisfied grin, Alayna bounced off the bed to help Kyria take off her wet boots. At least, the heavy winter socks had stayed dry, or mostly dry. She tsked in disapproval, very much like Ellimira did, as Kyria struggled out of the vest and breeches. “Those things must be older than the castle! Look at these seams – they’re falling apart! It was just as well you got caught now, or you’d soon be running around bare-arsed.”

Monday, January 19, 2015

Guest Blog: Puberty Blockers, Trans Youth, and Bone Loss

Another thought-provoking article from Open Minded Health, this time a review on an article that examines a possible down-side of puberty blockers.

5501304744_a215504ae3_mPuberty blockers (“GnRH agonists”) can be extremely helpful for transgender (trans) and gender non-conforming (GNC) children and their families. They are used to “pause” puberty. The pause allows time for negotiation, thought, and discussion. Schools need to be contacted and negotiated with. Families may need time to ask questions and do their own research. The trans/GNC young person is relieved from the distress of an unwanted puberty.

Simply, puberty blockers work by telling the body “It’s not time for puberty yet — stay as a pre-puberty body”. That message keeps ovaries and testes from producing their sex hormones. For young people just beginning puberty, it’s like pressing “pause” on puberty. But they can also be used post-puberty to reduce overall sex hormone levels. So “puberty blockers” can be used as testosterone blockers in trans women. They’re not used often in the United States that way because they’re expensive, but they’re very effective.

Puberty blockers are generally safe. They have been in use for a long time for children with precocious puberty. However there is one unknown that’s been a concern for both parents and their children: Bone health.

Monday, January 12, 2015


Here's the beautiful cover, designed by Dave Smeds:

Table of Contents:

Introduction: Darkover, An Evolving World, by Deborah J. Ross (editor)
Learning to Breathe Snow, by Rosemary Edghill and RebeccaFox
Healing Pain, by Jane M. H. Bigelow
Blood-kin, by Diana L. Paxson
The Tower, by Jeremy Erman
Stonefell Gift, by Marella Sands
Compensation, by Leslie Fish
Green Is The Color Of Her Eyes So Blue, by DeborahMillitello
Renegades of Darkover, by Robin Wayne Bailey
Memory, by Shariann Lewitt
A Problem of Punishment, by Barb Caffrey
Hidden Gifts, by Margaret L. Carter
Climbing to the Moons, by Ty Nolan

Saturday, January 10, 2015

How to Succeed as a Writer in 2015

As the year begins, I — like many, many writers — contemplate what I can do to further my career.
This applies whether we are traditionally published or self-published, or hybrids, partaking of both worlds. Publishers aren’t doing much in the way of promotion except for their biggest sellers, which leaves out most of us. More and more, traditionally published authors must do the same sorts of publicity as those who are going it alone. We are the ones to set up bookstore signings, place ads, plan blog hops, execute campaigns on social media, offer book giveaways, etc.

Success all boils down to having a product to sell, and in this case it’s the best books we can write. Tell a whopping good story in clear, accessible prose. But that’s not sufficient in itself. Many, many wonderful books fail to garner a readership (and many talented writers find themselves without a publisher because their sales are lousy). This is so unfair, I could weep.

The challenge is connecting those “best books” with readers who will adore them. We can’t count on readers wandering into a cozy local independent bookstore, where they will see our latest proudly displayed on the “New And Recommended” shelf. The internet is flooded with announcements and exhortations to Buy My Book! that readers have become deaf. Self-pimpage becomes not only monotonous but a turn-off. They make many potential buyers (like me) disinclined (to put it mildly) to even take a look at those books.

So if writing a fabulous story isn’t enough and relentlessly publicizing it on every social medium yet devised turns readers off, what else can we do? To answer this, I took a look at what factors do contribute to a writer’s success.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Winter Reading, part 3

The Spiral Path: A Tale of Ritual Magic, by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel (Book View CafĂ©, 2015). In this third book of “Night Calls,” the adventures of Alfreda Sorensson, Katharine Eliska Kimbriel has brought originality and insightfulness to the series. Set in an alternate, magical Colonial America, these are no ordinary Young Adult fantasies, and Allie is no ordinary heroine. In Allie’s confident and inimitable voice, Kimbriel weaves together the necessary survival skills of living in the forested Michigan frontier. One of the things I like best about her is how amazingly competent she is - even when she’s in over her head. Instead of creating an independent heroine by separating her from her family and community, Kimbriel weaves together the lives of Allie, her lively and affectionate family, and the people in their small town. Once Allie’s magical abilities have manifested, she also acquires a “teacher in the Wise Arts,” an older kinswoman. As part of her studies, Allie studies midwifery, never guessing that she will be called to use her wild, untutored magic to deliver the foal of a unicorn.  The birth of the unicorn forces Allie to leave her family and home because she is now the target of supernatural forces she has not yet acquired the power and training to defend against. To protect her and to speed up the process of learning, she travels to New York to study at a school of ritual magic. I jokingly call this “Allie at Hogwarts,” but The Spiral Path is anything but an imitation of the Harry Potter novels. Allie may not yet be adept in ritual magic, but she is competent in a host of other areas, able to think on her feet, draw upon her strengths, and act with courage and compassion. She is in the process of becoming an extraordinary and powerful “practitioner,” not because of inborn talent (although she has that in spades) but through knowledge, hard-won experience, and keen intelligence. I wish these novels had been around when I was a young teenager, but I’m glad I can read them now, nodding, “Yes, yes!” as Allie handles and grows from every twist and turn of the story. I can think of no better role model for Young Adults, boys as well as girls. Highly recommended.

Longbourne, by Jo Baker (Vintage, 2014). This is one of the most delightful riffs on Pride and
Prejudice I’ve come across. It’s not a mash-up, strictly speaking. No monsters or supernatural beings of any sort parade through the hallways of the Bennett family home. Instead, Baker takes us Downstairs (as in Upstairs, Downstairs) to flesh out the lives of the servants, both those mentioned in the Austen novel and others that are entirely her own invention but just as appropriate and real. She does it so well that this novel can be read and enjoyed by those without any familiarity with the source. However, it is not Austenian through-and-through. Baker has her own writing style, one I found delicious and almost poetic in its rhythm, and she does not restrict her focus to the social and marital concerns of the Bennett daughters. She begins there, but expands to the larger world and the brutal realities of the poor in a nation at war. One chapter we’re in Longbourne, comfortable and civilized, and the next we’re in the middle of a Bernard Cornwell “Sharpe” novel, slogging through the frozen mud of Spain with Napoleon’s army at our heels, quite a rude shock, I should imagine, if you were expecting everything to be tea and crumpets (did they have crumpets in Austen’s time?) Even so, this is a story of love and loyalty, lost and regained. I loved it, completely apart from the Austen inspiration, and will look for her other work.

Good Man Friday, by Barbara Hambly (Severn, 2014). I have adored the Benjamin Friday books ever since Free Man of Color came out in 1998, and am thrilled that Severn House is continuing their publication. Each one is a gem, an engaging story that brings to life a not-very-well explored chapter in American History (1830s New Orleans), with all the layers of social and political issues vividly portrayed through the experiences of the characters. Benjamin January is a “free man of color,” his skin as dark as his African father, and his mind as keen as any detective’s. Trained as a surgeon in France, he finds himself unable to practice medicine, so he earns his living playing piano at various evening entertainments in the homes of white folk, and also occasionally solves a mystery. Here he is enlisted by his sister’s white protector to find a friend who has gone missing in what will become Washington D.C. Washington is nothing like the city of today; it’s hot, bug-ridden, and swampy, but the politics are just as dirty as ever. Edgar Allan Poe makes a guest appearance, helping January solve a most excellent mystery (and in the process deciding to forgo a job as a postmaster in favor of his own writing!)

Monday, January 5, 2015

GUEST BLOG: Trans Folk, Hormones, and Stress

In the wake of the suicide of a trans youth, I offer this article from the excellent blog, Open Minded Health. It provides evidence that trans people have a better quality of life when their physiology matches their gender identity.

Article Review: Hormonal Treatment Reduces Psychobiological Distress in Gender Identity Disorder, Independently of the Attachment Style (used with permission).

Summary: Research now indicates that cross-sex hormone therapy is associated with a lower cortisol awakening response in trans people, regardless of attachment style. Many confounding variables, however, were present in this study.

Transgender people have long asserted that gender dysphoria can be extremely distressing and that transition, including hormone therapy, helps relieve that dysphoria. Hormone therapy is known to improve self-reported quality of life, as measured by questionnaire. To my knowledge no other study has looked at stress-related biological factors in trans people. Biological factors are important because self-report is notorious for validity problems. This study looked at one such biological factor, called the cortisol awakening response.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

[personal] 2015 Goals/Wishes, take 2

Priority stuff: work on emotional and physical health. I'm in the midst of a round of doctor visits, most of which are turning out well, and exercising more. Hope to sleep better and lose a bit of weight. The emotional stuff is tricky because I got slammed by a whole series of PTSD-triggering stresses last year and was so busy with the crises of the moment that I didn't attend carefully enough to my inner life. I know how to do this, I just didn't have a chance to catch my breath, so to speak, in 2014.


Writing goals/wishes/hopes depend on how well body and psyche are doing.

Write: Darkover book under contract, get back to parallel contract and on spec novels
Edit: Darkover anthology
Publish: 2 collections and an original sf/mystery novel through BVC

Learn how to use CreateSpace and publish the above in POD
Figure out how to put books up on Kobo, Smashwords, Google Play, etc. Notice I put this last as they are the most intimidating.

I'd love to hear from you about what you hope for in 2015.

The photo of hiking in the Dolomites was taken by my dear friend Cleo Sanda, who died in a boating accident in 2013.

Friday, January 2, 2015

What's that female elf doing in the movie, anyway?

I've had a number of discussions with friends about the role of Tauriel in Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies. I understand and sympathize with the objections that she was not given a more substantial role. The movie certainly fails the Bechtel Test (but so did the book). Some saw her as no more than a love interest. Others pointed out that it's hard to add a completely new character with real agency without changing the plot too much. She could have been the one to kill Azog, but then she'd be a repetition of Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings.

All these were intellectual arguments to me. On an emotional level, I adored Tauriel, although I could not articulate why. Then I read this interview with Evangeline Lilly, who played Tauriel, and bingo, yes, exactly.

She kind of, in my mind, becomes the voice of the audience. She speaks out what the audience is thinking and feeling, and that is such a satisfying thing, I know as an audience member when I’m watching a movie, I grab hold of that character because I need to hear it. I need them to say what is going on in my head. And Tauriel does that through the whole film.... I love that she says things like, “When did we allow evil to become stronger than us?”...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015 Goals, Rough Draft

Most days: exercise; play piano; write; meditate or do yoga.

Every day: give hugs (which means I get them); tell my loved ones that I love them; take a moment for gratitude.

More to follow...