Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Tajji Diaries: Farewell.

Farewell . . . In mid-December our retired seeing eye dog suffered a cerebral event, initially responded to treatment, but then declined rapidly. She passed away peacefully on December 23, surrounded by her loving family.

Final moments

Good night, sweet girl

Friday, December 23, 2016

In Troubled Times: Bouncing Off the Bottom

Last week I had a meltdown. It did not take the form of tears, irritability, or burning pots of
vegetables (as I am wont to do when I am upset and distracted). Instead, a horrible doomsday scenario popped into my mind and I could not talk myself out of it. Normally I’m not given to imagining worst-case no-hope futures. I try to keep in mind that no matter how distraught I am at any given moment, whatever is bothering me will not last forever. (This goes for good times, too. All life is impermanent.) This time, however, the dreadful sequence had taken hold and would not be dislodged.

So I did what I have been advised to do about other problems. I put my nightmare out there and asked folks what they thought. I often joke that we muddle along because we’re not all crazy on the same day. I figured that even though my brains had taken a sharp turn to crazyland, there were some saner people out there. Some agreed with me, others had their own dire forebodings, and still more had confidence that wiser heads would prevail.

After I’d calmed down, I had a serious moment of “What got into me?” I admit that I was a little embarrassed at losing it, especially in such a public way. I tried to make light of the situation by joking that aliens had eaten my brains (one of my stock explanations for moments of temporary insanity).

Then I remembered to be kind to myself. No harm had been done, after all, except to the illusion that I am always calm and rational. That’s a good illusion to shatter now and again for fear of being insufferable. Through painful experience, I’ve learned the importance of getting friendly with things that upset or frighten me. What if my lapse were doing me a favor and what might it teach me?

Once I got some distance from the moment of panic, I realized that I’d been expecting myself to progress in a straight, continuous manner. No backsliding or side tracks. No relapses. Recovery sometimes works like that, but more often it’s full of slips and detours, three steps sideways to every step forward. Just as when an alcoholic or addict “hits bottom” before they are ready to make substantial changes in their attitudes and lives, going “off the deep end” was a wake-up call for me. I saw then that I had been stressed by more than the political situation. We have two sick or injured pets, one of whom will likely not recover and will have to be euthanized. Several other challenging events have occurred that, taken singly, would be manageable, but all together on top of everything else pushed me off-center.

I’m grateful to the friends who offered sage (and not-so-sage) comments and thereby helped me to gain perspective on my own condition. I’m incredibly annoyed that the universe ganged up on me in so many ways all at once. I’m also appreciative of the experiences I’ve had (good, bad, insane) over the years that have shown me I am not invincible but that if I am willing to ask for help (and then take it), I am resilient and resourceful. I value everyone and everything in my life that helps me to keep my priorities straight.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

In Troubled Times: Annoyed? Irate!

As the days post-election melt into weeks, I observe myself moving from disbelief to despair to relative calm . . . and now to feeling just plain annoyed. I am tired of the news being dominated by one horrible announcement after another, and even more tired of how much attention is paid to the continuous verbal effluvia flowing from the president-elect. I am tired of being jerked around emotionally by a bloviating buffoon whose chief delight seems to be keeping everyone else off-balance. I’m tired of every conversation about the news beginning with “Guess what outrageous thing president-elect/his newest appointee/some member of Congress just said?”

It’s one thing to be appalled and frightened by the statements of politicians now in power. There’s a time to focus on politics and a time for other parts of my life. It’s quite another to have my thoughts and days hijacked by irresponsible sensationalism. Not to mention counterfactual (aka “lies”) distortions. Remember the meme of the person who can’t sleep because somewhere on the internet, someone is wrong? When my brain gets taken over by provocative statements, that’s where I am, duped into a cycle of research and refutation. It’s a gazillion times worse if I give in to a lapse in judgment and actually reply to one of those folks-who-are-wrong. That never ends well, no matter how many times I persuade myself into believing otherwise. Social media do not, by and large, promote genuine discourse, but I get sucked into trying. Of course, the responses only get me more wound up. That’s my responsibility, because I know better. But I really would like to be able to glance at the news or visit a social media site now and again without having to fend off the lure of the outrageous.

Why is the fruitcake (and surrogates) dominating the news? I swear, every time he twitches a finger (especially in proximity to his cellphone), it makes headlines everywhere. On his part, the tactic of controlling the dialog by throwing out pompously outrageous lies is nothing new. That’s how he dominated the primary debates. He got billions of dollars worth of free air time during the general campaign by poking one hornets’ nest after another. Now he’s doing it on an international scale. And the news media buy into it every time, battling the hydra that grows a hundred heads for every one they whack off with facts. We’ve gone from sucking all the oxygen out of the room to sucking all the oxygen out of the news sphere and now the world.

I draw the line at sucking all the oxygen out of my head. Okay, I’m not hopeful that the media will take my suggestion to just ignore any sentence that includes “Trump” and “Tweet,” nor am I a good enough nerd to reprogram my computer to do that for me. Nor do I want to shut myself away from news of any sort. For one thing, I know myself well enough to admit that would be too anxiety-provoking. I will likely do better when I become better at not responding to trollishness.

But right now, mostly I’m annoyed to the point of being downright pissed. I recognize that anger can be friend or enemy. It’s energizing, which can be exhausting if I spend too much time wound up, or focusing if I master it. If I give in, I run the risk of descending into petty insults and ad hominen fallacies. Or I can use it to point the way to improvements in my own attitudes and behavior. What’s getting to me, and why? My anger can show me the line between things best shrugged off and those that call for action.

This, however, is how I feel today:

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and Holofernes

Friday, December 9, 2016

In Troubled Times: Antidote to Despair

Recently a friend voiced her despair about the effect of the elections and the president-elect’s nominations on the future of the planet. She said “fear” was too mild a term. Her conversation kept referencing the Permian extinction event and the destruction of the Earth. I admit I didn’t respond well. I tend to react to emotion-laden exaggerations of complex issues, and that reaction overrode the compassionate thing to do, which was to listen to her feelings. My mind flipped from a conversation about emotions to one about facts. Needless to say, she was not interested in whether current projects are for a target global warming of 3.6 degrees or 4 degrees Celsius.

In observing my own mind, I notice what I do when faced with the notion of looming ecological disaster. I run away to information. In this case, at least, I find it calming. The facts don’t change, but researching the issue and reading the considered opinions of people with legitimate scientific credentials who have studied the matter in depth changes my emotional reaction. I suspect a portion of this runs along the lines of, “Whew, I don’t have to figure this out all on my own!” I’m only one of many who are grappling with the problem.

Clearly, this was not my friend’s process. A little bit of information (the Permian extinction event plunged her into even greater hopelessness. From this I take away something so simple, its profound truth often escapes me: we don’t all cope with stressful news in the same way.

I’ve written about paying attention to what makes me feel calmer or more distraught, and then making mindful choices. Although information is helpful to me, it can also have an addictive quality. We writers joke about doing so much research on a novel project, the book never gets written. Similarly, I can mire myself in one source after another until I go numb. That numb state is a sure sign I’ve either made a poor choice or gone too far.

Blogging about my process, however, seems not to have a down side. I suspect this is because such writing puts me in better touch with my feelings and increases my sensitivity to what is good for me and what is harmful. It has the added benefit of being of service to others who are wrestling with the same issues, searching for a way through the morass of upset feelings to a way forward in what the Buddhists call “right action.”

Reaching out to others, offering my help, sharing my experience and insight and listening to their own, all these things lift me from despair.

What things help you?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Tajji Diaries: The Wolf in Winter

Tajji December 2016
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about Tajji, the retired seeing eye dog we adopted in 2014. She is a sweet, loving dog, but had become leash-reactive (not aggressive) to other dogs and sometimes people, making her unsuitable for service work. We worked with her, enrolling in “reactive rover” classes that used positive techniques to lower her anxiety and teach us to help her out in challenging situations. Although she was already an old dog, she learned new tricks: eye contact with humans, “let’s go!” detachment from stressful situations, “puppy Zen” and more. She’s made significant progress, and even though from time to time we are surprised by oncoming dogs on our walks, she trusts us to get her to a safe place. Consequently, she’s better able to tolerate the presence of other dogs while on leash. We’ve been able to walk her by yards with barking, lunging dogs, using our management techniques. Although we continue practicing, we don’t hold out hope that one day we will be able to walk her anywhere, with pass-bys with other dogs and other difficult situations. This is fine with us. Our deal with Tajji is a safe and happy retirement, and so far that’s the case. She clearly enjoys her walks (and all the neighborhood dog and wild animal smells); when we get out her harness, she romps around the living room, tail wagging madly, before dashing for the back door. Her joy is contagious, especially on frosty mornings when we aren’t all that enthusiastic about going for a walk. She gets us out the door.

In addition to walking on paved roads, we have found a place to take Tajji hiking. A nearby retreat center has given us permission to walk with her on their trails as long as we pick up after her and she is on leash. For this, we use a retractable lead to give her a greater range to roam. Some of the paths are fairly smooth and level, but others are definitely hiking territory, narrow twisty trails that involve changes in elevation and scrambling over fallen trees. She loves these hikes, and clearly they exercise her brain as well as her body.

Tajji and Shakir hanging out
Tajji came to us with only rudimentary cat skills. We’re pretty sure she was exposed to them by her initial foster family, but her blind owner didn’t have cats. She has a very low prey drive for a German Shepherd Dog, undoubtedly due to Fidelco’s breeding, selection, and training standards. We took our time introducing her to our two dog-savvy cats, and she has become fast friends with the male. They play chase, he rubs up against her, and they often “hang out” or cuddle together.

In the 2 ½ years we’ve had Tajji, she has become noticeably more gray in the muzzle. Although she has no major health issues, she limps occasionally and moves stiffly on cold mornings. She will trot willingly, but no longer wants to run. The vet prescribed supplements and NSAID arthritis medicine as needed, and the combination seems to make her more comfortable. But given her age and how hard she has worked (physically as well as psychologically), we feel she is entitled to take it easy. We try to take her for a walk or hike every day to keep her joints and muscles in shape.

The other major physical change we have noticed is a deterioration in Tajji’s hearing. As far as we can tell, her vision is still quite good, but she no longer responds instantly to someone knocking at the door or being called from across the house. Commands spoken in a soft voice must often be repeated more loudly. Fortunately, we began teaching her hand signals as soon as she came to live with us, and we have been relying on those more and on verbal commands less. She seems quite content with the shift.

I’ve heard folks say they want to get a puppy so the dog will bond with them and won’t come with any bad habits. Tajji came to us with her own history, training, and personality. She presented us with challenges; some we have resolved better than others. She isn’t perfect, and neither are we. But with a little patience, a bit of perspective on what’s really important, and a huge serving of love, we get to share in the joy of her twilight years. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

In Troubled Times: Facing the Problem Squarely

A few days ago, John Scalzi wrote in his blog, Whatever, “…the Trump administration and its enablers are going to make a mad gallop out of the gate to do a whole bunch of awful things, to overwhelm you with sheer volume right at the outset.”

Pretty shocking statement, huh? That was my first reaction. My second was that Scalzi is very likely correct. All the signs are there…all the signs that in my panic-stricken moments, I want to ignore so hard they go away.

My next reaction was to surrender my mind to a gazillion chattering monkeys, each with her own idea of What Must Be Done Right Now. I can work myself into a downright tizzy in no time this way. Not only that, I can paralyze myself with too many alternatives and no way to prioritize them, jumbling actions I might take with those that are impossible or unsafe (crazy-making) for me.

Any of this sound familiar?

It’s all based on a false choice. I don’t have to either prepare now for the logically impending “awful things” or play ostrich on the river in Egypt. But in order to see other, saner alternatives, I must first evict the Monkeys of Panic so I can regard the situation calmly.

We’re in for some hard times, and knowing that is a relief.

At first, it seems counter-intuitive to say that acknowledging we are in for some dark times comes as a relief. The relief is because instead of nebulous fears running rampant, bursting into exaggeration and melodrama at every turn, vulnerable to any sort of fact-free hype, I’ve stepped away from the emotional storm. I’m facing the problem squarely, as my tai chi teacher used to say. We’re in for some tough times, and likely there will be a whole slew of bad news in the early months of 2017.

When I’m no longer trying to deny or distort the way things are (for example, Trump’s cabinet choices and what is known about them, or what he has said he will or won’t do) I not only become calmer, but better able to see things I might do, alone or in solidarity with like-minded folks.

This is based on a simple truth that in order to act effectively, I need to be sane. I can’t be sane if I’m bouncing off the walls at every headline on social media. I could, of course, disengage entirely from social media and refuse to read or listen to any sort of news. But I don’t want to do that. I want to stay engaged, but in a mindful way. I want to know what I’m up against. Once I stop fighting the reality of what that is, I free myself to use my energy and time in productive ways. I don’t know exactly what form these tough times will take, but I don’t need to prepare for every twist and turn. I can trust my ability to respond appropriately and creatively.

Friday, November 25, 2016

OryCon 2016 Report

Any report I make of OryCon (in Portland OR, on or near Veterans Day weekend) must be seen in highly personal context. For me, it’s never been just another convention, but part of other aspects of my life. I used to attend OryCon regularly. I’d gone to college and then graduate school in Portland and retained a fondness for the city. My best friend from college still lived there, and I’d stayed in close touch with her. So attending OryCon also meant a visit, usually after the con when decompression with long-time friendship, and maybe a long trail ride, were especially welcome. These visits became even more important when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I made a number of trips to Portland to help her and her family through the rounds of chemo that led to a series of remissions. In the nearly five years that followed, our OryCon visits became even more precious. In fall 2013, she entered hospice, and again I was present to do whatever was necessary to support her and her family in that transition. She died in October, when the weather had already turned chill and overcast with the approach of winter. That year, attending OryCon was out of the question, nor could I bring myself to consider returning to Portland for some time. This year, however, I ventured north with my older daughter to a reunion at our alma mater, Reed College. That shifted my thinking enough so that when I received an invitation to be a guest panelist at OryCon, I happily accepted. Of course, the first thing to arrange was a visit with my friend’s surviving family. Two visits, actually; one before and one after the con. A family dinner, complete with home made lasagna (vegetarian and vegan versions) marked an auspicious welcome back to Portland.

I won’t go into a recitation of all things travel and hotel. Needless to say, my usual disorientation upon encountering a new venue kicked into high gear, fueled by the vertical arrangement of the hotel (events were on 4 different floors, or was it 5 plus the green room on the 16th floor?) The OryConOps folks were as warm and welcoming as ever. I had a splendid roomie in Irene Radford, although we were both a bit too old to stay up all night talking.

My panels began Saturday morning with the topic “Fantasy vs. Science Fiction,” in which panelists and audience attempted to discern why anyone would think one better than the other when we all love them both. Conventional wisdom suggests that in science fiction, the laws of physics must be observed (with the notable exceptions of psi powers and faster-than-light travel); whereas in fantasy, magic introduces a fundamentally different system. The level of technology of the setting tends to put low-tech, medieval worlds into the fantasy camp and modern, futuristic, or space settings into science fiction. I threw out the idea that readers expect different experiences (fantasy – emotional, science fiction – intellectual, idea-driven) from the two genres, hoping it would provoke a juicy discussion. We all agreed that with the popularity of cross-overs, none of these distinctions holds true any longer.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

In Memoriam, Andre Pereira

Just learned that longtime Darkover fan André Pereira has died of cancer. Adelandeyo... Namarië... Go in grace, my friend.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Anxiety, Curiosity, and Creativity

Recently I wrote about “Election Anxiety Disorder,” characterized by – among other things – obsessively checking news sources, social media, polling results, election prediction sites, and the like. Our simian brains seem to be hardwired to zoom in on changes, even small ones, in our environments. Fast-changing visual media like news programs and advertisements rely on this response to attract and hold our attention. In the same way our ancestors might have scanned the horizon for the movement of herds of prey animals or signs of a stalking predator, we scan our information horizon for signs of threat (or reassurance). So it can be difficult to tear ourselves away from that screen or newspaper, particularly when our lives are in so many other ways attached to the flow of information. For many of us, this constant reactivation and connection with sources of perceived threat our anxiety. However, some people use information as a way of managing their anxiety. 

There are many styles of dealing with anxiety, from purely physical to purely intellectual, with pharmaceutical – legal or otherwise – thrown in there, too. I should modify that statement to say these are starting points. Deep, slow breathing and concomitant decreases in blood pressure, heart rate, adrenaline secretion, etc., also affects our thoughts. Talking ourselves through a stressful situation or changing how we think about ourselves or the problems we face also reduces the physiological symptoms of anxiety. No matter where we begin, we end up at the same place.

As I mentioned above, one way to manage anxiety is through information. If we can find out more about something that worries us, often it becomes less threatening. (Not always, of course.) Our fears can distort perceptions and amplify dangers, but information acts as an antidote. It also suggests logical, effective actions to deal with the problem, things that are more likely to be successful than just flying off the handle. Our minds reassure us of our ability to cope with the situation, and the resulting calm further increases our likelihood of success.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Supporting A New Writer: Full Circle, Starting Over

This blog series began when I received a letter from a long-time fan.  It spoke deeply to me, and
rather than answer it alone, I asked some of my writer friends to join in a series of round table blogs on the issues raised. Below is another heart-felt letter from another writer with her own struggles.

I've been trying to reconnect with writing friends after a hiatus from the creative life.  I've spent the past year or so taking care of my mom and working to pay the bills.  Mom passed away in October.
When your last parent passes away, it changes you in many ways.  That foundation you always relied on -- even as an adult -- is gone for good.  Whether you're ready or not, you are truly on your own in the world and must somehow carry on without their nurturing presence.  One of the most difficult aspects of my mother's final days was the fact that she had so many regrets about life.  She once had goals and dreams, but left them behind out of fear and a belief that these dreams were just not possible.
I'm 54 years old.  More than half of my life is over.  Writing has been a dream/goal of mine since childhood.  My mom was the only one who believed in me. I don't want to leave this world regretting the fact that I never pursued this dream to the fullest. To be honest, my writing "career" never took off.  I let fear, doubt and the negativity of others keep me from my dreams.  I want so much to be brave, to take risks with my creative life. I truly wish for a group of fellow writers who are willing to give me the encouragement and support I need to write with my heart and soul, to grow as a writer and a human being. And I want to be a support for others as well. 

How do I get back into the writing life after leaving it on the back burner for so long? 

Denise B. Tanaka: Do I still have what it takes?

Once I heard an anecdote about someone tearing down a spider's web every day. The spider would come back to the same spot to recreate the web, and the person tore it down again and again. After a while, the spider rebuilt the web less perfectly, with gaps and irregularities, until finally the spider stopped rebuilding the web altogether.

As a writer, I have put my manuscripts through the meat grinder of critique groups and workshops at conventions. For a long time, I welcomed harsh comments because I believed it was necessary to develop a thick skin. I used to invite lengthy brainstorming sessions and I boldly gutted my manuscripts in rewrites. I endured the pounding because I assumed it would make my writing better.

For years, I was starry-eyed optimistic about getting published. Surely all the anguish of workshops and critique groups would pay off, right? I studied all the advice of how to write sparkling query letters. Before there were email submissions, I was a frequent visitor at the post office. And I stacked up piles of rejections. Small press. Big 5 houses. You name it, I've been rejected by it.

The meritocracy myth consumed me. I wrongly believed that if my writing was “good” that a publisher would snatch it up from the slush pile. I wrongly believed that all these rejection slips meant that my writing was “bad” or that I had no talent, that I did not deserve to be one of the chosen few. Disheartened but not entirely discouraged, I kept writing more and more manuscripts in my original universe. I told myself that if one book didn't sell surely another character's adventure could. I kept workshopping and writing and rewriting in a mad frenzy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

I'll be at OryCon in Portland Oregon this year, Nov. 18-20. 
This year's Guests of Honor include:
Writer: David Weber
Editor: Diana Gill
Artist: David Mattingly
Music: Mark Osier

In addition, we'll have Special Musical Guest Leslie Hudson

Here is my schedule. If you're attending, please come by and say hello (especially for my reading and autographing sessions!)

Fantasy vs. Science Fiction
Salon C (LL1)
Sat Nov 19 11:00am - 12:00pm
Ann Gimpel, David Dvorkin, Deborah Ross, Peter Jones, Sharon Roest
Finding Diverse Voices & Characters in SF/F
Salon C (LL1)
Sat Nov 19 2:00pm - 3:00pm
Caroline M. Yoachim, Cat Rambo, David Levine, Deborah Ross, Jeffrey Cook
Reaching Readers Who Don't Know You Yet
Meadowlark (3)
Sat Nov 19 4:00pm - 5:00pm
Anthony Pryor, Blythe Ayne, Deborah Ross, Jennifer Brozek, Josh Boykin
Endings: Cuddling with the Reader
Douglas Fir (3)
Sun Nov 20 10:00am - 11:00am
Dean Wells, Deborah Ross, Mary Rosenblum, Mike Shepherd, Sharon Roest
Deborah J. Ross Reading
Hawthorne (2)
Sun Nov 20 12:30pm - 1:00pm
Deborah Ross
Autograph Session 7
Autograph Area (LL1)
Sun Nov 20 1:00pm - 2:00pm
Blythe Ayne, Curtis Chen, David Dvorkin, Deborah Ross, Joyce Reynolds-Ward

Monday, October 31, 2016

Short Book Reviews: We've Come a Long Way Since 1492

1492: A Novel of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish Inquisition, and a World at the Turning Point, by Newton Frohlich (Blue Bird Press, October 2016) This novelization of the events leading up to the “discovery” of the Americas was originally published in 1990. Alas, the years have not worn gracefully on the work. From the beginning, I found the depiction of the Muslim world stereotyped. Works such as Amin Maalouf’s The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (1984) and Carole Hillenbrand’s The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives (2006) portray another picture. Even setting aside the preconceptions of nearly two decades ago, I found the portrayals of the various historical personages emotionally distant. To anyone unfamiliar with the time period, the connections between the Inquisition, the political ambitions of Queen Isabella, and the increasingly desperate need of the Jews for a safe haven, will provide thoughtful insights. However, it pales compared to the lively, vivid Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, by Edward Kritzler (2008).

Friday, October 28, 2016

Election Anxiety Disorder and What To Do About It

Like just about everyone I know, I have been feeling anxious about this election. I say "just about" because  there might be some acquaintance who is blissfully uncaring about the issues and candidates. So for the rest of us, this season has turned in to a series of conversations that always end up on the topic, augmented by repeated and frequent checking on news (and polls and election predictions), and, most of all, anxiety about what might happen if the other candidate wins. I've dubbed this toxic combination of worry and hypervigilance "Election Anxiety Disorder." (Although Electoral Anxiety Syndrome works, too.)

This is the most fear-driven campaign I can remember, and the first presidential election I remember was Eisenhower versus Stevenson, so that's quite a few. Each side holds up emotionally manipulative predictions of doom, gloom, global thermonuclear destruction, moral deterioration, and general Bad Things Happening as a way of galvanizing their followers into action and swaying the opinions of those very few remaining undecided voters. And it's happening on both sides, although the specific details of the threats are different.

Chronic anxiety takes its toll in physical as well as psychological unwellness. Sleep, work, relationships, all aspects of our lives can be impacted. We may lose or gain weight, depending on which we do not need to do. We spend more and more time glued to the television or computer. Eyestrain, backaches, headaches, stomach pain, obsessive thoughts, irritability...the list goes on of the ways our bodies and minds break down under stress. Recognizing what's going on is the first step towards better managing this stress.

Laughing at it -- and ourselves -- including giving the whole mess a silly name, goes a long way.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Short Book Reviews: Steampunk Victorian Revolution

Rebel Mechanics, by Shanna Swendson (Macmillan Children's Publishing Group) Steampunk and 
alternate American history, spies and skullduggery and steam engines, oh my!

From the beginning, I was captivated by this tale of an 1888 America that never freed itself from Britain, a world ruled by aristocratic “magister” magic-users, Masked Bandits and airships, and an intrepid heroine. With the focus on plot and character, perfect for young adult audiences, the world-building is handled with subtlety. Verity Newton arrives in New York City to take up a position as a governess, only to become entangled with the Rebel Mechanics, a fellowship of engineers committed to freeing themselves from the tyranny of the magisters through the creation of steam engine powered devices that anyone can operate, regardless of magical talent. (A particular charming twist was the role of the novel Jane Eyre, and its reflections on the role of governesses!) I hope this will be the beginning of a series of Verity’s adventures and the eventual liberation of the American colonies. Fans of Gail Carriger will particularly enjoy this book.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Short Book Reviews: Nothing New in Camelot

The Return of Sir Percival (Book 1, Guinevere's Prayer), by S. Alexander O'Keefe (Greenleaf, September 2016). 

A year after the death of Arthur, his kingdom lies under the brutal yoke of a Viking invader. Guinevere languishes in a convent, while setting up a secret spy network to keep tabs on the rest of the kingdom. Sir Percival, who had been dispatched to the Holy Land in search of the Grail, returns along with his Moorish companion. Morgana schemes to at last assassinate Merlin, while playing a dangerous game of alliance with the Vikings.

Although smoothly written, this sequel to the well-known story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table came across as flat and derivative. None of these characters struck me as remarkably original; they were all pretty much what I expected, although the many historical inaccuracies gave the narrative a Hollywood flavor (for example, Morgana is supposed to be a Roman assassin, but neither speaks nor behaves in a Roman fashion). The Moor, as charming as he is, reads as if he has just stepped out of Kevin Costner’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” and that character was copied from the Saracen in the A & E “Robin of Sherwood” series. 

Readers hungry for everything Arthurian may enjoy this book, but anyone looking for a fresh take on the legends will likely be as disappointed as I was.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Supporting a New Writer 7: Flexibility

"Moving ahead, this is a good time to talk about where to connect with other writers, how to use social media, the benefits/drawbacks of face-to-face, what to look for in a group, workshops -- which ones, pitfalls, etc. And how to use technology like the internet and digital publishing (and why you shouldn't). Any of these spark ideas?"

Barb Caffrey: Today I'd like to talk about social media. I've known some writers who've made great strides in their readerships, using it -- but what I use it for, mostly, is to get to know other fans and writers. I've been able to gain encouragement, support, and appreciation through the use of Twitter and Facebook (I don't use Instagram or Pinterest, but I've heard both of those also are quite useful; find your own platform, and use it).

Most of the writers I know on Facebook, for example, talk about their works-in-progress, or sometimes about the struggles they're having with their works-in-progress. This lets me know that I'm not alone, and gives me the option to talk to them, see what they're doing and how they're doing it, and give them the support they've given unending circle, if you will.

While I stand behind my previous recommendation of the Forward Motion Writers Group (, I urge you to try the various social media platforms, and see if one -- or more -- may work for you.

Now, as far as how to find other writers locally, in whatever area you live in? I know where I live -- Racine, Wisconsin -- we have a local writers' group that meets every Thursday night in various places. I've only been there once or twice, but I appreciate knowing this group exists; I get their e-mails, and have written back and forth a few times to the various group organizers. (This group, by the way, is absolutely, positively free. Just like Forward Motion is online, except with real-time communication.)

There are a few other ways, mind. If you live near a university (or college), you might see if there's a group meeting there. Or there may be writers doing events at a local book store; going there to talk with the writer (or writers) in question may help you meet someone with similar interests, and perhaps lead to a writerly friendship down the line.

But the main thing to know is this: We all start off as neophytes. And the only way to get any better is to keep trying, keep writing, keep creating, and dare to be the creative person you were born to be.

I hope that helps.

Barb Caffrey has written three novels, An Elfy On The Loose (2014), A Little Elfy in Big Trouble (2015), and Changing Faces (forthcoming), and is the co-writer of the Adventures of Joey Maverick series (with late husband Michael B. Caffrey) Previous stories and poems have appeared in Stars Of Darkover, First Contact Café, How Beer Saved The World, Bearing North, and Bedlam's Edge (with Michael B. Caffrey). 

Doranna Durgin: I admit, the scope of this question was a little daunting.  How many of us have really figured out the answer to all these questions on our own?  Not me!

But I have an approach to figuring them out, which is maybe the next best thing.
Actually, it’s going to sound too simple: Figure out where you want to go.  Figure out what you need to get there.  Choose to do those things.

Ha ha ha ha!

Okay, so, for instance:  there are many social networking platforms.  What do you want yours to accomplish?  How many platforms are you comfortable juggling?  What are you comfortable with in terms of user experience and investment?  With which demographic do you want to connect?  What devices do you have on hand and what do they do best?

Ask yourself ALL the questions!  You may still have to do some eenie-meenie, but questions should winnow things out so it’s not all just one big overwhelming mass.
Also, there are many opportunities for connecting with others of a writerly bent.  Do you want something local, or online?  What are your goals for connecting—are they social, or are they educational?  Can they be met by writers of any experience level, or only those well along their career path?  Can they be met by gathering as a reader, with readers?

What are the downsides to any of those choices?

The thing is, sometimes we don’t know.

Social media platforms change.  The software around engaging with them changes.

Writers’ groups wax and wane with the participants’ real life obligations and their evolving writing paths.  The value of our choices (to us) changes.  This can be hard to acknowledge once one has invested time, energy, and emotion into a situation—I for one am particularly guilty of lingering when I should move on—but it’s important to perceive when a thing that should be supporting your writing is actually taking from it.

So Part Two of the simple approach is this: Maintain reality checks to adjust outreach choices as your experience grows.

Our initial choices don’t need to be perfect—there’s no way that all of them are, no matter how thoughtfully we proceed, so the need to adjust a decision isn’t a fail.  In fact, it might well be a nice indication of progress and growth.  Cool!

So Part Three of the simple approach is a reminder that decisions made/actions taken count as moving forward even when they aren’t perfect.  Endless sit and spin…well, that’s just sitting and spinning.

So figure out your personal goals—your goals, not what everyone says should be your goals or what they’ve all chosen as goals--and go for what meets them.  And then pat yourself on the back.  

(Also, chocolate.)
Doranna Durgin is an award-winning (Compton Crook--best first SF/F/H of the year) whose quirky spirit has led to an extensive and eclectic publishing journey across genres, across publishers, and across publishing lines.  Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and highly accomplished competition dogs. She doesn't believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The "Ennara" Books: Middle Grade Fantasy Strikes the Perfect Tone

Ennara and the Fallen Druid (Ennara, #1) by Angela Shelley, Patchwork Press, October 2014.

Ennara and the Book of Shadows (Ennara, #2) by Angela Shelley, Patchwork
Press, October 2014

Middle grade fiction stands apart from its younger and older (Young Adult) cousins in ways that go beyond the simple division by ages. Kids this age are just beginning to spread their wings, assert their independence and individuality, and test their limits. Friends help them define themselves and try out new behaviors and identities, although not always in ways their parents approve. At the same time, they’re not ready to plunge into the full-blown angst, sex, blood, and darkness (although certainly rock/n/roll) of stories for older readers. They often prefer adults to hang around somewhere, just not too close by; they tread the line between wanting to go off entirely on their own and needing someone stronger and wiser to lend a hand when they get in over their heads. In other words, they’re highly capable children. Some will happily devour literature for teens and adults, but others want the same adventurousness, but featuring kids closer to their own age.

With this perspective in mind, I embarked upon a series of adventures with young Ennara and her friends. The setting included many familiar elements: low-technology villages, magic, prophecies, pirates, “shadowspawn,” and druids. In an adult fantasy, these might feel generic and derivative, a hodge-podge of time-worn tropes, but in Angela Shelley’s hands, they evoke a sense of familiarity. Pre-teen readers aren’t after a startlingly original world with sophisticated culture and so forth; they want a good story with characters they can relate to. So even details that caused me-the-adult to roll my eyes were strangely congruent and certainly didn’t cause me to stop reading (although I admit, finding a professor in a plaid blazer in the middle of a fantasy tale gave me a giggle). I don’t think the intended readers will notice, for instance, that druids have been done to death in adult fantasy; instead, they’ll recognize the name, just exotic enough to be not-here-and-now, but not so alien as to require chapters of backstory and explanation.

So the above-mentioned shadowspawn appear in Ennara’s village, thereby initiating a quest for our young heroine. Ennara is magically gifted, of course, although not educated in its use. She has a mentor, a wise old magician (who incidentally is in love with her potion-making aunt, which made me smile), a family, who remain behind but send their love and support, and a best friend. As the adventure unfolds, she picks up a new friend (and a huge marine cat named Smoos who loves to swim), loses the mentor partway through (although he’s still alive and they wrap him up to bring him along with them). Ennara’s gifts and self-confidence grow as she learns from her adventures, so there are no sudden bursts of power but a careful, step-wise mastery and growing self-knowledge, which is, after all, what the pre-teen years are about.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Short Book Review: Twilight with Angels and Demons

Toward a Secret Sky by Heather Maclean (Blink, April 2017) is a YA novel of the “Twilight with Angels and Demons” sort. Our teen orphan heroine finds herself shipped off to grandparents in Scotland where she explores scenery, makes friends, and encounters the devastatingly gorgeous angel assigned the guard her.

Even though she is told in no uncertain terms of the dire consequences of human-angel love affairs, she plunges into one obsessive daydream after another about him, refuses to heed his warnings to leave him alone, and in general behaves like an infatuated adolescent incapable of making rational decisions. To be sure, she has personality and strengths, not the least of which are keen mental abilities and a generous heart, and the story moves along nicely, with enough twists to keep the reader engaged. Logic bobbles (like why would a handsome, rich incubus need a date-rape drug when looks and money alone would get him as much sex as he wants?) flawed an otherwise enjoyable flow of prose, and the “the war [with demons] is just beginning” epilog felt tacked-on. 

These shortcomings may pale in comparison to the overall enjoyability of the story, particularly for a young adult reader but a more critical reader may find them annoying.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Supporting a New Writer 6: Connecting

Effie Seiberg: Depending on what kind of writing you're doing, and where you are geographically,
there are a number of ways to find kindred spirits.

Conventions: Whether conventions or conferences, I found these to be an invaluable resource for meeting people. (In fact, that's how I met Deborah!) At one panel about plotting techniques, one person from the audience asked how one might go about finding a critique group. One of the panelists said to look around the audience - the people going to the same panels you are probably have the same needs. After the panel was over I got together with two other people from the audience and formed my first crit group. That was three years ago, and I'm still swapping stories with one of them. 

Classes and workshops: If there are classes in your area, that's another way to get an insta-community. You can also apply to a variety of workshops that are available. Or, many writers offer online classes with a video component, either through YouTube or Google Hangouts. A digital class community still counts!

Industry groups: If you're publishing science fiction, fantasy, or horror, trade groups like SFWA  (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, sort of the national guild, with online forums for discussion) and community groups like Codex (an online community full of support and advice) are great ways to meet people. If you're interested in pure horror, there's also HWA (the Horror Writers of America.) For all, you need to qualify to join.

If you're publishing romance, the industry group RWA (Romance Writers of America) is massive and allows anyone to join, and has local events in many places. 

Other sub-genres have their own groups. Just look online!

Local meet-ups: is a great way to find local writing meet-ups. My area has a number of "Shut up and Write" meet-ups, and guess what happens there.

Online critique forums: You can trade work with other writers on groups like Critique Circle, Critters, and more. 

I hope one or more of these options work for you! I find my writing support groups (yes, I have several!) to be incredibly helpful, both in improving my writing and in improving my state of mind. Good luck, and you can do it!

Effie Seiberg is a fantasy and science fiction writer. Her stories can be found in the "Women Destroy Science Fiction!" special edition of Lightspeed Magazine, Galaxy's Edge, Analog, Fireside Fiction, and PodCastle, amongst others. She is a graduate of Taos Toolbox 2013, a member of SFWA and Codex, and a reader at

Barb Caffrey: Here's one more additional resource that helped me, back in the's Forward Motion Writer's Group (or, I think -- might be .org). Lazette Gifford runs the site now, but it was started by Holly Lisle. It's a group by writers, for writers, and they talk about all sorts of writerly-related things, including things that get in the way of writing.

Barb Caffrey has written three novels, An Elfy On The Loose (2014), A Little Elfy in Big Trouble (2015), and Changing Faces (forthcoming), and is the co-writer of the Adventures of Joey Maverick series (with late husband Michael B. Caffrey) Previous stories and poems have appeared in Stars Of Darkover, First Contact Café, How Beer Saved The World, Bearing North, and Bedlam's Edge (with Michael B. Caffrey).

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Short Book Review: Motorcycles, Mayhem, and Psychiatry

Medea’s Curse, by Anne Buist (Legend Press, October 2016) This psychiatric thriller immediately
reminded me of the work of Tess Gerritsen and the “Alex Delaware” novels of Jonathan Kellerman. Yet Buist’s heroine is very much her own person, an Australian motorcycle-riding forensic psychiatrist who specializes in women who have killed their own children.

With dramatic tension that never lets up, the story follows Natalie King through cases past and present, with danger never far behind. But who is stalking her? The attentive husband of an inmate who may or may not have multiple personality disorder? The boyfriend of one of her clients, now in prison – and whose present  wife has just been accused of murdering their baby? The charming attorney with whom she’s shared a fling? With the lives of other children at stake, Natalie races to solve the mystery before it’s too late. 

One of the things I liked best about the book was the understanding that no professional can deal with material this upsetting without a support system of her own. Plus it’s really cool to have a strong woman hero who is also really smart!

From the book: Anne Buist is the Chair of Women’s Mental health at the University of Melbourne and has over 25 years clinical and research experience in perinatal psychiatry, working on cases of abuse, kidnapping, infanticide, and murder.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Short Book Reviews: Immortality and That Special Occult Book

Two recurring motifs in fantasy literature, both historical and contemporary, are the conquest of death and the book of secrets. The search for immortality — and its advantages and drawbacks — ranges from a fascination with immortal creatures (vampires, gods, Tolkien’s elves) to The Fountain of Youth and the cure for all bodily ills. The book or scroll or other text takes as many forms, from ancient books of magic, grimoires, H. P. Lovecraft’s Necromonicon, and other sorts of occult texts.

The Apothecary’s Curse by Barbara Bennett (Pyr, October 2016)  reads a bit like a Dan Brown thriller. Immortality (or rather, the ability to heal from almost any disease or injury) has been achieved, thanks to an ancient text, a compendium of remedies based on various herbs and chemicals, derived from knowledge millennia before its time and rooted in a Celtic-like myth. The ingredients and procedures must be followed with scientific accuracy, and any deviation is likely to cause disastrous results. In this story, the two viewpoint characters — one a 17th Century apothecary, the other a physician from almost two centuries later — have achieved immortality and found it to be a curse. The book, however, has been lost, along with any hope of restoring them to normal human lives. In every era, they must deal with those who seek this knowledge for their own nefarious purposes. 

I loved the premise that an ancient text, written is such a way that only an adept can unravel its secrets, holds a treasure trove of scientific lore equal to what contemporary medicine possesses. The characters appealed to me, especially the apothecary struggling with PTSD after being tortured for decades in a madhouse. The one misstep came near the end with a sudden detour into conventional fantasy and divine intervention that was not only unnecessary but for me detracted from the “ancient science” theme. Still, the book was an enjoyable read, a nice combination of two time-honored themes with a medical thriller twist.

The Fall of the House of Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard (St. Martin’s Press, Thomas Dunne Books, Sept. 2016) presented a delightful read from the first page, with its quirky humor and even quirkier characters. This is not the first adventure of Johannes Cabal, necromancer and social misfit, and his debonair vampire brother, Horst, but it’s a dandy place to jump in. Johannes and Horst are off on a quest across virtual dimensions, one that involves both immortality that That Special Occult Book. On their way, they're accompanied by assorted comrades — living, dead, and demonic. My favorite was the latter, a gigantic half-woman, half-spider who wears an angora sweater and is as enthusiastic about sex as she is about murder. When introduced to Johannes's (human) woman detective companion, someone he cannot bring himself to admit his feelings for, the first thing our spider-demon asks is, "Is she your lover?" No, he sputters, of course not. "But here is Horst, my brother." "Oh," says the spider. "Is he your lover?" 
You've got to love a creature who thinks that way.

The story is a witty, endlessly entertaining, fast-moving romp through Hell and London (via a few other places) that left me cheering and wanting more. I have no doubt that the House of Cabal shall rise again!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Con-Volution 2016 Report

Con-Volution is a medium sized (700 ish members) convention in the Bay Area. I first attended a
couple of years ago and was pleased to be invited to return. This year’s theme was “Monsters,” so many of the panels and other events centered around Things That Go Bump in the Night, creepy-crawlies, and the like, a fitting greeting to October.

I arrived in time to attend part of “An Aviary of Beasties,” moderated by Juliette Wade and held in the parlor of a hotel suite, making it cozy and very difficult to find. Nevertheless, the small space was filled, and as I walked in, Juliette was discussing the difference between the wings of a bat and a pterodactyl. Panelists shared myths of flying creatures from many cultures. In wandered one of the residents-in-costume, wearing a marvelous kirin head, whose timing made a perfect introduction to tales about that creature.

My first panel was “Authors: Going to that Dark Place,” with horror author Fred Wiehe, Margaret McGaffey Fisk, Loren Rhoads, and Guest of Honor Ann Bishop. We approached the relationship between authors and “that dark place” from two directions. One involved delving into our own nightmares and using them to fuel our stories, and the stories then become cathartic or therapeutic in lessening the hold those catastrophes have over our lives and (hopefully) those of our readers. I was reminded of Octavia Butler saying she took her worst night mares and put them down on paper. This is also what I did in a number of stories (“Rite of Vengeance,” “Beneath the Skin,” “Crooked Corn”) following the murder of my mother, and also used for my hero’s journey in The Seven Petaled Shield. Others take another approach, which is to start with the story and find the darkness within ourselves to give it depth and power. Ann Bishop observed that horror stories are like a journey through a spooky forest with various companions that may survive or not, but we have faith that someone will make it through. “There is no light without darkness,” Fred Wiehe pointed out. Does the dark keep us sane?

For “How Cthulu Became Cuddly,” I was joined by Artist Guest of Honor Lee Moyer, Laurel Anne Hill, and Jennifer Carson.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Darkover Anthology News

I just turned in the final copy for Masques of Darkover, which I edited. Dave Smeds, who did the covers for Stars of Darkover, Gifts of Darkover, and Realms of Darkover, is working on the cover art and design. It'll be released in May 2017. Table of Contents is below--it's such a treat!

Jane Bigelow, Duvin’s Grand Tour

Rosemary Edghill, Generations 

Meg Mac Donald, Upon this Rock 

Evey Brett, Only Men Dance

Shariann Lewitt, The Wind 

Ty Nolan, Dark Comfort 

Steven Harper, Sight Unseen 

Robin Wayne Bailey, The Mountains of Light 

Marella Sands, Bone of My Bone 

Rebecca Fox, Where You’re Planted 

Leslie Roy Carter and Margaret L. Carter, Believing 

India Edghill, The Price of Stars

Here's Dave's cover for the last anthology:

Monday, October 3, 2016

[links] Hitch-hiker Barnacles and Other Nifty Things

Barnacles can tell a whale of a tale. Chemical clues inside barnacles that hitched rides on baleen whales millions of years ago could divulge ancient whale migration routes, new research suggests.

While Mercury has no plate tectonics in the terrestrial sense, crustal shrinking still qualifies as tectonic activity. It could even trigger Mercury-quakes.

New Ostrich-Mimic Dinosaur Species Identified “We histologically thin-sectioned the femur of Rativates evadens to analyze its growth and determined it was at least eight years old and nearly adult-sized at the time of death,” said Thomas Cullen, from the University of Toronto. .... “This suggests that there are at least two differently-sized, but closely-related dinosaur species that lived together on the ancient landscape, similar to what we see today in the closely related predators like foxes, coyotes and wolves,” said Dr. Claudia Schröder-Adams, of Carleton University.

On hearing voices: Psychics are much more likely to perceive the voices as positive or helpful and as experiences that can be controlled, according to a new study published Sept. 28 in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin. "We have known for some time that people in the general population can have the experience of hearing voices—sometimes frequently—without the need for psychiatric intervention," said Albert Powers, a psychiatry fellow [at Yale] and lead author of the study.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Supporting a New Writer 5: Hope Heals

Barb Caffrey: The main reason I restarted my writing despite a number of life challenges (including
the loss of my husband Michael in 2004) is because I knew I needed to do it. Sometimes, writing can be stress relief; it allows you to step outside of your own head for a while, and do something else other than grieve -- do something else other than concentrate on all the problems you cannot solve.

It allows you to do something positive. Something meaningful. Something that you can point to later, and ask yourself, "I did that?"

Granted, at the time, I didn't realize at all this was why I was trying so hard to write. I looked at it as an expression of creativity (which, of course, it is); I also saw it as my way to strike back against the darkness of entropy, and of course as a way to continue on with what my husband (also a writer) and I had done all our lives.

In short, writing allowed me to feel more like myself, rather than the person I had unwittingly become after my husband died so suddenly. I didn't like feeling like an open wound all the time; I wanted to heal.

Writing helped me heal.

Barb Caffrey has written three novels, An Elfy On The Loose (2014), A Little Elfy in Big Trouble (2015), and Changing Faces (forthcoming), and is the co-writer of the Adventures of Joey Maverick series (with late husband Michael B. Caffrey) Previous stories and poems have appeared in Stars Of Darkover, First Contact Café, How Beer Saved The World, Bearing North, And Bedlam's Edge (with Michael B. Caffrey).

From Wendy, for whom this blog series was created:

Dreams are possible....

Hope lives....

If you take action....

If you reach out with an earnest, heartfelt plea....

Good people will respond.

I do not take this creative journey alone. What a comfort this realization has been to me.  I am encouraged and deeply grateful for the wonderful words of wisdom you have all shared with me.

I am writing again. Perhaps in fits and starts, but still putting words to electronic paper on a daily basis. 

I am starting to believe in myself again, to see myself as a creative spirit with something to say.

My words matter. My words can entertain and enlighten. I have a voice. All of you have helped me find that voice again.

Thank you!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Supporting A New Writer 4: Where We Go from Here

Each of us has a tale to tell about struggling to start or re-start a writing career. Here's the background on this project, and two responses below.

Recently, I received this letter from a fan with whom I’d been corresponding. It spoke deeply to me, and rather than answer it alone, I asked some of my writer friends to join in a series of round table blogs on the issues raised. If you’ve been there, too, I hope you’ll follow along and offer your own wisdom.

I’ve been trying to reconnect with writing friends after a hiatus from the creative life. I’ve spent the past year or so taking care of my mom and working to pay the bills. Mom passed away in October. When your last parent passes away, it changes you in many ways. That foundation you always relied on — even as an adult — is gone for good. Whether you’re ready or not, you are truly on your own in the world and must somehow carry on without their nurturing presence. One of the most difficult aspects of my mother’s final days was the fact that she had so many regrets about life. She once had goals and dreams, but left them behind out of fear and a belief that these dreams were just not possible. I’m 54 years old. More than half of my life is over. Writing has been a dream/goal of mine since childhood. My mom was the only one who believed in me. I don’t want to leave this world regretting the fact that I never pursued this dream to the fullest. To be honest, my writing “career” never took off. I let fear, doubt and the negativity of others keep me from my dreams. I want so much to be brave, to take risks with my creative life. I truly wish for a group of fellow writers who are willing to give me the encouragement and support I need to write with my heart and soul, to grow as a writer and a human being. And I want to be a support for others as well. How do I get back into the writing life after leaving it on the back burner for so long?
Doranna Durgin:  I turned 56 on the very day my mom died just over a month ago.  Meanwhile my writing has floundered for years—damaged by experiences in traditional publishing, never quite reaching fruition in the first place because I was in a financially vulnerable situation where I didn’t dare take risks.  So I played nice.  Too nice.  Too much fear, too much doubt, and way too much negativity from outside sources.  Familiar, right? I was trying to please everyone else before I pleased the muse, knowing it and hoping for some sort of break that would allow me to return to the muse.  But instead of reaching a break, I hit a breaking point, and then…broke.  Now I’m looking at the journey back and not certain how to take it.

So where do we all go from here?

In this case, I hope knowing you’re not alone is of some solace.  Boy, you’re definitely not!  And to some extent, I think we all wish we were bigger, bolder, better when it comes to our writing.  To that same extent, I think having that desire is the critical part of writing.  How do we do anything but stagnate without it?  And just maybe the fact that we do have that ongoing need doesn’t mean we haven’t already been successful in many ways.  Don’t discount those successes!

More practically speaking, I’m finding that I need to give myself space while at the same time setting reachable goals.  For me, that means noodling on development in the background while working on production stuff and writing-related stuff in the foreground.  For you, those first steps might include finding community online and in person, but I have some hesitation about focusing on these as a starting place.  Writing comes from within, not without—and in my experience, outside influence is often about diluting, not enhancing, those pieces from within.

To that point, I’ve found a good book discussion group comprised of savvy readers and other writers to be an excellent place to practice critical thinking and to see how different writing is absorbed by different people…well, differently.  I see it as a way to immerse in the thought process without subjecting the muse to the push and pull of others’ thinking.

I think one key, as we seek growth, is to recognize the successes we have in fact had, and then to keep our specific goals in mind while making decisions about the future—which means taking the time to truly understand our goals in the first place.  So are the support groups and community part of the goal, or a way to reach the goal?  And what other ways can you reach the specific goal?

Either way, good luck—hope to see you there on the other side!

Doranna Durgin is an award-winning (Compton Crook--best first SF/F/H of the year) whose quirky spirit has led to an extensive and eclectic publishing journey across genres, across publishers, and across publishing lines.  Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and highly accomplished competition dogs. She doesn't believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided...

Meg Mac Donald: On Starting Over:
Just write.

I know, I know.  That’s obvious.  I realize that it may be oversimplifying things, but it is true that the only way to begin again is to (simply) start doing it.  Anything.  Write that story idea, or outline—or even that one scene—that has been playing in your mind for years.  You know, the one about That Character when That Thing happened?  Yeah.  That one.  Jot it down.  Follow it as it begins to grow—give yourself permission to change it.  Keep writing.  If you write something, you have something to edit—or rewrite—later.  Worst case scenario?  You line the cat box with it and start something else.  Put aside any notion about it being perfect, or publishable, or even making the remote bit of sense.  It doesn’t have to.  What it has to do is give you something to work with.  Most of writing is rewriting and editing anyway.  Give yourself permission to make a literary mess if that’s what it takes to break the cycle of doubt that is keeping you from writing at all.