Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Monday, February 25, 2019

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Doranna Durgin

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

Kindle: https://amzn.to/2PBzyj6
Print: here (Amazon) or here (Barnes & Noble)



A lifelong horse lover, I fell in love with Doranna Durgin's early novel, Dun Lady's Jess and have been a fan ever since. So I was particularly delighted to edit her stories for Lace and Blade 4 and 5.


Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Doranna Durgin: I was always a writer.  I think I started in at the typewriter in early grade school, writing horse stories that didn’t know where to go with themselves.  I finally wrote (and illustrated and bound!) my first complete book when I was twelve, and never stopped writing from that point.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
DD:  I wanted to do something new—not based in a previous world, but something intense and complete unto itself.  I woke up one morning thinking, “Clockwork Unicorn.”  So the story grew from there.  Why was it clockwork?  Why was that element important?  How would the story center around it?  And what did the story want to say?So rather than being inspired, it was more a matter of making space for what wanted to grow.

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?
DD: More than anything?  Will James, who wrote a whole lot more than Smoky.  Ernest Haycox.  A spate of men’s adventure books that I got into when I was too young to be reading them.  We’re talking grade school and middle school here.  In high school, Anne McCaffery & Katherine Kurtz made an impression that carried forward, mixed up with some Mary Stewart and some of the early SF masters.  In my mid-20s I found now-friend Jennifer Roberson’s books, and those made an impact.  At that point, I think, I started to develop enough of my own self that although I continued to find authors I adore, they weren’t as influential in what I was doing. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Writer's Round Table: Pros Give Advice on Writer's Block III


Writer Bobbie Bolig writes poignantly about what it's like to be blocked. I asked some pro writer friends for words of encouragement.



"Overcoming Writer's Block"

By Barb Caffrey


When writer and editor Deborah J. Ross asked me about how I'd overcome writer's block for an upcoming column series at her blog, I wasn't sure what I'd write—though I did tell her that of course I'd write something. Because, you see, I've had to overcome writer's block several times over the years, with the first time being due to my husband's unexpected death fourteen years ago. I know that tragedy, illness, family health problems, work-related issues, and other things can creep into your subconscious, and make it nearly impossible to write anything at all.

And yet, we're creative people, we writers. We need our creativity, or we don't function very well. We expect to be able to write, even when we feel terrible; even when our husband just died; even when our mother just broke her leg in three places; even when our workload is so high, we can barely turn around from doing the work and falling into bed, repeating ad nauseum.

Is this fair to expect this of ourselves? No, of course not. But as I said, we expect to be able to write no matter what.

There are reasons for this, of course. There are folks out there who put up such a good front in the professional writing community that you'd think nothing fazes them. (Granted, they may not have ever run into the situations I have, you have, or someone else you know as a writer who's dealing with tragedy, long-term illness of their own or in their family, or some other deep and frustrating concern.) They'll tell you that the death of their mother didn't stop them, so why can't you write? They'll tell you that they once worked seventy-five-hour weeks, came home and took care of young children, and woke up at four a.m. every day to write for an hour or two before they had to start breakfast for the kids and get off to work.

I believe that is possible, that sometimes people can—for a short time—overcome such difficulties and write. And it certainly is possible even with high-hour weeks to schedule in your writing time; I've done it, most writers I know have done it, and while it doesn't always feel great because you want to do more and can only manage a few hours here and there, it's a lot better than nothing.

But those outliers who actually can do such superhuman things and then pass them off as normal are detrimental to the rest of us. We aren't superhuman. We're people. We're fallible. We're mortal. And we only have so many hours in the day, with a sharply limited and finite energy supply to give.

What can we, the fallible, mortal writers who aren't outliers, do to keep writing under such difficult situations?

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Kitten Hooligans

The kittens are now about 5 months old and have turned into a couple of hooligans. Most of the pics I took turned out blurred because they're moving so fast. Nonstop wrestling, then falling over, then more wrestling alternating with getting into whatever mischief they can... They are well matched. Although Freya (dilute torbie) is about 6 weeks younger, she's bigger and heavier. Sonja may end up bigger, but had a rougher start in life. It's unusual for a red/orange kitty to be a girl, but she is.




Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Today's Moment of Art


Pergola with Oranges, (c. 1834), Thomas Fearnley

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

On Not Finishing Stories...

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post, Contrary Writing Advice: Don't Finish That Story!
It appeared here and on the SFWA website. They just re-posted it

It begins: 

Guest Post: Contrary Writing Advice: Don’t Finish This Story!

by Deborah J. Ross
D_RossI love to take conventional wisdom and turn it on its head, following the tradition of rules are made to be broken but first you have to learn them. Beginning writers make mistakes. At least, I did, and I don’t know anyone who’s gone on to a successful writing career who didn’t. At some point, either a teacher or a more skillful writer points out, “Don’t do this” and why it’s a bad idea. Sometimes we figure it out for ourselves. I wonder if in the process of expunging our mistakes we also ignore that kernel of wisdom or inner creative impulse that led us to make the mistake in the first place.
For example, we get told, “Avoid passive verbs, especially the verb to be.” But sometimes that is exactly the right verb and if we contort our prose to avoid it at all costs, we end up with…well, contorted prose.
The writing rule to Always Finish What You Start is equally worthy of a challenge, yet it rarely is. The rule is practically engraved in granite, creating a sense of obligation to slog through stories, no matter how much we’ve grown beyond them. We end up with trunk stories (stories that are so flawed as to be unsellable and are therefore relegated to the proverbial storage chest) when we could have been writing the very best new stories we’re now capable of. The second rule, to move on to something new, is a good one most of the time, as is the commiseration, Not every story succeeds. I’m all for taking risks in our writing with the understanding that we’ll occasionally go splat into the Quagmire of Drekness from time to time.
Is there any value to starting things we don’t finish? (Or allowing ourselves to not finish what we start?) That is, aside from dropping projects that just aren’t working and using our time and creative energy more productively? I think there is.
Beginning writers often have far more ideas than they can put into stories. We’re like kids in a candy store, with our minds hopping with images, bits of dialog, ultimately cool mcguffins, nifty plot twists, you name it. When we’re new, we don’t have the experience to sort out what’s prime story core material, what needs development, what needs a lot of development and a lot of structure before it stands a hope of becoming a story. So as beginners we dive into whatever strikes our fancy and end up with files and files of story beginnings. That’s a valuable part of the learning process, even if it is far from comprehensive. Later, when we know how to cultivate those ideas into stories that work, we can return to those sketches and openings as a treasure trove of ideas. our mistakes we also ignore that kernel of wisdom or inner creative impulse that led us to make the mistake in the first place.
For example, we get told, “Avoid passive verbs, especially the verb to be.” But sometimes that is exactly the right verb and if we contort our prose to avoid it at all costs, we end up with…well, contorted prose.
The writing rule to Always Finish What You Start is equally worthy of a challenge, yet it rarely is. The rule is practically engraved in granite, creating a sense of obligation to slog through stories, no matter how much we’ve grown beyond them. We end up with trunk stories (stories that are so flawed as to be unsellable and are therefore relegated to the proverbial storage chest) when we could have been writing the very best new stories we’re now capable of. The second rule, to move on to something new, is a good one most of the time, as is the commiseration, Not every story succeeds. I’m all for taking risks in our writing with the understanding that we’ll occasionally go splat into the Quagmire of Drekness from time to time.
Is there any value to starting things we don’t finish? (Or allowing ourselves to not finish what we start?) That is, aside from dropping projects that just aren’t working and using our time and creative energy more productively? I think there is.
Beginning writers often have far more ideas than they can put into stories. We’re like kids in a candy store, with our minds hopping with images, bits of dialog, ultimately cool mcguffins, nifty plot twists, you name it. When we’re new, we don’t have the experience to sort out what’s prime story core material, what needs development, what needs a lot of development and a lot of structure before it stands a hope of becoming a story. So as beginners we dive into whatever strikes our fancy and end up with files and files of story beginnings. That’s a valuable part of the learning process, even if it is far from comprehensive. Later, when we know how to cultivate those ideas into stories that work, we can return to those sketches and openings as a treasure trove of ideas.


You can read the rest of it on sfwa.org or here.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Robin Wayne Bailey

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:

Kindle: https://amzn.to/2PBzyj6
Print: here (Amazon) or here (Barnes & Noble)

I crossed paths with Robin Wayne Bailey at various times in my early career, both as contributors to the very first Sword and Sorceress anthology, through GEnie, and later when he was outgoing SFWA President and I was incoming Secretary. I'm pleased to consider him a friend as well as a colleague.



Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you come to be a writer?
Robin Wayne Bailey: Besides writing, I have a lot of unrelated passions, including body-building, martial arts, yoga and hiking. Perhaps I shouldn’t say “unrelated” because everything we are and do impacts our writing in some way, either by writing more realistic fight scenes or giving us the discipline it takes to actually write. I’ve been a dancer, a planetarium assistant director, and a college professor, among other things. Again, all these things get channeled into writing one way or the other.

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. In grade school, I composed a poem, and my teachers insisted I read it at an assembly. My parents then insisted that I read it to relatives and visitors. I realized pretty quickly that writing was a way of getting attention. I sold my first story when I was eighteen. In the first couple of weeks of my freshman year as an English major, a handful of other stories through college, and my first novel on my thirtieth birthday.

DJR:  What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
RWB: Interesting question. I don’t always know where a particular story comes from. Sometimes, I can say exactly that a painting or an image or a sound served as inspiration. But more often I just trust my subconscious to take over. I’ll sit down with no clear direction and type a page or a paragraph. Maybe I’ll throw that away, but as often as not what comes out on the page will inspire the next paragraph or the next page, and if I’m following basic story structure, the result is something workable. That’s the way this story emerged, piece by piece, one image following another from my subconscious, nothing planned out or plotted beforehand.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Writer's Round Table: Pros Give Advice on Writer's Block II

Writer Bobbie Bolig writes poignantly about what it's like to be blocked. I asked some pro writer friends for words of encouragement.



This is from a well-known, NYTimes-best-selling author:


WRITER'S BLOCK


I am sitting here looking at a fic I have not touched since 2007.  I have 135K done, including the last scene...or, about 2/3 of the total fic.  I am ALSO sitting here looking at a novel that was due three years ago, for which I have something similar to an outline and the first 50K written (only 100K to go, right?) 

I've been writing fanfic and profic since the 80s, and dealing with blocked, derailed, and MIA stories for most of that time.  Here are some of the strategies that have worked for me.  (NOTE: some of these ideas are mutually-exclusive, because every writer writes differently.)

1. WELCOME TO THE GULAG: Block out a specific time and place where you do the same thing every day: sit in front of the screen and make words come.  Doesn't matter what you write, or even if you don't write.  Just be there doing nothing else (no shopping, no reading AO3, no social media) for that one or two hours (no more) each and every day (same Bat-time, same Bat-channel).  Eventually your brain gives up and you get to write what you want to write.

1A. If absolutely nothing else will come to your fingers, choose a favorite book (or longfic) and retype it. 

2. FACE THE MUSIC: Between day job and commute (long) I was really bushed when Writing Time arrived in the evening.  I just didn't have the energy—but I did have a deadline.  Solution?  ROCK'N'ROLL BAY-BEE!!!  I wrote two novels to "Bad To The Bone".  Just that one track.  On infinite repeat.  Loud.  So pick a piece of music, declare it your writing music, and hit "Repeat" on iTunes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Today's Moment of Art


The Gulf of Salerno, 1783/85, Joseph Wright of Derby

Monday, February 11, 2019

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Julia H. West

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:

Kindle: https://amzn.to/2PBzyj6
Print: here (Amazon) or here (Barnes & Noble)

I've known Julia H. West since the days of the GEnie science fiction community and have long wanted to edit a story of hers. "Water Bound" was originally submitted to a different anthology that I was co-editing, but Julia very graciously agreed to let me have it for Lace and Blade 5.




Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you come to be a writer?
Julia H. West: I started writing stories influenced by my reading when I was in grade school (the only one I remember was “Martin the Mountain Lion” which was supposed to be rather Ernest Thompson Seton-esque). I started reading science fiction when I was about six years old, aided by my Dad, who read A Princess of Mars to me at bedtime.

By the time I was a teenager I had systematically read almost every science fiction and fantasy novel in the local library. I distinctly remember one day when I put down the novel I was reading and said, “I could write something better than this.” So when I was a senior in high school I wrote my first novel. I still have that manuscript--handwritten with pencil on lined notebook paper.

Back then there weren’t the plethora of writing resources available to young writers now, so I sat in the library and read the articles in The Writer’s Market and flipped through its pages looking for markets for science fiction and fantasy stories.

I wrote stories, submitted them to markets, and finally started selling stories. I always carry a notebook with me so I can jot down ideas, brainstorm, or write the next scene when I’m in a waiting room or somewhere else where I just have to sit.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
JHW: I participate in a writing challenge called “Story a Day in May,” wherein one tries to brainstorm and write a story every day in May.  (For the record, the most stories I’ve ever written in one May is fifteen, but I have, over the years, sold several of the stories
written during the challenge.) The prompt for “Water Bound” was ‘Your story is a romance between a caring mentor and a short person who kicks tremendous ass. The lovers experience isolation. One of them is motivated by already being damned.’ I brainstormed this idea for about half an hour, then started writing. The story strayed a fair amount from this original prompt, and got very long, but I liked it enough to keep writing.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Writer's Round Table: Pros Give Advice on Writer's Block I

Not long ago, writer Bobbie Bolig told me about her anguish in being unable to write. I've been there, too, although for different reasons, and I'm grateful to those who encouraged me and were patient with me (even when what I finally managed to produce was melodramatic drek). Bobbie's predicament touched me deeply, so I asked professional writers if they could share their experiences and hope with her. Those essays will follow in subsequent weeks.

To get started, though, here's Bobbie's story:



Writers' Block. The Gap That's Hard to Cross


By Bobbie Bolig



I stare at an empty page.
The ideas are flying around in my head, I just can't get them onto a page.
Suddenly there's a great chasm in front of me and I continue to just stare at the space where words should be.
I'm in the gap of writing.
I contemplate this very matter as I myself stare at a blank page I've been in a two year block myself.. How do you find the good with the bad of a writers' block? Some blocks can last only a short time, while others can last years.  What's the good and bad to that?

Pros

·         You get a chance to run ALL the scenes through your mind.
·         You can get other work done.
·         You can cook a healthy meal.
·         You can catch up on much needed sleep.
Running through all the scenes in your head yet not able to get them down on a page: frustrating yet it can be productive. You can plot different paths you want your story to take.  Take notes and write them down, even if it's just a sticky note.
Face it your housework probably needs to be done. Concentrating on writing can take our minds off a lot of the outside world of our own brain. The dust might be piling up and now you can get rid of it. Also may help clear the dust and clutter out of your mind.
Again, once we get into writing mode we tend to be in our own little world and just don't eat well. Eating well can give you brain power Go out to eat with friends. Give your poor overworked brain a break.
Sleep! Sweet, sweet sleep. Unless you set yourself a set time limit on how long you write, we tend to write till we drop. Catch up on that sleep, you probably need it.

Cons

·         You have all those wonderful stories that are just running through your head.
·         Too much time on your hands. Without writing you have to find something else to do.
·         You get frustrated easily. The blank page is your enemy.  
·         Eating the wrong things.
·         Oversleep because of depression. Feeling sorry for your self.

Oh those stories... They're in there, You know keenly well just what stories are up there. Please write down notations on these stories. You might not be able to write then at the moment but you can try in the future and now you have notes to go by.
You are now confused as to what to do with your time. Do you want to hang out with friends, do you want to go to the park. Hey take that puppy or kitty for a walk. They need your time.
Frustration is the easiest emotion right now. You want to pull your hair out, scream, key-mash the keyboard. But right now you stare at the blank page. It's suddenly become your mortal enemy, the keyboard is an unwilling accomplice.
Eating has also become an enemy. We tend to want comfort food, junk food, easy food. You need to take care of yourself by eating right. Eating right gives you brain food. Energy for your brain.
You need sleep but sometimes, when facing a daunting task we go into a hibernation  like mode. All we want to do is sleep. The  bed is suddenly the most comfortable place we've ever been. Yes sleep is good, too much sleep can be harmful mentally.

The writers block/gap is not a fun place to be. It's depressing and void like, sucking the very writing soul out of you,
Finally I've found that being prompted by outside sources can get the creative juices flowing. Look for prompts online. Something is sure to hit just that right story-line.  I've been sitting here feeling sorry for myself and all it actually took was an invitation and prompt from a wise lady.
This is the most I've written in over two years. It feels good to write something again.


Bobbie Bolig describes herself as “a 59 year old single mother of a disabled adult son. I live in the suburbs of Grand Rapids MI.  I do mostly fanfiction writing and blogging. I enjoy writing, crocheting, beadwork, scrapbooking and origami.”

If you'd like to contribute to the discussion, email me at mail@deborahjross dot com.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Today's Moment of Art



Valley of Aosta: Snowstorm, Avalanche, and Thunderstorm (1836/37),
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Kitten Detente

Our two girls are getting along famously.

The one-eyed dilute torbie (tortoiseshell tabby) is Freya.

The red and white (with golden eyes) possible Maine Coon mix is (Red) Sonja. She's 6 weeks older but had a really rough start in life, so is slower to catch up. They're both about 4 1/2 lbs now.

Interestingly, when they play neither is dominant.



Monday, February 4, 2019

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Dave Smeds

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:

Kindle: https://amzn.to/2PBzyj6
Print: here (Amazon) or here (Barnes & Noble)

I met Dave Smeds in the early years of my writing career through the pages of the early volumes of Sword and Sorceress, in which we each had stories. We discovered a shared background in martial arts, as well. His beautiful designs grace the covers of many of the anthologies I've edited, including this one.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Dave Smeds: One way to put it is that it was an entirely natural thing. I did a lot of reading as a kid, and wanted to create my own stuff. The only thing as alluring as writing fiction was to be a comic book artist, but while I took some steps in that direction and still do make some of my income as an artist, I just wasn’t fast enough or good enough to realize that particular pipe dream. Your question, though, makes me aware of how generational my choice was. I was born in the mid-1950s. In my youth I didn’t have the distraction of iphones and cable channels and the World Wide Web. Heck, at first, there wasn’t even any color on the television programs I watched. My leisure entertainment came in the form of paperbacks, print magazines, and comic books. Those outlets were a big deal back then to the whole society in terms of providing sustaining creative entertainment and edification. I wanted to be part of that big deal. I wonder if I would have headed in that direction if I had been part of the millennial generation. I think the answer would probably be no.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
DS: The theme of the series is along the lines of “swashbuckling tales of romance” and of course I pointed my muse in that direction, but when it comes to the Lace and Blade series, my muse has pretty consistently been a contrary wench. I saw an image in my mind of the lone adventurer wandering the land. That seemed pretty spot-on in terms of theme, but when the fellow came completely into view I saw that he was the pilot of a gondola on a river, à la Charon on the River Styx if only Charon had possessed sex appeal and if only the river weren’t so singular of purpose. My plan of course was for the story to involve a romance. That element is in fact in there in the final draft, but to my surprise it is unconsummated, which is not one of my usual modes.

Once I had the idea of using a river as a setting, I’m afraid I had no choice but to go forward. The Kings River of the southern San Joaquin Valley runs along the edge of the farm where I grew up. I spent many an hour on that waterway, floating on tractor inner tubes below the bluffs and oak trees. The water was snow melt from the High Sierra so it was bracing even in July, but that was great because the air temperature of a Fresno County day in July is usually above a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. I also really appreciated the safety aspect. If you get a tired of swimming when you’re in the middle of a lake, you’re screwed. If you get tired on a river, just tread water for a few moments and the current will carry you to the bank and you don’t have to drown after all.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Kittens Watching Videos

Some days, we all just need a few kitten endorphins to get through the day. Our two hang out in my office. Freya, on the left, is 6 weeks younger than Sonja, on the right. They're the same weight, although Sonja is rangier. Sonja had a particularly rough start in life, so she may be slower in her growth. Poor sweetie was so thin when we got her, you could feel all her ribs and her spine. Now she's on her way to being a butterball. Both of them love watching the fishies in these videos.



Friday, February 1, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Mathematics Vs. Telepathy


Zero Sum Game, by S. L. Huang (Tor)

To say this novel grabbed me by the throat and refused to let go is putting it mildly. It’s as much a thriller as a science fictional tale. I absolutely adored that the heroine’s superpower is her mathematical ability, and how that ability allows her to use normal human physical attributes in an extraordinary way. 

The plot hits the ground running when Cas Russell takes a job that seems innocuous enough on the surface: rescuing a young woman who’s gotten in trouble with a drug-running gang. The client is the older sister, referred to Cas by the notoriously violent, psychopathic Rio, who uses his devout Catholic faith to guide his conscience. Oddly enough, he considers Cas a friend, although neither of them trusts the other. 

From there, things go pear-shaped in a hurry, since Rio never made the referral and Cas keeps stumbling upon references to a mysterious name, “Pithia.” Before long she’s battling a telepath capable of not only reading minds but changing them in ways that make it impossible for the victim to break free.

Verdict: a hell of a ride, juicy mathematics-geek neepery, twists and turns and ambiguities, with nary a stumble. A bit on the gory side for those sensitive to it.