Monday, March 30, 2020

Guest Blog: Tara Gilboy on Why Adults Should Read Middle Grade Novels

Tara Gilboy is the author of the Middle Grade fantasy novels, Unwritten and  Rewritten (see my review next Friday). Stay tuned for her upcoming blog post on writing for Middle Grades.

Why Adults Should Read Middle Grade Novels
by Tara Gilboy

I don’t read adult books.

Most people give me strange looks when I say this. I’m an author, after all.  And a grown up. Why wouldn’t I want to read adult books?

I think my friends and family assume it’s a phase. They are always trying to give me books after they’ve finished them. This one will convince you to read adult books again. Nope.

Now don’t get me wrong: there are many adult books I like. I have a few favorites, and from time to time, I will reread them. I love Jane Austen, Stephen King, and Amy Tan. Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian is a favorite, as is Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with adult books. It’s just that I like middle grade books better.

As I sat down to write this blog post, I realized I’d never really considered closely why I prefer middle grade over adult novels. Whenever anyone asked me, I’d always given the easy answer: “well, it’s because I write them.” (Which seems like the very responsible, professional, “adult” answer.) Or even worse: “ I don’t know. I just like them better.”

But middle grade books are important. For children, yes. But for adults too.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Curious Fictions: Jaydium, Chapter 1 (Free)

Far in the future, an interplanetary civil conflict has ground to an uneasy halt. Kithri, abandoned on a desolate mining planet, meets Eril, shell-shocked pilot. A freak accident sends them back to a time when their desert world was lush and green, when an alien civilization stands on the brink of a war of total destruction. They must choose to remain outside the conflict or to stand up for what they believe.

Read the first chapter free on:

Curious Fictions: Jaydium, Chapter 1

Friday, March 27, 2020

Short Book Reviews: The Pirates of Pell

The Princess Beard (The Tales of Pell) by Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson (Del Rey)

This is the third “Tale of Pell” I’ve read, and by far the most entertaining. It is, of course, a pirate story, complete with a beard-sporting princess, a dryad in the process of transforming into a carnivorous tree, a pudgy elf, and a centaur whose secret magical weapon involves pelting his enemies with hot tea and sugary pastries. Oh, and the captain – Filthy Lucre – is a parrot in search of the ideal shoulder perch.
For me this novel had more structure and cohesiveness than the earlier two, which often devolved into excuses for puns that had only approximate relationship to the central plot. I found these characters much more sympathetic, I loved how each grew and matured during their adventures, so the entire effect was of greater emotional immediacy and warmth, but no less exciting action. And bad puns. Highly entertaining, and with great heart.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Science-based strategies for coronavirus anxiety

These days, so many of us are beset by anxiety. I found this article from The Conversation helpful -- even if I already knew some of these strategies, it's always good to be reminded.

7 science-based strategies to cope with coronavirus anxiety

Anxiety is part of life, but should not take over your life.

Jelena Kecmanovic, Georgetown University

As the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues its global spread and the number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases continues to increase, anxiety related to the outbreak is on the rise too.

As a psychologist, I am seeing this in my practice already. Although feeling anxiety in response to a threat is a normal human reaction, sustained high anxiety can undermine constructive responses to the crisis. People who already suffer from anxiety and related disorders are especially likely to have a hard time during the coronavirus crisis.

The following suggestions, based on psychological science, can help you deal with coronavirus anxiety.

1. Practice tolerating uncertainty

Intolerance of uncertainty, which has been increasing in the U.S., makes people vulnerable to anxiety. A study during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic showed that people who had a harder time accepting the uncertainty of the situation were more likely to experience elevated anxiety.

The solution is to learn to gradually face uncertainty in daily life by easing back on certainty-seeking behaviors.

Start small: Don’t text your friend immediately the next time you need an answer to a question. Go on a hike without checking the weather beforehand. As you build your tolerance-of-uncertainty muscle, you can work to reduce the number of times a day you consult the internet for updates on the outbreak.

Limit your daily digital intake.

2. Tackle the anxiety paradox

Anxiety rises proportionally to how much one tries to get rid of it. Or as Carl Jung put it, “What you resist persists.”

Struggling against anxiety can take many forms. People might try to distract themselves by drinking, eating or watching Netflix more than usual. They might repeatedly seek reassurance from friends, family or health experts. Or they might obsessively check news streams, hoping to calm their fears. Although these behaviors can help momentarily, they can make anxiety worse in the long run. Avoiding the experience of anxiety almost always backfires.

Instead, allow your anxious thoughts, feelings and physical sensations to wash over you, accepting anxiety as an integral part of human experience. When waves of coronavirus anxiety show up, notice and describe the experience to yourself or others without judgment. Resist the urge to escape or calm your fears by obsessively reading virus updates. Paradoxically, facing anxiety in the moment will lead to less anxiety over time.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Short Book Reviews: Margaret St. Clair's Short Fiction

The Hole in the Moon and Other Tales, by Margaret St. Clair (Dover)

I was introduced to the work of Margaret St. Clair decades ago through her novels, The Dolphins of Altair and The Dancers of Noyo. I still have those old Ace editions. Now Dover has gathered together her short fiction, which belongs on every SF collector’s shelf. The stories show the scope (and weirdness) of her imagination. Her stories are often uneasy, dark and Twilight-Zone-ish, but always fiercely intelligent. She trusts her readers to perceive what is going on without explaining or spoon-feeding.

In researching her biography, I learned a couple of fascinating things about St. Clair – that she was a lifelong supporter of American Friends Service Committee, and that she lived at Friends House in Santa Rosa in the last years of her life. So it did not surprise me to learn she was indeed a birthright Friend (Quaker), although she became interested in Wicca later in life after researching a novel. She wrote:

“Those who have lived through the Holocaust, Hiroshima, Coventry, Dresden, may be excused for forgetting that love, kindness, compassion, nobility, exist. Yet in man’s animal nature lie not only the roots of his cruelty, viciousness, sadism, but also of his perfectly real goodness and nobility. The potential is always there.”-- Quoted in Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction, by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson

Thursday, March 19, 2020

#StayHomeAndRead EBook Sale!

#StayHomeAndRead! I've temporarily reduced the prices of my ebook editions on Amazon. A Heat Wave in the Hellers and Other Doorways (omnibus of Jaydium and Northlight) are 2.99, everything else is 0.99. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Today's Moment of Irises

Henry Roderick Newman, Irises in the garden, 1882

Monday, March 16, 2020

Newsletter: Some News, Some Hope, Some Kitten Pictures...

Some news, some hope, some kitten pictures...

Let's face it, the national news has been anything but inspiring. Nevertheless, we shall persist in supporting one another, our families and communities, and in writing -- and reading! -- great books.
First, the writing news:

DAW, my publisher, plans to release The Laran Gambit in 2021. Stay tuned!

My agent has sold the audiobook rights for all my Darkover books (including The Laran Gambit ) to Recorded Books. I'll let you know when there are more details.

I've resigned from Book View Café and my books are no longer available there. If you have previously purchased one and need to download it again, you should be able to do so, but if you run into any problems, let me know and I'll make sure you get it.

I plan on offering special sale prices at other venues from time to time, and of course my annual winter giveaways. Meanwhile, almost all of my books are available through Overdrive at your public library. Enjoy!
Now, an illustrated Journey of (Red) Sonja the Kitten
Here is Sonja in fall 2018, about a month old. She's just been picked up by the shelter. Poor thing is covered in ringworm, half-starved, and terrified. They were going to euthanize her the same day, but a worker realized she was a Maine Coon and called a private shelter that specializes in that breed...
Here she is after being with us a few months. The ringworm is cleared up, but she still looks a bit dazed.
And here she is today, fully aware of how gorgeous she is, affectionate, playful, and bursting with personality.
Really, says Sonja.
Copyright © 2020 Deborah J. Ross. All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
P.O. Box 1412
Boulder Creek CA 95006

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Friday, March 13, 2020

Short Book Reviews: Escape from the Brothel (with Unbelievable Horses)

The Good Luck Girls, by Charlotte Nicole Davis (Tor Teen)

I gave up on this book about a quarter through. The opening really grabbed me – the dystopic world with its resonance of the Wild West, “dustblood” girls raised in a brothel, drugged so they would not resist their boorish “brags,” the autocratic madam, the girls being tattooed with magic symbols that not only identify them but flare into agony when covered up. And sweet, trusting Clementine, about to entertain her first customer. When she resists being raped, she accidentally kills him (and although she does not know it, he is the son of a very powerful, wealthy family who will be bent on revenge). Her sister, Aster, concocts an escape attempt as the alternative to execution. These are young teenagers, so of course their planning is haphazard, but they manage to get away, aided by the madam’s favorite and a pair of other girls. I was with them, entranced, every step of the way.

That, alas, was where I ran into obstacles. If I trust a writer, I can immerse myself in the story, accepting details I do not necessarily understand as part of the world. After all, our own world isn’t always explicable or consistent. But when I’m jarred out of the narrative by a detail I know isn’t right, it can be hard to resume the flow. That happened when the girls had stolen some horses and were about to flee. The author had them cracking the reins to signal the horses to move forward. Anyone who’s spent any time with horses knows this is nonsense. All it accomplishes is futile arm-waving and an annoyed horse. There followed, in close succession, equally implausible details – horses having black eyes (they don’t), galloping through the night (a sure way to kill a horse), and stabbing a mountain lion between the shoulders (please check an anatomy chart for why this is not an effective strategy). By this time, I was questioning everything in the narrative. The writer had lost my confidence.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Friday, March 6, 2020

Short Book Reviews: Hunting the Last Sea Dragon

The Bone Ships, by RJ Barker (Orbit Books)

Oh, what a luscious, heart-rending, beautifully crafted book this is! In the world of warring island nations, the most valuable commodity – one that comprises the great war ships that grant naval supremacy – is the bones of sea dragons. The supply is limited, for the dragons are believed to be extinct, so the bones are salvaged and repurposed to for the great ships of the fleet. Then there are the black ships, the ships of the condemned and untouchable. Fisherman’s son Joron is one of those wretched souls, sentenced as “shipwife” (captain) to a black ship and determined to stay as drunk as possible. His fortunes change with the arrival of “Lucky” Meas, an extraordinary leader and daughter of the ruler, although why she might have been sentenced to a black ship, Joron has no idea. As Meas trains and then inspires the dissolute crew, Joron goes from grudging obedience to trust, even as he learns her true mission. For after centuries a sea dragon has been spotted, and the contest for its precious bones threatens to plunge the world into unending war.

There is so much to love about this book, but for me it was the language that enchanted me the most. I found myself slowing down and repeating passages just to savor them. In many senses, the narrative text itself was a character and gateway to this world.

Tide Child’s colour showed he [in this world ships are masculine] was a last-chance ship, the crew condemned to death. The only chance anyone had for a return to life was through some heroic act, something so undeniably great that the acclaim of the people would see their crimes expunged and their life restored to them. Such hope made desperate deckchilder, and desperate deckchilder were fierce. Though if any forgiveness had been offered to the dead it had not been in Joron’s lifetime, or in his father’s lifetime before him. 

At some point this crew of the violent and the lost had decided that Meas could be trusted, and if she kept her side of the bargain then they would keep theirs. It was an odd thing, thought Joron, to find a purpose in such a dark place as a black ship.

Superb world-building, compelling characters, and carefully nuanced tension mark Bone Ships as a book to treasure. And there will be more – I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Monday, March 2, 2020

About That Review...

Unless you write in secret and never show anyone your stories, sooner or later someone will give you feedback. It could be a relative or classmate, or the editor of the school literary magazine. Or friend with whom you’ve swapped fanfic. What you want to hear, of course, is that they loved it. And chances are that’s what they’ll say, either because they’d love anything you wrote or they’re so impressed that anyone they know wrote anything, or they have no idea how to evaluate a piece of writing. If your friends are still in high school, they might have a passing acquaintance with writing book reports, but that’s not helpful in critiquing a manuscript.

I think this stage in the development of writers, readers, and reviewers is just fine. We all start out with boundless enthusiasm and undeveloped critical ability. When a writer is just starting out, praise and encouragement are a whole lot more helpful than disapproval. Case in point: the story of the Wranglers and the Stranglers (attributed to Arthur Gordon in A Touch of Wonder). Various versions run something like this:
A group of male college students with literary talent formed a club. They met regularly to read and critique each other's work. These men were merciless with one another. They dissected the most minute literary expression into a hundred pieces. They were heartless, tough, even mean, in their criticism. They were so relentless in their criticism that their group became known as “The Stranglers.” 
Not to be outdone, the women of literary talent in the university were determined to start a club of their own, one comparable to the Stranglers. They called themselves the "Wranglers." They, too, read their works to one another. But there was one great difference: the feedback was positive. Sometimes there was almost no criticism at all. Every effort, even the most feeble one, was encouraged. 
Twenty years later of all the bright young men in the Stranglers, not one had made a significant literary accomplishment of any kind. From the Wranglers had come six or more successful writers, some of national renown such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who wrote The Yearling
Talent between the two? Probably the same. Level of education? Not much difference. But the Stranglers strangled, while the Wranglers were determined to give each other a lift. The Stranglers promoted an atmosphere of contention and self-doubt. The Wranglers highlighted the best, not the worst.

That’s what we need to get started: kindness and encouragement. Eventually, however, most of us encounter situations in which we benefit from critical feedback in order to overcome our own creative blind spots. And once we’ve started publishing, whether with a traditional publisher or self-publishing, we enter a new realm: our work being reviewed.